Setouchi Gastronomy

Restaurant Iara (2016)

For the past 2 editions, the Setouchi Triennale has had a food art event that I have loved and with the 2019 Triennale, I had to go to the next one as well.  EAT&ART TARO is the “artist” who is a combination of chef and artist that works to educate people about the local foods of the regions.  In 2013, he made island soups for each season of the Triennale.  In 2016 he had a language course where you had to order food from someone who didn’t speak your native language.  It was a fun way to learn how to communicate in different ways.  For 2019, Setouchi Gastronomy was created to help connect people with the foods of the islands.

Setouchi Gastronomy is held on Megijima inside Iara Cafe.  It is the same building as the Leandro Erlich artwork, “The Presence of Absence“.  It was my first time to actually be inside the actual cafe but I have seen the artwork before.  I don’t have any good photos of the location as photos of the artwork are not allowed, but thankfully photos of the event are allowed.

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)-4

Setouchi Gastronomy Presentation

The first thing you need to do is make a reservation.  You can call ahead but I’m not sure how early you can call.  The call is also probably only in Japanese making things even harder if you don’t speak Japanese.  You can also go in person, but the spots for the event fill up very fast so you have to go there right when you arrive or find a way to make a reservation ahead of time, such as asking someone to call for you.  Thankfully we were able to call ahead to make a reservation.

When you arrive, you line up and pay before you enter.  You also order any drinks you wish to have with the meal.  It costs 1,500 JPY for the course, plus any extra drinks.  For beer, they have Sanuki Beer’s Kolsch.  It is a drinkable beer but not the best choice for the area.  There are a few other companies that would have better beer, but being the picky person that I am, of course I would know this.  They also have other local drinks such as olive cider and other organic drinks that you will see all over the islands.  If you don’t want a drink, they serve tea to everyone.

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)

Plating when you arrive

The event itself starts with Taro explaining the reasoning of the event.  Everything he does is with presentation slides so you can also read along in English as well as Chinese.  He spent time to learn about the local regional dishes and ingredients and used that for the dishes.  We started off with an aperitif.  It was a drink made with melon, vinegar, and sugar.  He wanted to use a local melon on Megijima which is also the smallest melon in the world.  It grows to about 2 cm in diameter and will be ripe for the autumn edition.  I can’t guarantee it will be with your meal but Taro said it will be ripe and ready for picking in autumn.  There is also a garden reserved for the melons for you to look at on the island as well, but I couldn’t catch the precise location.  For summer, they used store bought melons and this shot of pickled melon juice was really refreshing.  The sourness of the vinegar combined with the sweet sugars and melon juice helped refresh us from the hot summer heat.

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)

Melon Apertif

The second dish was already on our place mat when we arrived.  It was a sea bream carpaccio.  Sea Bream, or Tai in Japanese, is native to the Seto Inland Sea and well-known.  He added other locally grown vegetables and some pepper corn.  It was heaven for me as I love sea bream as well as carpaccio.  The carpaccio was slightly deconstructed as there were small slices of potato as well as seaweed from Ogijima on the side.  They helped add texture and flavour to the dish itself.

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)

Tai Carpaccio

As you are eating the sea bream, he explains 2 little glass cups on the table.  They are filled with local vinegar.  Kagawa Prefecture is known for its vinegar.  The region has a few different types of vinegar that range from refreshing to very sour.  They both had very different flavours but unfortunately I couldn’t follow everything he said and the English slides were not a full translation of his explanation but a detailed summary.

Chicken is a speciality of Kagawa and you can see it all over.  We were afforded 2 drummettes that were deep fried, basically chicken wings that came with a small side of pickles.  Before you begin eating, TARO actually talks a bit about the tartar sauce that accompanies the dish as well as the vinegar and whip cream that he uses.  It is a little difficult to follow and he was speaking pretty quickly making it hard for me to understand.  Basically the dish was really good but I wish we had double the amount to eat.

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)

Chicken Drummettes

The last dish was the main dish, a tomato somen.  Somen is famous on Shodoshima and really popular for summer.  It is served cold with tsuyu, a type of soy based soup.  Setouchi Gastronomy also served the somen cold but they made a simple tomato sauce instead.  It was very Mediterranean and most likely inspired by the vegetables from Shodoshima which is a large producer of Mediterranean style fruits and vegetables.  From a western point of view, it was nothing more than cold pasta that was refreshing on a hot day.

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)

Tomato Somen

Once you are almost finished, they provide you with foot cookies.  These little cookies are a speciality of the island, specifically the artwork “The Presence of Absence”.  I won’t go into great detail of why but once you see the artwork and learn about it you will understand why easily.  The cookie is just a cookie, but who doesn’t love cookies?

Setouchi Triennale - Setouchi Gastronomy (Megijima - mg16)

Foot Cookie

The meal itself is not really worth 1,500 JPY.  The combination of the artwork and education is definitely worth 1,500 JPY.  The experience of being able to learn more about the regional food as it once was is delightful.  The location is beautiful and the food is delicious.  Just don’t expect it to fill you up.  If I attended the autumn edition as well, I would definitely look to going again to understand it more and possibly trying the real Megijima Melon!