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[Ukishima Garden] (in Naha) Offers Dishes Made with Okinawan Grains and Island Vegetables
post : 2020.02.28 18:00
Ukishima Garden, a restaurant serving dishes prepared with Okinawa-grown grains and local vegetables, is located along Ukishima Street in Naha City. The establishment opened in March 2011, with intentions to bring energy and good health to the people and the local area through organic and natural grains and vegetables from farmers who grow them without polluting the land nor sea.
Ukishima Garden is well known as a vegan restaurant, but they’re also known for their activities through the producers’ association of Okinawan grains that they established in 2017. The association works to protect grains native to the Okinawan islands from going extinct, and its members consist of farmers and producers from Hateruma, Kudaka, and Miyako Islands. The grains are shipped out from Ukishima Garden which functions as the central hub of their activities.
Take this multi-grain burger shown above. It may look like a regular burger, but compared to a regular burger with a meat patty, it offers so much more in taste and texture. Even the chips on the side aren’t just your regular potatoes, but they’re cassava fries. The beverage accompanying the dish contains healthy, fermented ingredients like Konbu Cha, Miki, and others, and is also a taste that you don’t commonly find.
I asked Naoko Nakasone, the Ukishima Garden’s owner and specialist in grain dishes, why she chose to focus on grains. She says, “Various grains that are native to the islands of Okinawa Prefecture were disappearing at an alarming speed. I visited numerous islands to meet with people who had these grains, and found out that many of them were Tsukasa, or Shinto priests. These were rice and millets and other grains that have been a necessary part of rituals and ceremonies in Okinawa since ancient times. In many local hymns and folk songs, the lyrics described how the growth of grains cures our societies, and our forefathers have left the message of how important these grains are through these songs from the past. I became determined to protect the native grain species that our ancestors painstakingly protected to hand down to us.”
“What’s also wonderful about grains is that you can store them. Vegetables spoil after a while, but with grains, you can store them for years if you keep the hulls. So, when met with natural calamities, they are a very important source of nutrition for people. Today, Okinawa’s self-sufficiency rate of food on a calory base is 33%, and they’re mainly sugarcane, mangoes, pineapples and others that are not staples like grains and vegetables. If we don’t increase our production of vegetables and grain crops, we would be faced with a lack of food if there were to be simultaneous natural disasters around the world.”
“At Ukishima Garden, we are now growing rice and grains together with the children who come to our Kodomo Shokudo (literally translating to “children’s cafetaria” a Japanese system that offers meals to children who may be in need), under the guidance of Asai-san, a farmer in Kunigami. My dream is to turn all the abandoned farm fields into grain fields.”
It’s the hard work and dedicated activities that have taken shape which lets Ukishima Garden offer the delicious dishes to their customers. Their Ryukyu Gokoku Gozen lunch plate (¥1,980) is served with Akamaya rice, an ancient grain from Iriomote Island, topped with sesame seeds also grown in Okinawa. Topped on the Togan or winter melon dish with its thick Ankake sauce, is barley grown with great care by Toma-san, a farmer in Yomitan Village. The tofu dish is a traditional Okinawan dish called Moi Tofu which was served on special occasions. There is also a croquette-style dish prepared with potatoes from Yanbaru and Mochi Kibi, a glutinous yellow millet, grown on Hateruma Island, as wells as a dish that tastes like fried fish, but is prepared with Hie, or Japanese barnyard millet. What’s remarkable about the dishes served at Ukishima Garden is that all the dishes that taste like fish or meat are made so with grains. Besides grains, they use sake lees produced in Awamori production from the distiller, Miyanohana, located on Irabu Island, as well as various seasonal vegetables. Take a bite of their salad and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the taste and freshness of the energy-packed vegetables.
What’s also noteworthy is the Masan Marche that is held with Ukishima Garden playing a central role. It’s another one of their efforts to directly link farmers and consumers. “Presently, about 60 percent of the farmers on Okinawa are over 65 years old, and there are serious issues surrounding the continuity of the farms due to lack of successors. People are less inclined to get into farming because the income isn’t high and on top of that, it can be risky. Because of that, we try to as much as we can to help, like introducing vegetable delivery boxes based on the ideas of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where consumers share the burden of risks that the farmers usually shoulder on their own, and through that, we connect the consumers with producers. We also purchase vegetables in bulk and process them when there is a typhoon approaching, so that the vegetables will not be damaged and go to waste. We do what we can, and there are certainly things that we can assist with because we are a restaurant establishment.”
I asked further about her dedication and focus on grains, and Naoko-san responded, “Based on the ideas of the macrobiotic diet, 70 percent of our teeth are designed to chew and eat grains and vegetables. This, of course, is how our body and teeth have become over tens of thousands of years and across the history of the human race. Our teeth tell us that we don’t need to consume so much meat or fish. On top of that, grains are very high in nutrition and are a rich source of dietary fiber. They can also alleviate levels of cholesterol and have high antioxidative effects. There are so many varieties of grains that you can enjoy, and they can be arranged to simulate eggs and other dairy products, meats, and fish, too. Isn’t that amazing?” At Ukishima Garden, what you’ll find isn’t just the same old ways of eating grains, but dishes that are so delicious and eye-opening, you will most definitely be delighted.
Address: 2-12-3 Matsuo, Naha City, Okinawa
Monday to Wednesday, and Fridays from 11:30 to 15:00 (Last Order at 14:00)
Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays from 11:30 to 16:00 (Last Order at 15:00)
From 17:00 to 22:00 (Last Order at 21:00, Course Orders Until 20:30)
Access: Approx. 15 minutes by car from Naha Airport
12 minutes on foot from Kencho-Mae Station, Yui Rail
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Hiroshi Kuwamura