Fukui farmer’s cafe showcases local produce

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Shigeko Tanaka takes a pizza out of the oven in her restaurant in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture. The pizza crust is made of rice flour and topped with plenty of locally grown vegetables.

By Chikako Nakata / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterFUKUI — Farmer’s restaurants, eateries run by farmers using food they have grown, are worth keeping an eye out for.

Shigeko Tanaka, 58, runs one of the more than 1,400 farmer’s restaurants in Japan. Last autumn, she opened an outlet in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, where she serves pizza and bread made with rice flour.

Tanaka fell in love with the taste of locally grown rice after marrying into a farming family in the prefecture.

“The food culture in Fukui is simple but fascinating,” Tanaka said. “I want to spread this culture outside the prefecture through my business.”

“I use spinach instead of basil, and I hardly use pizza sauce because I want my customers to enjoy the taste of locally grown produce,” she said as she baked a pizza in her Italian oven.

The base is made from rice flour and topped with Koshino Ruby tomatoes from the prefecture, along with spinach and other ingredients harvested there.

Tanaka grew up in an urban area in the Kansai region, meaning she was surrounded by a “bread-eating” culture. When she married a farmer from Echizen in 1981, she was surprised by “the great flavor of simply cooked, pure rice that was harvested from a lone paddy field.”

Since then, Tanaka has participated in a project to research uses of rice flour at a municipal office and devoted herself to developing cooking methods using the product. When the project ended in 2005, Tanaka decided to open a bakery that uses only rice flour.

She organized a workshop to offer farming experiences, which wowed participating families from urban cities.

“Fukui people can eat such great rice every day,” one person said. At the workshop, children even ate vegetables that they usually were reluctant to eat. Tanaka learned from the experiences that “it’s important to impress people outside Fukui Prefecture first, before getting locals to realize that their hometown is amazing.”

Rice is not the only food Fukui people can be proud of. Local dishes such as oroshi-soba (soba noodles topped with grated daikon) and grilled whole mackerel, known as maru-yaki saba, “don’t look particularly extravagant, but they do have a solid, simple presence that preserves the essence of Japanese cuisine,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka opened a restaurant in Echizen in 2016 that serves dishes made using locally grown rice and vegetables and then opened a cafe in September last year. Tanaka came up with menus based on a theme: Simple food that possesses the customs of Fukui Prefecture and satisfies the palates of Japanese people. In mid-December, Tanaka started serving rice-flour pizza with a modern twist.

“I must develop [my project] into a solid business to eventually provide a place where young people can work,” Tanaka said.

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