Although being vegetarian in Japan is MUCH easier this time around than last (there has been a fairly big influx of vegetarian restaurants in the last 3 years apparently), it’s still difficult at times, and “vegetarian” is sort of a vague concept here. For instance, many a restaurant thinks vegetarians can eat, for instance, chicken or shrimp.
So Indian and Italian restaurants are usually safe bets, if my beloved veggie-restaurant finding app Happy Cow is not coming up with any nearby suggestions.
Which means we tend to have a favorite local Indian restaurant within a week of moving anywhere (in fact, the folks at our favorite local curry shop in London were the first people told about our pregnancy. Instead of popping round for dinner or lunch together, as we had done many times, Don started getting take-away to bring back to the flat where I was literally sick and tired. After a while of this, they asked where I was, and voila! Our first pregnancy announcement. Always classy.) And we love the bicycle-seat-shaped naan at our favorite Takadanobaba Indian restaurant.
It also means we spend an embarrassing amount of meals at Saizeriya in Tokyo. This is a cheap, extremely mediocre Italian chain that is everywhere in Tokyo (there are 3 in Takadanobaba alone – 3 that we know of, actually, there could be even more), but it has reliable options for Aardvark and me, so it works in a pinch.
But a longtime favorite is Shakey’s pizza. It’s apparently a Chicago chain? I’ve only encountered it in Japan. It’s an all you can eat buffet style restaurant that serves a LOT of pizza (including a whole dessert pizza section), pastas, Japanese curry and rice, fried potatoes (always cut into disc-shaped slices), and a fruit and veggie salad bar, which is actually a huge deal since fruit & vegetables in Japan tend to cost as much as college tuition.
In 2011, Shakey’s was also one of the most diverse places I’d been to in Tokyo, second only to a famous Catholic Church we visited once, where the mass was performed by 5 different priests from as many different countries and in as many languages, reflecting the population of the congregation. In 2011, Shakey’s was one place you could reliably always find other gaijin (non-Japanese people). That was kind of rare back then, outside of neighborhoods like Roppongi, etc, which were known as being the places foreigners lived. (Foreign residents have increased since then, and tourism has more than quadrupled since our last visit, so that’s not the case anymore – gaijin are everywhere now. But in 2011, the diversity in a Shakey’s pizza was pretty novel, and was a nice place to go whenever I felt homesick. Also because pizza always makes me feel good 😉 )
Our favorite Shakey’s used to be on the Omotesando, but that location has been replaced with something much posher since the last time we were here. And our local Kichijoji Shakey’s used to always make special vegetarian pizzas for me whenever we’d go, and the servers would always come to my table to let me know a veg pizza was out on the buffet.
So, I have all kinds of fondness for this otherwise cheesy (no pun intended – well, maybe just a little) restaurant chain.
But why am I blathering on to you all about this?
Because Japanese pizza toppings!
Yes, they are as crazy as you may have heard. We were at the Kichijoji Shakey’s the other day after an afternoon hanging out in our old stomping grounds with one of Don’s Kyoto grad school friends, Jishin, and his son, who is Aardvark’s age.
And the toppings did not disappoint.
Here are a few examples:
Okonomiyaki pizza! Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake, made of cabbage, egg and flour (and noodles, in the Kansai/Hiroshima regions) and is, well, weird as pizza (I was excited to try it the first time I saw it. Don was widely skeptical, despite loving okonomiyaki in general. The chef told me it was indeed vegetarian but it was covered in Benito shavings – fish flakes.)
Tonkotsu is fried pork (we live above a tonkotsu restaurant, so I am well familiar with the smell) Don says this in particular refers to a pork bone soup?! Even Don, lover of tonkotsu, did not try this one.
(It seemed pretty popular though. They made at least 3 while we were there)
My favorite! This is a new pizza flavor for me; they definitely didn’t have it in 2011. It’s basically kinpura pizza, and I love kinpura and burdock/gobo, so I am always all over this pizza when it comes out.
You’re welcome 🙂
Possibly because it doubles a dessert pizza. (Don and o disagree about that, but it is ALWAYS on the end o the buffet with the dessert pizzas. In every Shakey’s location). It is topped with thinly sliced apples and drenched in honey. Remember how I advocate for dipping Quattro Formaggio in a little honey, a la Korea? Well, drenching it in honey is another option. (Perhaps too much, in fact, but it is yummy.)
This one didn’t have a name card, but it’s shrimp and something, and I feel like we don’t typically put shrimp on pizza in the US, so o took a picture for y’all. (Wait, it just occurred to me, maybe this is the shrimp and mayonnaise one? This photo is from a different trip to the buffet, but it is a popular one so they might have made several.)
(I didn’t get a picture, but my other favorite is Rosemary & Potato. It’s delicious; I’ll have to try making it at home. Also not pictured: the dessert pizzas. They are out of hand! Various combos, but usually they include chocolate sauce, marshmallows, and caramel, sometimes baked apple slices and chocolate sauce too.)