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Inujima Museum Cafe

History and community distilled in a dish

How do we create community? This was a question that the founders of the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum pondered, again and again, to the extent that the theme of the 2016 Triennial was all about connecting the island communities with the rest of the world. In many sightseeing spots, the tourist and the locals tend to inhibit two parallel universes. They may co-exist physically, but there is no deep connection between the two. Perhaps, it is only the sharing of stories that the two groups can truly connect.

When you first walk among the ruins of the old copper refinery (now the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum) all you hear is the crunching of your footsteps against the gravel. Sixty years ago my friend’s grandfather worked in the coal mines in Arao City; it would have been a similar experience as they walked to work each day, something that is celebrated in its nomination as world heritage site in Kumamoto Prefecture.

On the other hand, if an industrial facility with brick ruins is too raw for you, the museum café is a great counterpoint, with modern clean lines and a chic décor a soothing contrast for the eye, as well as being a comfortable place in which to reflect on our relationship with the earth and the built environment.

Take a seat along one of the long wooden benches, most of which have uninterrupted views of the sandy beach outside. You can also catch a glimpse of the staff happily preparing your meal in the small kitchen. In the morning, before the day trippers arrive, you can hear the banter of the local obasan grandmothers to the rhythmic sound of the chopping board.

They take great efforts here to incorporate local ingredients and recipes in all their dishes, making food the great connector between the local and visitor communities, while not making their food too exotic for mainstream tastes.

I started my lunch with a light green salad, with the red peppers adding crunch, topped with a piquant soy and vinegar based dressing. Likewise the quiche catered for mainstream tastes. The buttery crust was light and fragrant like a cheese cookie, with the baked cheese and rosemary adding an extra level of complexity and taste.

Winston Churchill once described Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, and that was what I had in mind when I had the coffee jelly. Floating in a sea of coffee milk, I was expecting the taste of coffee, but its taste varied bite by bite, from an apparent absence of taste, to just jelly texture, to a full coffee taste, like a symphony reaching its crescendo at the end. It was a great way to make my connection with Inujima, with the jelly made with tokorotengusa, a sea weed harvested around Inujima giving it a unique taste and texture.

This lunch set is available for ¥‎1340, with the cafe located next to the ticket office and the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum store near the ferry terminal.

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