Shinjuku Diaolgue - A Hidden Gem Serving Quality Meals
After walking seven minutes from JR Shinjuku Station, we arrived at a multi-tenant building overlooking a quiet street. Outside, we could see the word "Cafe" printed on a colorful rainbow flag.
We entered the building and headed up the stairs to the cafe on the second floor.
We were greeted with a cheery “Hello!” and bright smiles from Nomura, the cafe owner, and the chef, Nagikawa, upon arriving at the top of the stairs.
This is Shinjuku Dialogue—a cafe built on the theme of "togetherness with everyone in the world" and based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN).
The SDGs heralded by the UN aim to achieve a more sustainable and better world. There are 17 goals aiming to leave no one behind. Among these inclusive commitments is promoting health and well-being (SDG 3), and reducing inequality in opportunity, income, and power within and among countries (SDG 10).
*The photo above features the cafe’s March menu. A portion of their menu changed starting June 2020.
Only dishes created with the customer's health in mind are served at the cafe. The ingredients are mainly vegetables grown in Japan and do not contain animal products, making them vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
In this article, we interviewed the owner and chef operating the cafe, learning about Dialogue Shinjuku's story and their recommended dishes.
Vegan Bento Lunches Made With Japan-Grown Vegetables
The vegetable bento lunch box with daily side dishes (800 yen with tax) is what you should order when visiting. Every day, Nagikawa checks the vegetables that are delivered daily by farmers and creates the menu.
Nagikawa is particularly attentive to preparing dishes that emphasize the natural flavors of each ingredient. Drawing out these tastes is done through different methods, including steaming the vegetables or pairing them with the right condiments and seasonings.
As a flavoring base for the dishes, the chef frequently uses soy sauce and miso: two uniquely Japanese condiments. There's even a selection of other homemade condiments, such as their ginger sauce and cilantro soy sauce.
The vegetable bento ordered at the time of this article featured five different side dishes. There were carrots and broccoli dressed in a green onion miso sauce, chewy shiitake mushrooms, and deep-fried taro root. The flavors and textures make it a tasty, hearty meal. Miso soup can also be added for an extra 200 yen.
The miso soup had a subtle, nostalgic flavor. We asked what vegetables were used and discovered they were locally grown at Biogarten Kiriri (Japanese) in western Tokyo where the writer grew up. Norabona, a leafy spring vegetable that is cultivated exclusively in the area of the garden, was in the soup! Diners will likely encounter new ingredients when visiting here.
If there are any vegetables you dislike, let the chef know when placing an order. If you're an oriental vegetarian (*1), contact the cafe beforehand so they can coordinate a special meal on the date of your visit.
*The vegetable bento lunch box will change from early June 2020. The cafe also plans on serving vegan-friendly appetizers.
*1 Oriental Vegetarian: an individual who does not consume the five pungent roots (onions, garlic, chives, green onions, and leeks).
Amazake: A Japanese Superfood Drink
The cafe offers a selection of drinks made with organic Japanese ingredients. This homemade Amazake Tea Latte (650 yen with tax) is one of their most popular beverages.
Amazake is a traditional drink made from white rice: a staple in Japan throughout the ages. Although amazake (literally "sweet sake") contains the Chinese character for "sake" in its name, the cafe serves a non-alcoholic variety.
The Amazake Tea Latte, a mixture of amazake and soy milk, is a refreshingly smooth drink. It has a faint, sweet aftertaste that is absolutely delectable.
Taking the Health of the Planet Into Account
Order a Drink and Contribute to a Goal!
Upon entering the cafe, your eye will be drawn to a Ferris wheel-like object hung on the wall. There are 17 cards in total—each representing one of the SDGs—hanging from the gondola.
According to Nomura, "When you order a drink, guests can contribute 50 yen of their bill to an active organization related to the selected card category. You'll receive a bottle cap when ordering, so please pick a goal you're interested in and place the cap inside."
You may be wondering which goal to contribute towards. Most people tend to look at all 17 United Nations goals beforehand. Nomura explained how they want to create opportunities for customers to learn about the SDGs through the cafe.
“My goal is to spark conversations on the SDGs. I hope customers look at each category, question where to place their bottle cap, and start talking about the goals with friends.”
Environmentally-Friendly Serving Methods
The vegetable bento lunch boxes are served in reusable Tupperware. If you’re ordering takeout, you can also ask for a container lid. Since there's only one container to wash, it prevents wasteful water use when washing.
Let the staff know if you're ordering takeout in advance. The container must be returned after eating. Be sure to prepare your own bag when taking lunch out of the eatery.
Reusable stainless steel straws are also used for drinks. The cafe proactively works on reducing the amount of excess waste.
Events and Workshops
The third floor of the cafe is reserved as an event space. Here, SDGs and LGBT-related events are hosted irregularly.
At the time of this article, we were shown the Azuma Bag. This eco-bag was made at a previous event held here.
The bag is a tenugui hand towel sewn together with needle and thread, making it ideal for shopping and wrapping up your bento box. It can be restored to its original shape by removing its thread, which enables it to have various uses.
Made With Ingredients You’d Serve to Friends
In addition to creating the cafe’s health-centric menu, Nomura works on tackling problems we face in society. The owner also has experience running four restaurants throughout their culinary career.
“When I was first starting out, I managed a restaurant that would microwave their frozen French fries and didn’t really care about the quality of their food. However, as I grew closer to my customers, I began yearning to feed them healthier food.”
The flowers gifted by a customer during the cafe’s opening were made into dried flowers. It is beautifully displayed on the counter.
The customers who visit Nomura's restaurant started to become considered friends. Around that time, the owner coincidentally met an organic vegetable farmer who brought Nomura to the fields, which made a lasting impression with its beauty.
"The soil in the fields was unbelievably soft and clean! It was so clean that you could dig up the vegetables and eat them by simply brushing off the dirt. The veggies were delicious and filled me with joy. I wanted others to taste these vegetables, too."
The menu was created to offer healthy, delicious food for these new friends. Gradually, Nomura began to consider the health of the planet, too, which led to an interest in the SDGs.
"I'd be happy if we're able to spark fun conversations at the cafe about the environment and establishing a virtuous circle. I hope this becomes a place where such dialogues are born."
By treasuring the people close to them, Nomura developed compassion for things happening in the world. We could feel this dedication and kindness radiating inside the cafe.
Cafe by Day, Bar by Night
The counter during cafe hours
The cafe is open until 17:00. It then transforms into a bar at 18:00. Syun, a transgender woman and LGBT activist, works as a bartender. While the food at the bar is neither vegetarian nor vegan-friendly, the system of contributing to a goal when ordering a drink remains the same.
Shinjuku Dialogue is a friendly, inclusive space during both cafe and bar hours. Drop by and experience its welcoming ambiance for yourself.
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In cooperation with Shinjuku Dialogue