When traveling to a foreign country, trying out the local cuisine is always a must! After trodding around in Japanese soil for close to 4 months now, I can concur that it is possible to find halal options. Especially after the country has recently taken steps to become more Muslim-friendly (oh how lucky we are!) However care must still be taken while looking for food, because even the most seemingly innocent food can contain haram ingredients.
Here's what you should know about finding halal food in Japan.
A handy tip for a traveler with food restrictions in Japan would be to ask restaurant staff for an allergy information list (アレルゲン情報一覧, or Arerugen jōhō ichiran). This comprehensive list will show the entire ingredient chart of each dish so you'll know what you'll be putting into your mouth.
However, if the restaurant can't provide you with one, I've listed some common popular japanese food here which you might be wondering whether it is halal or haram, or questionable.
Unfortunately as innocent as it seems, sushi is questionable when it comes to it's scale of halal-ness. If you're very particular, you would avoid it altogether because the rice contains rice vinegar and mirin.
I've checked supermarket stores and some vinegar brands contain alcohol as an extra added ingredient while some others do not. Some scholars argue that as long as the content of alcohol does not exceed a certain amount (2%) then it is still acceptable, because it doesn't cause intoxication.
In addition, a cooking wine known as mirin (味醂) is sometimes also added to the rice to enhance its flavour. Mirin, also known as rice wine, contains alcohol. Because you're in a restaurant, you'll not know whether they have added mirin to the rice or not. If they did, then your sushi has become haram, because the alcohol in mirin is not derived from natural (i.e. fermentation) means.
If you decide to go to a sushi restaurant though, bringing your own soy sauce would be the best option (at the very least, you get to control that!) because the shoyu sauce provided in the restaurant is also questionable (we'll come to that now).
Shoyu (Japanese Soy Sauce)
Similar to the reasons stated above, some shoyu sauce brands contain alcohol as an added ingredient. You can purchase small, portable bottles of shoyu sauce from the brand 'Kikkoman' from convenience stores like Family Mart. Just make sure you look out for the word 'アルコール' in the ingredient list. That means alcohol has been added.
Kikkoman’s shoyu sauce
Ramen is not halal. Even if you do not order Tonkatsu (pork broth) ramen, the other options come with toppings of ground pork and chashu pork slices. It's safer just to stay away from ramen restaurants in general, because you don't know what's going on in the kitchen.
If you're in Tokyo however, a trip to Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum will give you a nice bowl of vegetarian ramen. If you're closer to town, Asakusa's Naritaya ramen restaurant also specialises in halal ramen. If you're somewhere else in Japan, you can use the app 'Halal Navi' to search for halal food in your vicinity (see below for more details).
Vegetarian Ramen from Shin-Yokohama's Ramen Museum
Ramen Egg (Ajitsuke Tamago 味付け玉子)
You know the special egg in your ramen soup? The one where the yolk is runny and tastes absolutely heavenly? It's not halal. Mirin and shoyu are used in the sauce they use to marinate the eggs.
But all’s not lost! I’ll be posting an alternative recipe to satisfy your craving for ramen eggs (and ramen)!
My humble version of Miso Ramen
Cold & Hot Soba Dishes
While the noodles are halal, the soups and dipping sauces aren't. They contain mirin and shoyu.
I am a great fan of zaru soba (cold soba noodles), so I made my own halal zaru soba at home. It's really easy and there's not much difference in taste! Plus you'd get to save money :)
Some restaurants might use red wine in the curry to enhance its taste. You wouldn't know unless you ask the restaurant staff, or check the allergy information list.
If you are at Narita Airport, you'd be pleased to know that there is a halal japanese curry restaurant located there, La Toque.
You can also find an halal alternative to cook your own japanese curry from the supermarket.
Japanese convenience stores such as Lawson's and Family Mart have everything, and if you're short on cash it's the best place to go for a fast and cheap snack. Stay away from the prepackaged bento boxes if you can, because some of the meat contain a mix of beef (questionable) and pork (haram). Don't ask me why they mix the meat together, maybe it's cheaper?
The egg and fruit cream sandwiches are perfectly fine.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous and want to check individual packages for the ingredients, here is a list of words you should be looking out for:
- 豚肉: Pork
- 肉: Meat (which may be non-halal)
- ゼラチン: Gelatin (which may be derived from pork/animal fats)
- アルコール: Alcohol
Imported Beef from Australia/ New Zealand
A bit of dispute on this one, based on the following views of scholars:
- Argument 1: Only zabiha meat (islamic slaughter) is halal and meat supplied by People of the book (Christians and Jews) is unacceptable. (But then this argument diverges into 2 groups. Those that state the animal must be slaughtered manually by a muslim and those that state its acceptable to do it automatically with some sort of recordings etc)
- Argument 2: People of the book's meat can be consumed even though it may not be slaughtered in our way as long as its fine with them and no name has been pronounced on it eg Jesus, Saints etc. (based on the statement in the Quran that People of the books meat is allowed unto us as long as whats explicitly stated as haram to us isn't in it)
- Argument 3: Meat by non-people of the book eg. Japanese etc is also permissible since the Phrase in the Quran states specifically (based on the argument above) that as long as the meat doesnt have a name other than ALLAH pronounced on it, its still acceptable as long as nothing explicitly haram is in it. (Japanese do not pronounce anything or perform any rituals and their meats are all prepared automatically and not cross contaminated.)
It is possible that Australian meat is acceptable based on arguments 2 and 3, but to err on the side of caution, one would be better off avoiding it altogether unless there is a clear mark on the package that the meat is halal.
Where does one get their meat from, then? The internet, of course!
Online/ Phone Applications
Thankfully there are a number of halal websites in Japan which provide frozen meat/products and even bento sets. Once your order is processed, it takes about 2-3 days for it to be delivered to your address. Pretty efficient, but I would recommend you order in bulk because the delivery fee usually costs as much as 1kg of the meat you're getting.
Some halal food websites you can check out:
- Halal Bento: If you have no kitchen, this company delivers halal japanese food straight to your hotel. Awesome!
- Amin Halal Food: I've been surviving on the beef from here :)
- Baticrom: Especially for Indonesians who miss a taste of home food.
- Nasco Halal Food
Otherwise, if you're traveling around and require a foursquare-ish phone app to give you the nearest halal eatery, try downloading this:
There's even a review and rating section so you do not waste your time eating mediocre food!
If you have more information to add to this list, please do add it into the comment section. I've only been here for 4 months, so I know less compared to those who have been living here for ages. :P
Hope this will be of help to Muslim travellers in Japan!