The other day I was looking them up again, and just out of curiosity I did a Google search for organic food in Ibaraki Prefecture. What I found was a restaurant review by an American ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) who is working in Ibaraki. The restaurant was described as a place that served locally grown organic foods buffet style, and also had a farmer’s market on the premises. The review of the food was all raves. We decided to check it out.
The name of the place is “Pocket Farm – Dokidoki”. Dokidoki means heartbeat, (maybe a heartbeat fluttering in anticipation). Don’t look to me for exact translations. Japanese language seems to have a lot of onomatopoeia. Dokidoki is located about 45 minutes drive to our North near a little town called Ibaraki Machi. The actual restaurant part of it is called something like “The Restaurant Serving Homemade Dishes in the Woods”. Whatever. Sounds great. Tell the three bears we're on our way.
We took Route 18 that follows the East shore of lake Kitaura to Hokota town – soon to be incorporated with its neighbors into another so-called “city”. It is a beautiful drive along the lake, which is calm this day. Hawks and heron dot the sky showing off their mastery of the air. People can be seen walking their dogs along the levy, while others fish along the shore. The Kashima-Oarai rail line comes through here, which connects Kashima City with points North. At times the elevated track appears to offer the best view around.
Hokota is an old town and has an interesting mix of architecture, consisting of the very old, the very new, and several rather tacky looking rust-stained, paint-peeling buildings. Kashima City escaped this fate thanks to the soccer stadium and local team, the “Kashima Antlers”. Downtown Kashima is still hanging on and has not yet succumbed to competition from the ugly commercial “big box” store sprawl to the South of it. The combination of styles and ages of the buildings in Hokota though has character and shows the town is still alive, if going through difficult changes. K went to high school there, commuting by bus.
Moving on past Hokota, after a little map consulting we get on a road labeled “Route 18” again (give me a break), which becomes very narrow and winds though small villages and along valleys dotted with farms - their post-harvest rice fields nearly dry. I say “give me a break” because near home, Route 18 is a wide two lane highway with curbs, broad sidewalks on either side and right hand turn lanes at major intersections. This section is nothing like that. When I say narrow, I mean a road with no centerline, no room for parking on either side, and barely room for two vehicles to pass each other without exchanging paint. It is a nice little country road, and its size makes perfect sense for people on foot, horses or bicycles. But modern humans now hurl tons of steel along the same path in opposite directions and at alarming velocities.
The autumn leaves are evident here and there in the surrounding hills. Chestnut trees look toasted to a golden brown and the occasional “momiji” or maple trees are all aflame in red against the backdrop of cool green bamboo and dark cedars.
K is enjoying the sight seeing, as am I. As a hapless passenger, I am also nervously watching for on-coming traffic, which I thought was the driver’s full time job. “Watch it!” I call. “I know”, she replies calmly as she swerves and a truck flashes by. It is my curse as a pilot. In the air, a “near miss” is defined as anything less than two miles. On the highway it is reduced to a gut wrenching few centimeters. I try to relax and keep my mouth shut.
Happily, as we near our destination there are plenty of signs to guide us the last few kilometers. As we pull into the parking lot I am surprised by the size of the facility. I am expecting a kind of big cafeteria, but what at first appears to be the restaurant turns out to be the market. The restaurant is behind it, against a background of tall trees. Stacked against a post at the store entrance are some very large squash and large orange pumpkins. So that’s where they hide them! I had been unsuccessful in finding pumpkins suitable for making jack o’ lanterns for Halloween.
A path lined with plants and flowerbeds of pansies leads to the restaurant. As you enter, a sign on the wall behind the cashier says “Welcome Home”. Inside the dining area it is like a mountain lodge with high open beam ceilings, knotty pine paneled walls (like the kitchen of my childhood) and tall windows looking out at the trees. There is a brief wait (we were told to expect up to a 45 minute wait for a table) and we are given a mouth watering tour and explanation of the foods that await us, culminating at our table which happens to be next to a Yamaha baby grand piano. I am thinking that perhaps the Moody Minstrel can practice his newly found piano tuning skills here. To add to the rustic, natural atmosphere, the plates are wooden and the cups are hand shaped glazed ceramic. Glasses are made with colored glass that contains bubbles.
I don’t have room on this blog to go into enough detail about the food offered. A brief overview will be long enough. There are five or more types of salad to choose from – from seaweeds to tossed mixed greens - with as many dressings. Curries, tempura, several varieties of pasta, kimchee, potato crouquettes, vegetable soup, miso soup, daikon dishes, miso dishes, takoyaki, five different types of rice: white rice (yawn), brown rice, rice with black beans, rice with wheat, mixed grains), lotus roots in ginger sauce, and on and on it goes. For one price you also get fresh coffee, several types of tea, fruit and vegetable juices - as much as you want. All food is organic, fresh, and prepared with their own recipes. Some dishes have a card next to them with the name and photo of the cook who contributed the recipe for that item.
After a large plateful of this bounty, we went back for another. There was no guilt on my part. It is all healthy food. For those who eat meat, there are dishes that include it as well – fish, sausage, beef, pork. No big roast or slabs of meat. Rather, the meat dishes are complex creations like the rest of the fare, of which the meat is just one more ingredient.
The food is always fresh from the kitchen. It doesn’t sit under infrared lights. Every several minutes a chef appears from the kitchen with a new dish and announces what it is and what it is made from before placing it on the buffet table.
Of course they had a beautiful selection of deserts to choose from. We opted for cheesecake. It is easy to justify that after such a healthful meal. We were so satisfied that we didn’t need dinner. No kidding. I didn’t feel the least bit hungry until breakfast time, and I had a light one at that.
After our lunch, we found out that the piano is put into use on Sunday and Monday evenings when they hold a “mini concert” during dinner. For that you need reservations. We’ll have to come back and experience it sometime. Sundays can be rather crowded we were told, so it will be a Monday.
We did some shopping in the market and the garden shop before leaving. I was surprised that the prices were not outrageous as one might find in a “tourist trap”. I expect to pay to a bit more for organic produce, but this store does not overcharge. They have a nice variety and for those who'd rather not cook, a deli. We bought some spinach, tomatoes, taro, strawberries and peanut butter cookies. If you like meat, they have a long meat counter with everything you might be looking for, and a gift delivery service for that as well.
K bought some cyclamen flowers and we looked over the X-mas décor, garden sculptures, and wide selection of orchids. I found a metal sculpture that reminded me of the Moody Minstrel for some reason.
I am sure we will return to Dokidoki soon. This little surprise was quite a find and I recommend it to anyone who may travel within striking distance. Click here for directions and map in Japanese. If you need directions in English, just let me know by comment or email.
Next post: what we discovered on the way home.