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Dining Space, CONTE_ (Naha City), Where Stories are Weaved by People and Encounters
post : 2019.02.21 02:00
“There are untold stories in life, and when those stories cross, you feel a sense of beginning.” In the old capital of Shuri is CONTE_, and these words that you might expect to hear in a European film, describe the establishment well. CONTE_ is a restaurant that offers great dishes prepared mainly with Okinawa’s seasonal foods as well as ingredients that the two owners came across by chance. CONTE_ is also a café where you can relax and enjoy coffee or tea with something sweet. CONTE_ is also a bar to enjoy a meal with natural wine on a night of a full moon, and finally, CONTE_ is a cultural space for the new epoch where you can enjoy photo exhibits, live performances, and even special presentations on living. How did CONTE_, with all its different faces, come about? We had a chance to talk with the owners, Makoto and Miho Igarashi, who met in Okinawa, got married, and opened CONTE_.
When the couple married, Miho left Tokyo to start a new life in a Shuri neighborhood together with Makoto. At that time, Makoto was working as a chef in a popular café in Ginowan, while Miho worked as an editor. Whenever they had the chance, they went out on walks and quickly fell in love with Shuri, where the streets have a sense of welcoming nostalgia from the bygone period. It was also around this time that they began talking about starting their own business.
Makoto shares shyly, “When we first got married, I never thought about starting my own place, but living with Miho, I began to think about creating a place, a space where both of our strengths could come together. I’ve been cooking for a long time, and she has lots of ties with many, many people. I always had the words, “ties” and “stories” in my head, and that’s how we came to the French word, CONTE_.”
Miho says, “When we hear the word “conte” in Japan, the first thing we associate that is “laughter” or comedy, and that’s what I hope for; to enrich our lives with laughter. Someday, I hope we can have a ‘Live Conte Performance at CONTE_’. While I was working at a publishing company, there were opportunities for editors to plan various events, and so I planned exhibitions for photographers I interviewed, and live performances for musicians, too. When we were looking for a place for CONTE_, we came across this spot and thought, ‘With this size, we could offer not only food, but events we manage to put together,’ and so that’s one of the reasons why we chose to open here.”
About the dishes at CONTE_
Sprinkled on the dishes that Makoto creates are a collection of stories that go untold. There are vegetables carefully grown with painstaking efforts by his farmer (harusa in Okinawan) friends, and there are also fresh meats and seasonal fish that he carefully chooses. The plates quietly enhance the presentation as well. Makoto creates flavors that he spent to perfect, making sure that the energy of the fresh, seasonal ingredients aren’t lost, and for his customers will be satisfied.
From the beginning of CONTE_, the popular item on the menu has been the Roasted Okinawan Pork with Mustard Sauce. First thing to enjoy is Today’s Soup, which is made only with salt for seasoning in order to bring out the tastes of seasonal vegetables to the fullest. It’s a simple and tender taste, with a flavor that speaks of the gentle kindness of the chef. Then the main plate and the 70% polished Nanabuzuki rice are brought to the table.
A generous portion of various fresh Okinawan vegetables accompany the roasted pork. The fried Okinawan tofu with cashew nuts is an original creation, and the light, crispy texture is delightful, with a gentle touch of the soy beans. The acidity of the mustard add a nice and refreshing touch to the homemade roasted pork which was freshly prepared and aromatic, and the flavor burst on the palate with every bite. They recommend to enjoy the pork together with the vegetables, saying, “Think of the side vegetables as a sauce”. How you enjoy it is up to you, so “encounter your own taste.”
For dessert, try their special cookies that are baked quite thick. You can choose from three kinds; figs and cashews, chocolate and orange, and currants and nuts. These thick cookies have a good, firm texture and are perfect for afternoon tea.
Their coffee is an original roast from COFFEE potohoto in Sakaemachi, roasted just right to go with the meals prepared at CONTE_. If you prefer tea, Makoto recommends the original blend of earl grey tea by Alexandres Debritto. He says, “I decided long ago that when I open my own place, I’d serve his tea.”
If you enjoy wine, how about a night at the Mangetsu Conte, held once a month on the night of a full moon. The sommelier from the wine shop, “un deux trois” in Yomitan Village selects different natural wine every month and brings them to CONTE_ for customers to enjoy with their meals. In an evening when the moon is full, CONTE_ is full of wine-lovers making ties, and giving a feeling that new stories will be created.
Selection of natural wine for the Mangetsu (Full Moon) ©CONTE_
On other nights, we recommend their Yoru (Night) Conte, where artists who the owners have ties perform as people enjoy food and drinks. This all began before CONTE_ opened for business, when a musician friend said, “I want to do a live performance when you open your place! You can enjoy a relaxing night of good food and music with the performers comfortably close, unlike a typical live music venue.
Yoru (Night) Conte “Miyuki Hatakeyama & Ryuhei Koike Live” ©CONTE_
There are also exhibits held irregularly, again, featuring people whom Makoto and Miho made ties with. As these ties are by chance, the genre of these exhibitions are diverse. Themes vary from food, living, and art, to craft workshops and more… People gather here, drawn by the attractive events. The role that CONTE_ plays is “like a place where ties and relationships cross (which is like the famous Jimmy Cliff song, Many Rivers to Cross)”, and that is what makes CONTE_ so appealing.
Mask-Making Workshop with Robin Nishi ©CONTE_
CONTE_ is a unique space where all these stories gather and cross. As you visit, perhaps you may be casted into the next story.
CONTE_ opened in Shuri in 2015. Reflecting on the last three years, they shared their thoughts, “Life and living isn’t easy, but, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say this myself, but, I’m really, very happy right now. We meet so many people, reunite with so many people, and it’s just natural for us two to be together.”
The couple continued with smiling faces, “Our vision for our future is maybe actually about 20 years from now, but in 20 years, when we’re both old, we hope the people in this community and our friends to feel glad that CONTE_ existed. It would make us so happy if we’re able to somehow do a little good to a person’s life, in a subtle way. Like something that may change a kid from the neighborhood through the food they ate here, in some way, or a couple who met here and got married, or something like that.”
CONTE_ is where small pieces come together to make something new. It’s a restaurant, a café, a bar and a cultural space for a new epoch…Open the doors and you’ll find many unique pieces that welcome you. For now, perhaps CONTE_ can’t be described in one word. As Makoto and Miho continue their journey, supporting each other and with smiles on their faces, people will surely now about this place further down the road, and it will simply be described as “CONTE_ is simply CONTE_”. With the small tales woven every day, together with their delightful dishes.
Address: 1-17 Akatamachi, Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 11:00-17:00 (Last Orders at 16:00)
Okinawa CLIP photo writers, monobox (Tetsumasa & Kozue Kawano)