Vegan 'Tabearuki' in traditional Edo town KAWAGOE
Nicknamed "Little Edo", this city has retained the atmosphere and architecture of the traditional capital. Included in most travel guides and rankings, the beauty of the city comes to no surprise. But what does the Tabearuki scene in this Saitama Hotspot look like for us Vegans??
Tabe-wha? - Tabe-aruki, 食べ歩き can be explained as the activity of walking around and trying a lot of local foods. Read my small Guide on Vegan Tabearuki!
I wasn't ready.
As a true food blogger, I had carefully planned my visit, researched the presence of any and all Vegan businesses, and knew exactly what gems to look out for.
This was actually the day we woke up at 4 AM in the morning for a social distance-friendly visit to the newly (not so newly anymore) opened Komeda Coffee* in Ginza. Trying ALL the foods and splurging on four(!) courses, we were completely stuffed and there was no way we could fit in any more food. Right?
"Mind if we make another stop?". As I'm not the one behind the wheel, I don't really get a lot of say anyway. But boy, I sure don't complain if I end up in a gorgeous, traditional city like Kawagoe. The visit was not only unplanned, I never knew this was "The Kawagoe" until days after when I did some research on one of the souvenirs. Forever blissfully ignorant..
*Read my full blog post on 'Komeda Is □' here.
Traditional Town, Modern Appetite
I doubt the good old folk of Kawagoe were spending their days strolling around, buying small random foods at each corner and making selfies with those foods for Instagram... but that's exactly how 90% of the people spend their afternoon. The other 10% are annoyed locals who try to hit you with their car to brighten up their day - or so we almost witnessed three times!
Kawagoe had some really interesting "cuisine" to offer - and I'm sure you can find even more Vegan gems if you take your time and inquire at some of the shops.
TEA TIME - Fresh Tea and Sweets
Looking to take home some Matcha? Craving some authentic wagashi sweets that go well with tea? This Nagamine tea shop is where you need to be! Be welcomed by the sweet smell of freshly brewed Hojicha tea, which they make with their traditional machine in front of the shop, and which you can even sample if you're lucky! The staff is very knowledgeable, energetic and truly passionate about their products and helping you find what you are looking for. Next to taking home some roasted green tea, I also enjoyed some Matcha Kuzumochi; A mochi made from starch powder, and a specialty in some Tokyo neighborhoods. It made for a delicious, light, matcha flavored sweet!
OKASHI! - I take you to the Candy Shop..
One of my favorite parts of this Tabearuki trip - the many old-fashioned candy stores. Lined up in the traditional streets of Kawagoe are several small candy stores with both authentic, handmade and natural candy, as well as Japanese classics. The Classics shops are a bit more modern and busy; They sell the candy that my generation and my parents' generation would have grown up with, so every couple that walks in is guaranteed to scream out "Natsukashiiii! at least once... (Natsukashii - an expression that conveys "to fondly remember"). The more traditionally styles ones offer more simple candy - both in terms of variety as well as ingredients. Candy is orderly displayed and the ingredients lists are surprisingly simple, consisting of mostly herbs, sugar, the occasional 'kanten' (plantbased type of gelatin) and some stuff to keep it all together. We left with some very natural, herby, honey-free-at-last "throat" candy that was delicious and gone within days, despite our throats being fine...
FUKURESEN - Selling Air?
They are impossible to miss - giant bags of giant puffy balls, stored in almost every store you walk into! Saitama is often referred to as the birthplace of (Soka) Senbei rice crackers, thanks to their history of top rice-producing region. Left over rice was made into dried, preservable snacks, that eventually were flavored by neighbor Chiba Prefecture, which in turn, were famous for their soy sauce (kikkoman).... And that children, is how senbei were born! Senbei come in all shapes, sizes and flavors, with their most popular ones being simple round crackers the size of your hand palm, with Shoyu soy sauce, crystallized sugar or seaweed flavors. In the supermarket and stores like Donki, you will find every crazy flavor combination possible - many will unfortunately contain katsuo (bonito), dairy, gelatin and meat flavorings. FUKURESEN are thin, crisp senbei shaped in a ball/bag, giving them a unique and easily identifiable look. This makes for a great, fun souvenir. They are quite big, which guarantees that wow-factor! and who doesn't like senbei?! They come in different simple flavors, and we brought home the Aonori Seaweed flavor to share with friends. Honestly? Everyone hyped about the shape, but the flavor was surprisingly underwhelming...
Kawagoe Imo - Potay-to Potah-to
If there is one thing Kawagoe is famous for, it's their 'Kawagoe Imo' sweet potato!
Starting in the 1700's, Kawagoe has become the absolute Potato master, producing several different types and delicious potato-based foods. Tabearuki-ing your way through Kawagoe now will offer you the choice of plenty of Sweet Potato sweets, drinks and accessories. Even the town mascot is in fact.... a sweet potato!
One of the town's most celebrates potato sweets is "Imo Koi" (Potato Love). A "Manju" that wraps sweet potato and anko beans with yam and mochi flour. The result is a very hefty, naturally sweetened snack, with a very full filling and a stretchy skin. It is served hot on the spot, and if you decide to bring them home (or order them online) you can pop them in the microwave.
TIMELESS WAGASHI - What could have been...
And the end of the day we ended up, as always, off the beaten path.... Again, without researching anything, we landed in a much quieter area with more local shops and local visitors. Just as we were about to call it a day, we saw a Wagashi-ya traditional sweets shop. A closer look told us the cafe next to it was part of the shop, and it was BUZZING! Social distancing and Covid-19 were not an issue for these dedicated Wagashi fans..
We modestly ordered some of their anko and 'yaki dango' to go, and they were absolutely delicious!! It is no surprise that "Akariya" has worked it's Wagashi powers here all the way since 1938! and I cannot wait to visit their cafe on a next occasion!
We also tried the shichimi spiced 'yaki dango' from another smaller store across the street, which was yummy, but there is definitely a difference in the two! Still, these savory dango make for a nice change from all the sweet options available!
THA CUCUMBA! - Lining up for that C
One of the most surprising lines was found at Japanese Pickles specialist "Kawamuraya".
Whereas even the busy shops had a clear customer group: young boys, TIK TOK high school girls in uniform, families with small kids, etc., the line in front of this shop was not only incredibly long, but consisted of every customer group imaginable. You know you're up for something if both obaa-chan (elderly ladies) and junior high school boys are lining up for the same food. Imagine getting to the front of the line and seeing... a cucumber on a stick! Just like that. It felt silly.
Until we tasted it. If it wasn't for the line, we would've gone back for more! No wonder this specialist has been around since 1947.
MATCHA MOCHI - Talk epic combinations!
Finish strong! We had been temped by the sign boards of Matcha sweets all over, and finally gave in when the sweets ladies at Tea shop "Sawawa" lured us in! Whereas the majority of their products, including the ice cream and most souvenirs, contain milk products, their Warabi Mochi was Vegan friendly. The strong matcha flavor is not overly sweet and nicely balances with the velvety texture of the mochi. A classic sweet and perfect to finish up the Tabearuki trip!
Kawagoe is an absolutely beautiful city, with a great atmosphere and a must-visits for strolling enthusiast of Kamakura, Asakusa and Kyoto. I'm sure the city has many attractions and sights worth seeing - this time we were only there for an impromptu all-you-can-eat Tabearuki trip. With plenty of options, you can blend into the munching crowds and enjoy all Vegan "Little Edo" has to offer!
Sweet tooth? You won't get anything sweeter than 'Ameyu' (あめ湯) - literally candy water! Traditional mizuame\sweets shop "Utagawa-ya" offers them both hot and cold. I had mine hot with ginger flavor - a delicious pick me up on colder days!
Looking for something totally INSTA?! Lemonade by Lemonica is 100% your thing! We didn't try it, but there was a long line and their SNS is wild!
As in Kamakura, you can find a 100% Plantbased, soymilk based, black sesame ice cream in Kawagoe! As I've had it before, I didn't go for it today. Also I'm not sure the cone is vegan friendly too. The sesame shop has nice (though pricey) sesame seeds, pastes and snacks, as well as a video on how they are made!