Okinawa is one of the world’s “Blue Zones” which are known for the longevity of their people. Shima yasai (island vegetables) are one key to a long life, and an important part of Okinawan food culture. Reflecting a global trend, there has been an increase in the number of vegan restaurants that serve plant-based dishes using organically grown produce. To discover vegan dishes inspired by traditional recipes, we visited Ukishima Garden on Ukishima St. in Naha City.
Relishing the flavors of locally grown shima yasai
A macrobiotic diet is perhaps one secret to longevity. Those following this path try to maintain a healthy balance between people, other living creatures and the environment. Embracing this philosophy, Ukishima Garden uses locally produced organic vegetables and grains to create Italian, French and Asian inspired dishes.
Ukishima Garden’s famous Veggie Taco Rice uses shima dofu and rice grown at an organic farm on Iriomote Island that has been pesticide-free for over 30 years. Shima yasai grown under the Okinawan sun are generously used in their Organic Spicy Curry Rice. The Harvest Meat Vegan Burger made from locally grown millet is just one of the many delicious vegan gourmet items.
Connected through food to resolve global food scarcity
Ukishima Garden aims to do more than just providing customers excellent healthy food. Their goal is to support local production for local consumption and strengthen their bond with local farmers. They also help sustainable agriculture by purchasing produce at fair prices. By supporting fair trade, Ukishima Garden spreads the desire to eliminate global hunger and poverty. They also promote food awareness and appreciation programs for children that include giving them the opportunity to experience farming.
Naoko Nakasone, the owner of Ukishima Garden stated “I believe there are many opportunities to create a community by making connections between people and its local regions through food. I want people to taste shima yasai that are full of nutrition and minerals having absorbed the energy of the Okinawan sun. I want people to think about the environment that surrounds our food. I want Ukishima Garden to be a place that uplifts everyone.”
The concept of onkochishin (revisiting the past to learn something new) is embraced in these dishes that bring a vegan spin to classics that everyone can enjoy. Okinawa has a wide variety of gourmet scenes, so the best advice is just to get out there and try them! Fresh vegetables and ingredients carefully selected by Ukishima Garden staff are also sold in the restaurant, and could make the perfect souvenir.
※ Ukishima Garden is temporary closed. Please check the official website below for the latest information.
Posted on March 26th, 2021
Text by Kei Itaya
Magazine editor, writer, newspaper journalist in Tokyo and NYC for more than 15 years. Returned to her hometown of Okinawa in 2019.
This interview was conducted based on the guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.