If you happen the visit the farming mecca of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture and your taste buds crave something not only delicious but healthy as well, you need not even leave the station. Located on the third floor of the JR Iwaki Station building is Vege Cafe (ベジカフェ). A few tables in an open dining area with a long counter and a hand-laid wooden backdrop make a simple yet welcoming setting, begging for you to sit down and relax.
As you can guess, this cafe has something to do with vegetables. Its organic menu includes local crops taken directly from farms in the area. Thanks to the cafe seeking advice from a French cuisine chef, each menu item is exploding with flavor. The menu includes juices, smoothies, and soups. I opted for a a drink, bread, and soup set which usually costs 650, a real bargain as I was soon to find out. The cafe does not serve coffee, as they wish to highlight the flavors of vegetables in their drinks. They do however serve tea. The juices looked satisfying, but I decided I had to try one of the cafes specialty smoothies. Out of tofu, tomato, broccoli, and acai, I selected acai, which made my set menu 100 yen more. After much debate I skipped the tomato and paprika, and broccoli and pumpkin soups for an old favorite I enjoyed back home in San Francisco: clam chowder. Even though I was dining with a large group, our orders came in just a few minutes with the smoothies chilled and soups hot.
The soup took center stage. It was unlike the thick white broth served in a bread bowl I recalled back in my hometown, but its smell invited me to take a quick taste. The hint of clams mixed with veggies created a perfect blend with neither taste overwhelming and a unique, rich taste. I hurriedly scooped spoonfuls of the creamy soup into my mouth between dunking the warm, fluffy bread into the soup to do the same. I was ready to critique my acai smoothie, having worked at a store selling smoothies for a year back in the United States. I was blown away. The cool purple smoothie tasted of fresh acai which slid happily down my throat. It is a perfect complement to the warm bread and hot soup. I couldn't get enough of the smoothies and actually went back the next day before my departure for one more. This time I tried the highly recommended broccoli smoothie. There is a blend of juices in the broccoli smoothie, so the end product tastes much sweeter and fruitier than I imagined, with the slight broccoli taste only an after thought. I can't decide which delicious smoothie was my favorite, especially without having tasted them all yet!
It is obvious the advice from the consulting chef, fresh local ingredients, and passion of the staff made the tastes of Vege Cafe so sensational. Although the cafe just opened in April 2014, there were other ocassional customers happily munching and sipping away and the cafe's reviews and growing number of fans on their Facebook page means this cafe is a hit with locals as well. Have a treat or a tasty eat here if you find yourself in Iwaki. Vege Cafe won't disappoint!
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.