Finding a decent vegetarian meal in Nagoya can be a tough task in and of itself, so finding an almost-all-veggie venue that is also vegan-friendly is a very rare treat indeed.
Partnered with an organic supermarket that deals with local farmers, bakers and candlestick makers, Organic Cafe Polan no Hiroba uses ingredients that are extremely fresh and of exceedingly high quality; not the polished clones you may find at the supermarket, but knobbly veggies that have that increasingly uncommon quality of looking real. Every stage of the vegetables’ lives, from planting to prepping, is handled with extreme care and respect, and the meals are perfectly balanced and delicious.
The busiest period is lunchtime, during which you can choose between two sets (¥1,200 each, including soup, salad and a drink), either a cheese quiche or a meal that changes on a regular basis, and which was, when I went, vegan. Everything from the unmilled rice to the freshly baked bread popped with quality, and was well worth the price tag.
The lunch rush does not attract bohemian clients alone, but also business workers on their lunch break and health-conscious parents accompanied by young children. Some of the tables are banded together, so you may find yourself sitting next to a stranger, but the open and relaxed atmosphere extends to the customers as well as the happy and helpful staff, so it never feels crammed or disorganized.
As all of the food is prepared fresh, you may find yourself waiting a little longer than you would in other Japanese eateries, but all good things come to those who wait, and Polan strongly rejects the fast-food mentality. Also, because the food isn’t prepared in advance, you can double-check the menu fits your dietary needs, and even ask for a few alterations to make it more suitable for you.
There is also an extensive la carte menu to choose from, including pita bread sandwiches (¥640 for two pieces), rice balls (¥150), a kids’ set (¥600) and a selection plate of craft sausages (¥700; the only meat on the menu). Being a cafe, it has a great selection of coffee. The Special (¥420) is ground in a small local factory and uses organic beans from Peru and Ecuador, while the Colombian coffee (¥450), comes from another respected Nagoya Cafe, Kajita. There are also herbal teas, handmade honey-and-lemon infusions, cinnamon-ginger chai, hot chocolate and milk (of the cow and soybean variety). Also available are organic beer and a small selection of handmade umeshu (plum liqueur).
Some may be put off by a misinformed idea of what a vegetarian restaurant will be like, but while the truly carnivorous may not be able to quell their cravings, everyone else will no doubt enjoy this healthy and refreshing alternative.
Adam Miller has been living and writing in Japan since 2008. He lives in Nagoya with his wife, his baby daughter and his dwindling whisky collection.