In my never-ending pursuit to find all things vegetarian and vegan in the land of relentless meat and fish, I have come across, quite possibly, the first of its kind. A vegan izakaya in Shibuya!
Just in case you don’t know what an izakaya is. It’s a place for working guys and gals to go and have a few drinks after a hard day’s work. The difference between a pub and an izakaya, however, is that izakayas serve snacks. The “snacks” (aside from fries and cabbage) are meat.
Meat wrapped in meat, meat wrapped in cheese wrapped in more meat, tomatoes wrapped in meat, grilled meat, fried meat, boiled meat. Basically, if you want food that isn’t bean sprouts, cabbage, and chips… you are out of luck. This is why a vegan izakaya is such a big deal!
First impressions were that Izakaya Masaka is a bit small. Business must be a bit slow. I know that there probably isn’t that much demand for a vegan izakaya in the land of meat. Of course, the target market for izakayas are predominantly for the tens of thousands of Japanese salarymen in their 40s, which is a stark contrast to the target market of a handfull of predominantly vegetarian/vegan travelers in there early 20s, but I predict that after 2020 the demand for more businesses like this will skyrocket.
Right now there are only two mock meat dishes. Gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), and karaage (deep-fried chicken) in your choice of sauces. The rest were regular vegetable and pasta dishes. I’m very eager to see what dishes Izakaya Masaka comes out with next to replicate traditional izakaya food. Maybe when business picks up in the not so distant future.
The “meat” that is served in Izakaya Masaka is imitation soy mix meat and honestly, if you snuck a piece onto a plate of real meat I wouldn’t be able to notice. Its thick, succulent, and has the same exact texture as the real thing. Of course, just like any other izakaya, beer, whiskey, and highballs are in full supply.
The food was delicious, the drinks were cold, and the atmosphere was chill. However, the most mind-blowing thing had to be the fact that the imitation meat was better than the real thing! In regular izakayas you get the sense that the food is made quickly and is all about quantity. Given that, at dinner time, small izakayas can easily serve up to a hundred people depending on the venue. Izakaya Masaka is definitely more about the quality.
Put it this way. While I was there two salarymen sat at the table next to me, and throughout their whole meal, they kept ushering the woman who was serving them over and checking, re-checking, and laughing about the fact that what they were eating wasn’t meat. So there it is! Judged by Japan’s harshest critics, the no-nonsense, “I know what I like” middle-aged, grumpy Japanese salarymen couldn’t believe it wasn’t real meat.