La Cigale is a family-run cafe located in the heart of the largest of the Oki Islands, but it’s much more than a place to get a thoughtful cup of coffee. La Cigale is a hub for the community that supports local events and hosts field trips to teach children about sustainable farming. It’s also a place where neighbor kids gather to help pick vegetables or collect shiitake mushrooms in the nearby mountains. So while we thoroughly enjoyed the coffee parfait we indulged in at La Cigale, we were completely taken with the cafe’s farm-to-table philosophy and the intriguing history of its proprietors.
La Cigale, which means “Cicada” in French, is run by all eight members of the Endo family. Located on the family’s property, the shop is more of a farm that just happens to have a cafe on it, and the menu reflects this fact, incorporating seasonal vegetables into high quality, thoughtful, and sustainable dishes. The Endo’s are a Christian family whose members can collectively speak German, English, French, and of course, Japanese. Every member of the family has also lived abroad in various countries including Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and the United States.
As a family of farmers, Papa Endo and his sons focus on tending the rice and cows. The two Endo daughters also help take care of the cows, as well as the garden and cafe. Mama Endo focusses mainly on the garden and logistics. But of course, with such a wide variety of jobs to be done, everyone pitches in whenever needed.
Since the family’s main focus is on sustainable farming and community events, La Cigale doesn’t have regular hours. We called ahead on the day we visited and the two Endo sisters were gracious enough to take a break from their farm work to welcome us to their cafe.
The family planned and built the cafe entirely out of local materials, using wood from the island, windows from an old building that had been demolished, and even the front door from the nearest elementary school that had recently been rebuilt. It truly was a labor of love; even the electrical wiring and outlets were installed by the family.
But our visit to La Cigale landed during the summer, so fresh ice cream parfaits and iced coffee to stave off the hot August humidity were in order.
However, these parfaits were so delicious and fresh, we wouldn’t mind eating them in the dead of winter.
The Endo’s also sell organic produce harvested in their garden:
La Cigale also has a dinner menu that changes with the seasons featuring hamburg steaks and sausage made from the cows they raise on the property.
The Endo family has also created some delicious signature foods that are sold at the cafe and in nearby gift shops.
But our favorite part about visiting La Cigale was meeting Julia, the family’s dairy cow.
She’s a friendly little thing, always keen for a pat on the head and a good neck scratch.
Most of the time, she’s happy to laze about in the sunshine, but she also has a very important job teaching local children about farming and agriculture. Here’s Julia being patient with an elementary school student learning how to milk a cow.
The Endo’s also keep 50 cows on their property. The beef that comes from these cows is unlike the world-famous Kobe beef, and the Endo’s are proud of that fact. The Endo sisters explained that the diet of Kobe cows is high in corn and wheat that is imported from the US and Canada. This diet is not ideal for the health of the cows and causes them to get sick easily. The Endo’s, who are very passionate about farm-to-table and sustainability, feed their cows a diet of 30 percent organic rice grown on their farm. Feeding their cows the same rice that humans eat produces lean, red meat that’s full of healthy fats.
The Endo’s are a very unique family doing some admirable things for their local community and environment. From hosting field trips for school children to organizing internships for university students, they love to share their knowledge of agriculture with anyone willing to learn, and their work raising sustainable and healthy foods is refreshing in an age of fast food and chemical preservatives. If you’d like to visit the Endo’s farm and learn from this very interesting family, you can reserve a stay on their AirBNB page for only 3,900 yen (US$35) per night. But if you’re short on time, a quick stop at La Cigale is sure to put a smile on your face and good, healthy food in your belly.
Photos (c) RocketNews24 / Khoa Dinh, all others via Facebook ( La Cigale Oki )