Yamafuji: Going organic in Hiroo

Yamafuji: Going organic in Hiroo

This down-to-earth restaurant serves pesticide-free foods almost exclusively sourced in Japan
Yamafuji brings simple, organic food and big ideas to the table -- in a very clean, modern setting.

In the last few years, food troubles have been making the headlines: pesticide-tainted dumplings, contaminated rice and growing concerns over food safety. No wonder more and more in Japan are turning toward organic food. Many restaurants now include a few organic dishes on their menus, but Yamafuji, a casual-chic Japanese bistro near Hiroo station, guarantees that all their ingredients are either 100% chemical-free or grown with the barest minimum of pesticides.

Yamafuji's decor is simple and understated. Blond wood and softly glowing paper lamps dominate the interior. Most of the materials used to furnish the restaurant -- including all of the wood for the tables and counter -- were domestically sourced, in keeping with the philosophy of Yamafuji’s parent company, Daichi wo Mamoru Kai (meaning: The Association to Protect the Earth). In addition to supporting organic farming, the food company Daichi places strong emphasis on the use of local products. Except for a few select items like bananas, everything the company sells is grown in Japan.

Daichi wo Mamoru Kai was one of the first companies to champion organic farming in Japan. After hearing complaints of strange symptoms from farmers using pesticides, the founders of Daichi started an NGO to promote chemical-free farming in 1975. Two years later, Daichi began its organic home delivery service and has been expanding ever since.

Although the organic market is still small -- under 1% of all produce distributed in Japan, compared to 3.5% in the US -- it's growing.

"These days, people are more aware of the environment," says Daichi representative Yukie Ohno. "Thanks to the LOHAS concept from the US, organic food seemed stylish, but now people enjoy it because it's delicious, not just because it's socially responsible."

Daichi supplies Yamafuji with its seafood, meat and produce, so the ingredients are organic and incredibly fresh. A quintet of plump oysters are lightly breaded and deep-fried, served with an assortment of small side dishes such as soy-simmered potatoes, savory pickled greens tossed with chirimen baby sardines and smoky dashi-steeped spinach. A fillet of grilled mackerel himono (fish that has been gutted, salted and then dried overnight) is juicy and rich in umami.

One of Yamafuji's highlights is the short horn beef croquette -- a golf-sized fried ball of minced beef mixed with Japanese leeks. The short horn cows are fed on grass, rather than grain or meal, and allowed to graze and roam freely. The meat is leaner and more tender than most Japanese beef.

Even the alcohol at Yamafuji is organic. The restaurant serves Daichi's private label sake, Tanemakibito, a full-bodied, dry Junmai-Ginjo made with pesticide-free Miyama Nishiki rice from Fukushima. The sake makes a perfect compliment to Yamafuji's washoku -- or a nice after-meal treat.

Yamafuji: Bernal Heights A 2F, Hiroo 5-4-11, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 5795 2683.