Monday, March 21, 2005

精進料理 (しょうじんりょうり): Vegetarian Japanese cuisine

I often find myself in Japan in the company of vegetarians, who often find it difficult to find food that they can enjoy. Normally I take them to 居酒屋 (いざかや) restaurants; but, as I've always expected there is indeed a vegetarian Japanese cuisine based on temple cooking.

Zen is austere and meditative. It is the practice of ascetic self-denial on the path to serenity and satori. It is the cult of monochrome and minimalism. Above all, it is serious -- and so is its food, the vegetarian tradition known as sho[h]jin ryori.

Sure, if that's what you want. We will gladly point you in the direction of temples where your sustenance will be little more than a bowl of thin brown-rice gruel served with crunchy, salty takuan pickles. Our path, though, is one that leads straight to Sosaibo's welcoming door.

A rustic lantern spills light onto a narrow alley in a sleepy, residential area of Meguro. Two small jizo statues stand among vegetation in front of a simple, single-story shack. All too often, shojin restaurants feel uncomfortably earnest, self-righteous, bland. No such problem at Sosaibo -- you can tell by the way you're greeted by owner-chef Katsurou Noguchi and his wife, Mieko.

Noguchi has the wiry frame, gleaming pate and warm smile of a contented bonze. He studied the Zen culinary arts among the temples of Kamakura, then returned home and molded the tradition to his character -- honest, unpretentious, thoughtful and with a homespun aesthetic all his own....

4-1-9 Meguro-Honcho, Meguro-ku, tel: (03) 3710-4336
Open: 6:30 p.m.-midnight Mondy-Friday, also second Saturday of month.
Closed: Saturday (except second) and Sunday.
Nearest stations: Musashi-Koyama (Meguro Line)
How to get there: From the station, walk alongside the Meguro Line tracks (in the direction of Denenchofu) to the first large street, then turn right. At the third set of lights (Meguro-Honcho 5), continue for a further 50 meters, then take the first side street to the left (by a large green sign for a dental clinic). Sosaibo is on the left after 20 meters.
What works: Zen and fine sake -- now that's what we call enlightenment.

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