As people spend more time at home, many of us have begun to pay more attention to the food we put into our bodies. Also, recently we started hearing about some unique foodie spots created by people from the Kanto region who have moved to Unzen, Nagasaki. Curious to see what they are doing in the tranquil part of Kyushu, we packed up the car to see and taste ourselves.
There are many ways to get to Unzen, but we drove from Fukuoka via Isahaya on the Nagasaki Expressway. It took about three and half hours. You can also get there by high-speed boat or ferry from Omuta (Miike Port) or Kumamoto (Kumamoto Port). Access reference: https://www.city.shimabara.lg.jp/access/page2643.html
Our first stop: Taneto
A market-style shop specializing in organic products.
2138-1 Chijiwa-cho Hei, Unzen City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Taneto is a direct sales shop that sells organic vegetables that have been cultivated in the area since ancient times and are grown using almost no pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
“When we look at food in a new light, we first must consider the seeds.” Mr. Chikashi Okutsu, the owner of Taneto, was inspired by a farmer in Unzen who has been collecting seeds of native species for over 40 years and protecting these heritage varieties. Okutsu moved from the Kanto region to Unzen with his family and opened this organic base in 2019.
The store displays vegetables brought in directly by organic farmers in the area in a simple yet beautiful way. The price tags include the names of the growers, their cultivation methods, and tips on how to cook or use them.
Many vegetables are indigenous species that have not been bred to endure transportation or mass production and are rarely seen outside the local area. The yellow cucumber-like vegetable is the Heike cucumber, which originates from Shiiba Village in Miyazaki Prefecture.
You can also have lunch made with the vegetables and ingredients sold in the store. On this day, there were two sets: one set (¥1,400) included cold whole-grain noodles from Shimabara, and a popular item in the store, with sesame sauce, white eggplant tempura, and fried horse mackerel caught nearby. The other set was a vegetable plate, soup, and freshly baked muffin. The lunches are handmade on the premises using seasonal vegetables and are full of gentle and nutritious flavors. It will also give you an idea of how to prepare the products you buy.
And our second stop: Beard.
The Beard restaurant opened in December 2020 in the Obama hot spring district of Unzen. The owner and chef, Shinichiro Harakawa, has been deeply involved in the relationship between food and society, having opened the Blind Donkey restaurant in Kanda, Tokyo, with Jerome Wagg, who worked at Chez Panisse for many years, under the slogan “100% Organic Japan. Like Mr. Okutsu, the owner of Taneto, he also moved to Unzen to be near Mr. Masatoshi Iwasaki, a farmer native heritage vegetables organically grown in Unzen City, Nagasaki Prefecture from way, way back in time.
Instead of a la carte, there’s an “Omakase Course with a focus on Unzen indigenous vegetables” and by reservations required (except on a la carte on Mondays). The restaurant, located in a back alley of Obama Onsen, has a simple open kitchen and counter. The meal, which starts with Harakawa cutting the vegetables, is like a near-silent stage performance. As simple as the vegetables begin, they are almost magically transformed into creative dishes that bring out their flavor and character to their fullest.
Even these Heike cucumbers can be transformed into a stunning dish like this under Chef Harakawa’s hands.
Grilled, fried, or dressed, dish after dish, you’ll become delighted with simple vegetables with just the slightest modification.