Just how far can plant-based meat go in terms of taste and texture? Our Japanese-language reporter tests it out in Tokyo.

When I studied abroad in Japan in 2009, the most common piece of advice for would-be vegans trying to eat out at restaurants while maintaining their diet was a resounding “don’t, because it’s impossible.” Even recently I had an experience where my poor vegan friend ordered a dish, was assured it contained no meat or meat by-products, and then sadly smiled as they said “there’s dashi in it…and whole shrimp.”

But things are improving for those with meatless and dairy-devoid diets, at least in most of the major cities. On April 21 a Vegan Gourmet Festival was celebrated in Kiba Park, a thriving event space in Koto City, Tokyo. While our reporter Ikuna Kamezawa is decidedly not a vegan, she was curious enough about vegan delicacies to take a trip into Kiba Park to sample some morsels.

▼ Follow the cheery banana-yellow tents!

Kamezawa was overwhelmed to see a whopping 74 individual stalls set up, each peddling their own animal-free and organic delights. Regrettably, she just had the one stomach, so she would have to decide which ones to try out…and fast, as the staff told her “it will all be gone by 1:00 p.m.” when she asked for recommendations.

As it was already 11:00 a.m., she decided to just get into a line for hamburgers in the hope of getting any food at all. The festival had been open for just one hour, but the lines were already bustling for every stall in sight! Thankfully, she scored herself some tasty treats, but it took a total of 2 hours waiting in line and being guzzled by mosquitoes. “It was worse than Disneyland,” Kamezawa lamented. “Take care when you go to an outdoor food festival!”

▼ Ingredients, allergy information and reasons to eat more vegan food are listed on stall posters

Kamezawa observed the burger in front of her. Not a single animal product, huh…?

▼ It sure LOOKS like meat…

▼ But actually the patty is made from carbohydrates: tofu pulp, soy beans and potato.

The burger Kamezawa purchased from Terra Foods’ stall, the Classic, cost 1,000 yen (US$8.97) and looked indistinguishable from a hamburger to her eyes.

And when she took a bite…

It tasted just like meat, too!

It was hard for her to place exactly what meat it tasted like, though. Not quite chicken, nor pork or beef…but it had an unmistakably meaty taste that was hard to place.

“If someone told me it was reindeer meat, I’d believe them.” – Kamezawa

Vegan restaurant Loving Hut had its own stall, where Kamezawa picked up a scrumptious looking spear of fake meat and a vegan-friendly gyoza.

▼ The textures here were especially impressive, mimicking textures of leg meat, breast meat and ground meat.

The festival was stuffed full of delicious non-meats, as plant-based meat was the theme of the event. But by digging a little deeper Kamezawa found such drinkable delicacies as organic beer and even organic cola!

▼ Simply Cola by Red Bull uses herbs, spices and natural sugars as well as cola nuts

Time wore on, and once it got to 2:00 p.m. the “sold out” signs reigned supreme. Kamezawa, satisfied by her meatless meal, took this time to wander around the merchandise booths – these were more dedicated to living a holistic vegan lifestyle.

She stopped in her tracks at this stall:

▼ Meatless…pet food?!

This seemed to be a curious product indeed, especially as cats and dogs are natural carnivores. Kamezawa picked up a brochure to learn more – after all, you wouldn’t expect a dog or a cat to take up a lifestyle change for moral reasons, nor to improve their health.

“The greenhouse gases emitted when producing 100 grams of beef are equal to those emitted when making 25 times the amount of tofu. It’s said that if we were to completely stop the livestock industry, and halt all production of meat and dairy, over 70 percent of the world’s farms would be rendered unnecessary and could be reverted to natural land.” — Brochure for ami dog and ami cat

Kamezawa thought on it more and realized that the urban eco-system means it’s nearly impossible for cats and dogs to feed themselves. That means cows and chicken need to be raised to make pet food to feed them, which results in more damage to nature…which means even less animals can survive on their own.

But wait! The pamphlet continued!

“Naturally, it isn’t realistic to stop all meat and dairy produce. But we hope this causes you to think about these environmental issues while also enjoying plant-based alternatives to meat.”

Fair enough! The brochure made a big impression on Kamezawa, who acknowledged that many people approach veganism like it’s an issue of either animal welfare or personal health. In this festival, it’s explained as an entire lifestyle choice rather than just a dietary choice.

Last, she bought a little something to take home for later.

▼ This “Whole Soybean Meat” dried product only cost her 400 yen!

The dried soybean fillets must be boiled for five to ten minutes, and then can be cooked into a dish as normal.

▼ Before boiling…

▼ And after boiling, where it almost tripled in size. Value for money!

Kamezawa used her soybean fillets to make a stir fry that tasted adequately meaty to her carnivorous palate.

▼ Definitely worth a try, even if you’re just interested in cutting down on meat in your diet!

The next vegan gourmet festivals will be held in Tsuruma Park in Nagoya’s Showa prefecture on May 5 and October 20, and at Kiba Park in Tokyo on 29 September, with dates and locations planned for Kyoto too. You can expect a smorgasbord of green gastronomic grub, from curries to “beef” bowls to snacks and candies. Just make sure to get there early – and prepare for mosquitos!

Images © SoraNews24
Related: Vegan Gourmet Festival
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!