Eatery's 'raw food' pleases palates, eyes

Eatery's 'raw food' pleases palates, eyes

by Christopher Dong
Stripes Okinawa

Naomi Nishijima leads a life of bliss. From personal farming and handmade miso paste, to hula dance and community awareness, she thrives on sharing the very best of nature and life with her family and friends.

That is why this year Nishijima and her husband opened Ionca Café. Intent on serving great tasting vegetarian cuisine, she takes a particularly healthful approach to food preparation. “Everything is either raw or fermented,” Nishijima says.

Raw foods are key to a dietary lifestyle made famous by such celebrities as Chef Matthew Kenney and actor Woody Harrelson that promotes eating uncooked, unprocessed, organic foods at their freshest. It is believed that raw food preparation maintains the digestive enzymes, healthy micro-organisms, and nutrient values in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Based on this concept, Nishijima serves colorful, beautifully dressed, locally sourced dishes with an added twist.

“Ionca” means fermentation in the near-extinct language of the Ainu, indigenous peoples of Hokkaido. Nishijima and her husband grow soybeans, which are then fermented into soy sauce, miso paste, and “natto,” a traditional Japanese staple that is mixed with green onions, soy sauce and paired with steamed rice. Nishijima said the fermentation makes vitamins and nutrients more readily available for us to take in.

Flavor, texture, and looks change through the fermentation process, often intensifying the culinary experience. Those that are new to natto, which is featured in the Ionca Plate, are in for a very unique experience. Sticky, chewy and runny, natto’s texture is not something most Westerners are familiar with. But for the more adventurous, Nishijima says “natto is wonderfully nutritious, and worth getting used to.” Loaded with compounds, vitamins, and minerals, natto serves as a go-to dish for everyday health.

Equally delicious, Ionca’s Raw Plate features local organic vegetables that are seasoned and sauced to perfection. Fresh with hues of purple, green, red and yellow, a veritable rainbow of colors fills plates, beckoning for undivided attention.

The raw desserts are unbelievable. A recent day’s offering was cheesecake that was smooth, creamy and decadent, which could be eaten without an ounce of guilt. The café also offers a variety of teas, coffee, wines, and craft beer to pair with your meal.

While dining, guests will notice a small, teddy bear-like creature staring from the yard doors. That’s Malo, Ionca’s cuddly mascot. Take a break, and feel free to pay him a visit.

The staff at Ionca speak little English but are warm and welcoming, giving their all to make your experience a vibrant and memorable one. Ionca is open Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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