As an international student who first arrives in the Land of the Rising Sun, everything is exciting, new and even the mundane starts feeling like an adventure. Japan – home to Doraemon, matcha-flavoured KitKats and the vibrant animations of Studio Ghibli – offers endless opportunities to explore popular culture and get the authentic Japanese experience, just without any of the subtitles. It also houses all the beautiful delicacies showcased in Japanese animated films that make your mouth water and satisfy the desire for aesthetically pleasing food. Classics such as ramen, bento, and chicken katsu all look heavenly through the carefully painted Ghibli movie screens, and in real life, they look even better. However, as a Muslim, you may find that most of these dishes are out of your reach because they are not made with halal ingredients.
But worry not, because even if a lot of the mainstream places do not cater to halal needs, there are workarounds that can help you fulfil your fantasies of having authentic Japanese ramen.
Search for Halal Restaurants
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Japan’s Muslim population is small, but it is still growing rapidly. Although there’s not a plethora of options available, many establishments that cater to the Muslim population have opened up in recent years to meet the rising demand – you will find most of these in the busy tourist hubs in Tokyo. These days, a simple Google Search yields plenty of viable results, so you’ll end up finding the restaurants easily. Moreover, you can find a wide range of cuisines, from Indian to Nepali to Chinese to authentic Japanese – there are plenty of options for your tastebuds.
Another workaround to finding halal food is to opt for vegan restaurants. Recently, more and more are popping up in Tokyo, so you can opt for one of these if you are unable to find a halal restaurant nearby.
Alternatives to Eating Out
While eating at restaurants can be a wonderful experience, it’s obviously not feasible as a permanent solution, especially if you’re an international student. If you’re living in Japan long term, it’s a no-brainer that you’ll have to start cooking your own food and buying your own ingredients. Halal meat is not accessible in usual supermarkets, but you’ll definitely end up finding them in smaller desi stores and even the bigger supermarkets such as Bongo Bazar and Gyomu Super.
Alternatively, if you’re enrolled in university, you may be able to find halal options in your campus cafeteria.
Food That is Surprisingly Not Halal
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You’ll find that many ingredients that are traditionally halal back in your home country are not halal in Japan. This is because many products have alcohol added or use soy sauce that contains alcohol or mirin. This goes for teriyaki sauce and sushi rice too. If you’re looking to purchase halal soy sauce (shoyu) in Japan, you can opt for Kikkoman’s Halal Soy Sauce.
Also, the emulsifiers used in everyday products are often derived from pork. You’ll find that this is the case even for items such as bread – you have to be mindful in convenience stores and supermarkets and find the specific bread or bakery goods that are halal by carefully scanning the ingredients. You’ll have better luck at a Seven-Eleven compared to other conbinis. Fortunately, there are also many food items that use emulsifiers derived from soybeans instead of pork that are safe to eat.
Overall, this means that you will have to be extra careful when purchasing processed food.
Keeping Up with the Apps
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This is where mobile applications such as Google Lens or Google Translate come in handy, as they allow you to directly scan ingredient lists and identify whether a product is halal or not on the go. You can take your time in supermarkets to carefully scan the back of the packaging to ensure all your food is halal. Of course, this process is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. If you want to avoid this, you can also use a paid application called Halal Japan that charges you a fixed fee of 150 yen every month. This app contains a database of all the items that are halal and haram to eat, and everything is categorized by different levels of haram and halal according to your customized settings. This app can help you avoid the inconvenience of having to scan the packaging of each product individually, and you can instead simply search up the name of the item on the app, and it’ll tell you the rest. The items are carefully curated and verified by the Halal Japan team as they directly call the suppliers to check the ingredient lists.
Halal Food Isn’t So Difficult to Find
Although the above might sound discouraging, eating halal isn’t all that difficult in reality. Expect occasional bouts of sadness because you can’t have that beautiful bowl of ramen in every restaurant you walk into, but on the brighter side, perhaps this will inspire your inner chef to come out and create authentic Japanese dishes that rival even the best restaurants here.
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