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Restaurant Review: Oryza

Author: Vivian Lee, Issue: April 2007, Topic: Restaurants, Location: Tsukuba City

I imagine it is quite difficult for newcomer vegetarians, especially vegans, to eat in Japan as most foods contain either bonito (katsuo fish flakes) or other bits of hidden meat/seafood. Though I am not vegetarian, I do have vegetarian tendencies and know many foreign friends who are vegetarian and had a hard time finding something they could eat at restaurants. My Indian friend gave up being a vegetarian and now eats pork or chicken!

For vegetarians who may want to dine out, you can try eating at Oryza (oryza-ya) hidden in a regular-looking residence in Matsushiro. The place opened only 2 or so years ago but word of it has spread over time. The restaurant serves 3 types of meals: regular (non-vegetarian with fish or meat), vegetarian (vegan type), and Gerson. For those of you unfamiliar with Gerson, it is a kind of strict salt-free diet specifically for those suffering from cancer or a weak immune system. I went with three friends so I was able to try all three! Even the salt-free Gerson dishes were very appetizing and flavour-packed!

The owner, a lovely woman named Mrs. Katoh and native of Tokyo, started the shop due to a previous less health-conscious diet. Concerned about poor leg circulation, overconsumption of meat and dairy products, sunspots, and other concerns, she changed her main staple food from white rice to organic brown rice. Soon she noticed a difference in her (and her husband's) health and became interested in spreading the word to others... eventually opening her own restaurant.

Lunch sets are available for 1500 yen and 2100 yen. Considering how much food is served, it is really a run for your money! You will feel really stuffed by the time dessert is served, trust me. Dinner courses are available for 3150 yen, 4200 yen, and 5250 yen.

Example of food served:

Gerson

  • homemade tofu with aonori, black sugar
  • glass of carrot juice
  • balsamic vinegar eringi mushrooms
  • roasted eggplant with tomato and onion sauce
  • black sesame tofu
  • pineapple and sequasa (citrus fruit juice from Okinawa) juice on yuba (tofu skin)
  • lettuce with tofu and sesame paste, flavoured with black sugar
  • simmered shitake, freeze-dried tofu (koya tofu) and fresh endive leaf

Vegetarian

  • homemade tofu in thickened stock (dashi) made from konbu seaweed and dried shitake
  • miso soup with black sesame tofu
  • tempura with konnyaku-nori, sweet potato, green stem of carrots...served with green tea salt
  • yuba (tofu skin) and daikon dish, semi-sweet wasabi paste
  • simmered fuki (butterbur), shitake, freeze-dried tofu in vegan dashi
  • lettuce with tofu and sesame paste with soy sauce
  • yurine (lily bulb) with enoki mushrooms surrounding a lotus root ball filled with miso paste and lily bulb

Regular

  • homemade tofu in thickened stock made from konbu, dried shitake, bonito flakes
  • miso soup with black sesame tofu
  • tempura with shrimp, sweet potato, leaves/stem of carrots...served with green tea salt
  • simmered fuki (butterbur), shitake, freeze-dried tofu in regular dashi
  • tuna (maguro) sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce
  • lettuce with tofu and sesame paste with soy sauce
  • yurine (lily bulb) with enoki mushrooms surrounding a lotus root ball filled with miso paste and lily bulb

All sets were served with soba (buckwheat) tea and brown rice with black sesame salt on the side (like self-service), homemade tofu ice cream topped with honey, and choice of either coffee or tea.

The organic brown rice has a unique story behind it. It uses the "aigamo - nohou" farming method in which ducks feed on insect pests in the rice field, making it unnecessary for the farmer to use pesticides on the rice crop. The rice is sold at Oryza @ 600yen per 1kg, which is quite reasonable considering the method and plain fact that it is organic rice!

The restaurant is by reservations only and reservations may be made the day before or earlier. The general restaurant hours are 11:30a.m. to 10:00pm. The shop is closed on Saturday. Tea time featuring one of the following: cake, nikuman - steamed meat buns, yasaiman - steamed vegetable buns, Japanese wagashi sweets, plus a beverage of choice is held from 2:00 to 5:00pm. Tea time is done on a reservation basis as well - you can try to go without notice, she just might not be there!

INFORMATION

Oryza (the name of the place was inspired by the scientific Latin name for rice, apparently)
Tsukuba-shi
Matsushiro 3-8-13
Tel&Fax: 029-851-9957
E-mail: oryza AT mail1.accsnet.ne.jp

The only downside is its location. Just go behind LaLa Garden through the street on which DoyaDoya izakaya is located. Then go down a narrow road in the middle of some fields until you see a big cream-coloured building. Take a right just before that building. There should be some creamish-coloured condominium behind it. There is a small stained-glass plate with the name Oryza in Katakana. (See picture included in this review to see what it looks like)

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