Friday, 7 October 2016

Singapore 2015; Tokyo 2015

I'm not good at taking holidays. It's not something that really happened as I was growing up and I find it very hard to spend what seems like a lot of money on something so transient. On the other hand, I realise that normal people get pleasure from going to different places, and I also have enough things to sort-of justify spending on experiences.

Last year was the conclusion of my second go at university. Though I didn't really feel like celebrating, objectively it was a good excuse. My best friend lives in Singapore, and I'd been curious about going, and I'd long wanted to go to Japan ever since flying UK/AU on JAL and adoring the neatness, efficiency and aesthetics. So, Singapore and Tokyo it was.

I was warned that it might be difficult being vegan in Singapore. There are places listed on Happy Cow, and more diligent bloggers than I had found out good places to go. But I also wanted to experience Singaporean Singapore. Which meant Hawker food. Which meant potentially having to countenance a bit of egg.

Actually, I ended up doing reasonably well. My darling friend R negotiated this for my first breakfast:

I'd started eating before I took a picture. Rice, vegetables, fried peanuts; soft, fresh tofu on the side. 

Also eaten: multiple stir fries with vegetables and tofu, with preferred Hawker food being at Newton Food Centre; century eggs (not that bad!); sugarcane juice ("it's not that sweet" - yes, yes it is); lots of cheap coffee that was hardly Melbourne standard but no worse than that in most of the UK; durian (I wouldn't say addictive, but not at all repulsive. More amusing was having to go to the red light district to find it); vegan CKT; fried radish/carrot cake (which I had massive cravings for on my return and managed to find freshly-made stuff at Tokyo Hometown in the CBD); lots of fruit; vegan yum cha; vegan Hainanese chicken (which omnivore R said was actually pretty good); mad desserts with jelly and nuts and shaved ice and all sorts of textural variety; kaya toast; plus some beautiful home-cooked food. 

My biggest hugest regret was not trying Mr Bean non-dairy soya ice-cream (the normal soft serve has milk as well). I am a complete idiot for missing out on this.  (Note, I subsequently saw the Shibuya branch as well when in Tokyo, but I think I'd already had my ice-cream quotient for the day.)

So, Singapore is fine for veg*ns; it would be reasonably easy to be strictly vegan there. It helps to have someone who speaks Mandarin and Hokkien if you want to do Hawker food. Otherwise Happy Cow lists a plethora of options. 

(As for Singapore itself, I liked it a lot. I made R show me the Singapore of Singaporeans, i.e. all the residential areas and where she grew up. The botanic gardens are fantastic, and Gardens by the Bay was pretty too. It's just a bit hot...)


But of course.
I flew JAL from Singapore to Tokyo, and - I wish I'd photographed this - had a spectacular vegan airline meal. I can't remember much, other than it was everything one would dream of. 

I had a bit of a sketchy time, food-wise in Tokyo. I did well on my first evening, meeting up with friends from Melbourne and having dinner at Ain Soph in Shinjuku (where I was staying, though I was at the other end). I can't remember what I had, only that it was evening menu stuff and maybe not as exciting as all this talk on the internet of pancakes etc. My friend (vegetarian-turned-omni; TRAITOR) had the fried veggie meat, which wasn't bad.

Handily, I had a decent-sized supermarket about 100m from my hotel, where I could get tofu and vegetables to turn into dinner on all the other days when I had otherwise eaten in a fashion NOT appropriate for an adult. (Ice cream/ cakes for lunch!! Sure!!!)

I had aborted attempts to get to Pure Cafe in Aoyama and a few other places, partly because I didn't feel confident in ordering and partly because I wasn't sure I could manage the set menus that many places offered. This is the big down-side to solo travelling - your food options are limited by stomach capacity and the lack of a companion who will order something different/act as waste disposal unit. 

The weather was milder than expected, but there was one horrible wet day where I walked too far, had a ludicrous breakfast of tofu ice-cream, got soaked going through Harajuku, and by the time I got back to Shinjuku I was fed up and wanted something hot and carby. Behold, the MOS burger.  (I've since found out that the veganness of this is in question but I don't care.) 

The "bun" is griddled rice, and it's stuffed with delicious savoury vegetables. It was hot, filling and cheap. Perfect. 

I had two separate days of traipsing around Ginza, for shopping and people-watching. The first day I had a very hopeless attempt to find T's Tan Tan at Tokyo train station. Ended up having another excellent lunch of vending machine ice-cream (seriously, Japanese ice-cream is excellent and worth the guilt). On my second attempt, I ascertained that you have to actually enter the station - past the ticket barriers - to find ramen heaven:

I'd say this was actually worth it. Relievingly, everyone else around me was hoovering up their ramen rather indelicately, so for the first time in Japan I didn't feel totally gauche. 

On one of my last days I was a bit more organised and bought a bento from the supermarket near my hotel, which I think was merely vegetarian rather than vegan, but honestly just trying to find things without added fish is enough of a challenge. I can't remember how much this cost - not a lot - and I ate it in Ueno Park. It was excellent. 

 Other things:
Heirloom carrot from the supermarket.

ludicrously expensive apple in packaging

ludicrously apple partially unwrapped; disappointingly, the very expensive apples weren't noticeably better than the already-excellent ordinary ones from the supermarket. 
 Not pictured - multiple mochi that I ate.

not eaten, but seen at the airport with horror. It's a kit-kat you put in a toaster, a la PopTarts. Mm, diabeeeetus 
Bit of a vegan fail on my part in Tokyo, what with the cakes and ice-cream and all, but again it's actually possible especially with HappyCow help. I found the department store food halls amazing, and the supermarket near my hotel invaluable. I didn't rely so much on the 7-11s and Lawsons etc but they were handy for drinks and vegan jelly, amongst other things. 

After I got back from Tokyo I went through a period of a) detesting anything carbohydrate-y or sweet; b) loathing coffee. After a few months of working as a very-junior doctor, both of these  reversed. To the detriment of my skin, I think. 

Anyway, I long to go back to Japan, and do the vegan thing properly. Going to Kyoto is a must. It would also be nice to go again now that I have an income, because holidaying in the limbo period between university and work is a bloody nightmare - all the time to go places, no money to do it. Gahhhh.