Pizza and pottery offered at Okinawa cafe
A pizzeria that opened recently in Yomitan village is attracting tourists, pottery lovers and gourmets to the center of traditional Okinawan pottery.
Guests arriving at Pottery and Cafe Gunjo are welcomed by two smiling shisa statues. The mythical Okinawan creatures, which look like a cross between a lion and a dog, are dressed like chefs, one holding a pizza and the other wielding a peel.
The cafe-restaurant shares space with a gallery that displays pottery from a workshop, called Toshin Gama, next door. Mountain views through the large windows offer a relaxing atmosphere punctuated by slow jazz played through earthenware pot-shaped speakers.
Although the pizza selection isn’t extensive, I had a hard time choosing because everything on the menu looked delicious. I eventually chose local Okinawan vegetables over appetizing seasonal mushrooms. Blue cheese lovers might enjoy the gorgonzola-and-honey pizza.
The combination of pottery and pizza was the dream of owner-chef Masanao Souma, who grew up watching his father working in his Yomitan pottery studio. When his father’s gallery, Gunjo, was moved from Naha’s Tsuboya, or potter’s community, to Yomitan in May, Souma decided to open this restaurant.
Souma takes pride in his dough, which he learned to make from his mentor, an Italian chef. He repeats a fermentation and maturation process for three to four days before using it. The longer-than-average technique gives the dough extra air bubbles, making it gentle yet crispy, he said.
“Dough is alive,” Souma said. “You have to carefully see and feel each one of them because no doughs are the same.”
In the kitchen, there’s a stone oven shaped like a shisa’s head with its mouth wide open. The burning firewood inside gives off warm sounds and scents.
Souma carefully placed my pizza on a peel and put it into the oven that’s kept at 660 degrees. I was fascinated by the fire and his deft manipulation of the peel, and my meal was ready within minutes.
The appetizing aroma reminded me of words a pizza chef once told me: to enjoy pizza best, finish eating it within 10 minutes. Souma said he buys into this rule, too.
The colorful and delicately baked vegetable toppings went well with the melted mozzarella cheese. The crust, featuring lots of air bubbles, made the pizza taste very light. To my surprise, I did finish it within 10 minutes.
Though eating pizza as quickly as possible is recommended, that doesn’t mean that you have to leave Gunjo when you’re through. Desserts, such as Okinawan lime sorbet and tiramisu, and beverages make good after-pizza treats. And the soothing jazz music will have you feeling mellow. Gunjo also hosts monthly live jazz concerts.
If you wish to take home a tangible memory after enjoying all that good food and music, the pottery shop next door is a good place for after-meal shopping. Toshin Gama offers a mini pottery class where you can make your own mug, dish or shisa.
Pottery and Cafe Gunjo
Location: 2898 Zakimi, Yomitan-son, Okinawa. From Kadena Air Base’s Gate One, take Highway 58 north and continue past Kadena Circle. You will see a red tile-roofed community store on your left. Within a few minutes, Aloha Golf Course will come into view. Turn left at the traffic signal where the golf course sign is posted on the corner. Drive uphill on this road until you see two smiling shisa chef statues on your right.
Pizza is served after 11 a.m.
Prices: Pizza costs between 750 yen (about $7) and 1,300 yen (about $12). Desserts cost between 200-300 yen (about $1.75 to 2.65).
Information: Pottery and Cafe Gunjo: 098-927-9167; Toshin Gama pottery workshop: 098-958-2029 (English-speaking staff available; closed on Sundays).