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Eat Vegan in Naha, Okinawa

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Tasty dishes and refreshing drinks are on offer at Ukishima Garden.

Eating vegan, halal or kosher while in Japan can be tricky, particularly for day-trippers and short-stay visitors, but at Ukishima Garden in downtown Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, you can dine or have a snack with confidence.

The cosy and welcoming café is tailormade for vegans. Many of the vast range of dishes are Okinawan, and there are even original drinks, too.

Ukishima Garden was born out of the owner’s dream of creating a menu based on shima yasai (island vegetable) cuisine. The vegetables from the subtropical archipelago are rich in flavour and taste even better when they are grown in a good environment, she says. By using only organic produce, Ukishima Garden aims to energise people and help the planet.

The foundation of the dishes is the Five Grains, a group of crops that have been important in culinary culture for centuries. They comprise wheat, rice, beans, awa (foxtail millet, the most grown millet species in Asia) and kibi (egg millet). Although these grains have been eaten in Japan and other parts of the world since ancient times, their use declined from the mid-20th century. The owner’s plan is to put them back on the culinary map.

Ukishima Garden’s concept is that these Five Grains replicate the texture of meat, fish, eggs and dairy — and they really do! If you were to close your eyes while eating their “fish-like burger” or imitation meatballs, you might think you were eating the real thing, albeit with a different flavour!

Sustainable approach

If you like to go green when you eat out, this eatery is ideal. All the vegetables and grains used are 100% natural, locally grown and contain no genetically modified organisms or MSG. The vegetables are sourced from community-supported agriculture programmes helping to increase the number of organic farmers in Okinawa. The rice, meanwhile, is harvested from fields that have been pesticide-free for more than 30 years.

Other ingredients are sustainably sourced, too. The rapeseed oil, for example, is derived from fields in Kyushu, the café’s nearest source.

Moreover, all waste from the kitchen is turned into compost and returned to the fields.

Catering to the world

All the meals are halal- and kosher-certified and suitable for Buddhist vegetarians who cannot consume allium vegetables such as onion, garlic, shallot, scallion, leek and chives. On request, chefs can also create gluten-free options and cater to people with specific food allergies.

The menu

Lunch options are hearty and filling. For ¥1,400, you can choose from taco rice, spicy curry rice, a millet bowl featuring seasonal vegetables, omu-rice (fried rice topped with an omelette) and a fish-like burger made from millet. Each includes a mini salad and a drink. The taco rice and omu-rice are unique to Okinawa as they are made from the island’s popular specialty tofu.

Dinner can comprises four, five or six courses, which typically feature appetizers and side dishes as well as a main dish and a dessert. The six-course option is ¥4,000. Alternatively you can order a la carte, from options such as vegetable sushi, seaweed dishes and croquettes.

The café’s chilled vibe is also a great place for an afternoon snack or pick-me-up. Try a drip coffee or coffee float along with the vegan soft-serve ice-cream or cake. For a healthy treat, choose from homemade ginger ale, homemade kombucha (fermented tea) and hemp cola. And of course there are local options, too, including Okinawan lemonade and an amazake banana shake made from fermented rice.

Ukishima Garden is a perfect place to sample some delicious traditional Okinawan dishes or simply relax over a refreshing drink.

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