KAGETSU ARASHI - Vegan Ramen with Screaming Enthusiasm
What a time to be Vegan in Japan! With nationwide chains one by one offering AND promoting vegan options, eating outside is getting easier and easier - and even the vending machines are screaming with excitement (when you know, you know)! As soon as the menu was announced, I was on my way to try!
Stormy Flower Moon
It is said about 3000 ramen noodle restaurant open in Japan every year - and about as many as that close too. With many longstanding chains, as well as local favorites, you need something to set you apart from the competition.
Kagetsu Arashi 花月嵐 (花 ka "flower", 月 getsu "moon", 嵐 arashi "storm), was established in 1993 and has built its concept based on "arashi" - to take their customers by storm and continuously excite them with new flavors and changing monthly menu's. To achieve this, they work together with professional chefs and celebrities for limited edition ramen, which they refer to as "challenges". They now have over 250 stores in Japan and
In their mission to offer "ラーメン×エンタメ☆サプライズ!!" Ramen, entertainment and surprises, they have now launched a limited menu that includes ALL PLANTBASED ramen noodles, gyoza dumplings and itameshi fried rice.
Having had several vegetarian and vegan limited menu's many years back, they have 'tried their chopsticks' at meat-free ramen before. Interestingly, in their motivation for their "No pork, No chicken, No fish, Only Vegetable" creation, they simply write: "Well, it hasn't really been done yet. And it used to be difficult to make a ramen out of only vegetables. But now it should be possible, so we wanted to give it a go." making the veggie ramen just one of their new challenges, rather than a choice motivated by changing customer demands or a conscious change to more inclusive options.
Whether it was in preparation of the expected foreign visitors during the 2020 Olympics, to join other big chains that recently started offering plantbased options, or just a spontaneous comeback, after six(!) years, their "NANA" veggie ramen line up is back!
Their first veggie based ramen was released in 2006, 3 years after coming up with the idea.
They admitted they struggled with finding the right balance and deep flavors - so that the final product would still be real ramen, and not "some kind of pasta". From a very simple ramen, they move to a tomato-based version in 2009 and to the current style in 2012 - which they improved over the years. One interesting development is the slight change in marketing. Whereas for years the ramen was advertised as aimed at "Charismatic Women" - highlighting the low calories and with the picture of the gyoza set only containing 3 small pieces, they for the first time collaborated and promote with a male artist. Whereas they hinted at ending the NANA veggie ramen release in 2014, they are now back and heavily promoting the menu with prizes for social media shares, and screaming vending machines that enthusiastically (and rather embarrassingly) throw a party every time a veggie ramen ticket is purchased...
There are three dishes included in the NANA / veggie release - and these are, along with some obvious toppings and drinks, the ONLY vegan-friendly options on the menu. Even the menma bamboo shoots and crispy onion toppings contain animal products - so it's definitely best to do your homework before ordering, if you want to be absolutely sure.
"Rice, Seaweed (nori), Spinach, Bean sprouts, Seaweed (wakame), Cabbage, Corn, NANA veggie ramen, Veggie itameshi, Veggie gyoza"
Gyoza are Japanese style pan fried dumplings. Many of them contain meat, but in some restaurants they are being served with just veggies. Kagetsu offers both, with their Veggie version being part of the NANA lineup. For ￥340 you get a plate of 5 gyoza, which are properly filled and have a nice crisp. If you eat them without the sauce (tare) I personally missed a bit umami depth. Am I being spoiled with superior vegan meats and liquid smoke? Perhaps. With sauce (when in doubt, bring your own!) they are quite enjoyable and make a great set with the light ramen.
The queen of the ball! I did not have very high expectations - after being disappointed time and time again (flavor guys, flavor!...), and not aware that Kagetsu has been flirting with the veggie community before, I was afraid it would be yet another low-impact creation. But my first taste had me as excited as the button on their vending machines! Hey, someone actually thought this through, guys! No, it's not a creamy, heavy, veganized Tonkotsu ramen (like the one at T's in tokyo); It's not a mock meat ramen that you can use to fool your friends. It is what it adverises; an all-veggie ramen, with loads of vegetables and "only 411 kcal, even if you drink all of the soup" (emphasized on the menu with a big pink heart). But it's a damn good one! It's packed with flavor, very balanced, and you can actually recognize a lot of the veggies in there - especially the delicious pieces of yuzu citrus. I'm usually not a fan of adding tomato to non-tomato-needing dishes, as I feel like they usually hijack the whole flavor of the dish - so I'm really impressed that they managed to slip them in there without it becoming a tomato flavor. (I can only imagine the horror of their 2009 NANA version...). I'm obsessed with the renkon chips on top, of which I could have a whole bowl by themselves, and I actually loved the noodles, which are made with 'superfood' spirulina, and are delicious regardless (- spoken like a true junkfood vegan).
Address: All over Japan. Including take out and delivery in case of impromptu lock downs
Access: Order through (potentially screaming) ticket machines, or at the food court counter
Food: Ramen Chain.
Price: ￥880 Ramen ￥670 Itameshi ￥340 Gyoza
Service: Enthusiastic vending machine. Slightly confused staff (first day of the veggie menu)
Overall: A great addition to the vegan-friendly boom, with a well-balanced, healthy-yet-delicious, widely-available and highly-affordable menu, that we can only hope becomes a regular menu option with this national-wide ramen chain.