On Shoku Iku, and conscious eating
When I think of Shoku Iku, honest, unpretentious and effortlessly wholesome come to mind. The cafe's website offers the words full of vitality, love and consciousness.
Situated north of the river in the ever evolving, eclectic neighbourhood of Northcote, lies Shoku Iku: an organic, raw, plant-based cafe which integrates superfoods and herbs into their nourishing menu. While you can pretty much find a 'healthy' meal just about on every street corner in this (increasingly) food-obsessed city we call home, there is just nowhere quite like Shoku Iku. It is one thing to have a food establishment, and another thing to have that certain passion for sharing one's unique philosophy and vision. And that's exactly what Shoku Iku's owner, Yoko Inoue has. One might even call it an art.
It is one of my favourite cafes in Melbourne to visit for that very reason. I sat down to have a chat with Yoko, who has this radiant and warm energy around her. 'I opened Shoku Iku about 3 years ago now,' she said. 'I wanted to create a place that people can get excited about. Shoku Iku is not about food, but more so about community. A place where the community can get together.' If you think back 10 years ago, there weren't many places that offered healthier, organic food options. The cafes we frequent today are a consequence of the recent proliferation of the health food movement that is taking the world by storm. 'The only place back then that I can recall is Ceres in East Brunswick, it was the only place I felt comfortable taking my daughter to'.
Prior to opening Shoku Iku, Yoko worked as a private chef in Melbourne, cooking lunches and dinners for busy people who wanted to eat well. Her background is Macrobiotics, which she studied at the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts, the leading macrobiotic education centre in the world. The study of macrobiotics revolves around the 'ying' and 'yang' of foods, and is about eating seasonally and organically. 'Everything you do and eat has an effect in your energy. You want to maintain a neutral energy, and don't go to the extremes', she informed me. The 'yang' extreme would be overconsumption of animal products, and the 'ying extreme, too much refined sugars and chemicals. She then studied Holistic Nutrition which opened the door to raw food. When she started doing it, not many people had picked up on it yet, especially in Australia. She thought she would try it as people were talking about it in the States. The raw food diet is very different from a macrobiotic diet which tends to feature more cooked dishes like in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. 'I like the energy you get from raw food. It makes me happy', Yoko told me.
She still maintains her macrobiotic philosophy in her cooking today: which focuses on balancing one's physical and mental energy through eating a good and balanced diet. Shoku Iku directly translates to 'food education' in English. Food education is about eating consciously, and being educated about where your food comes from. Using organic ingredients is a huge part of Yoko's philosophy. So is listening to your body, and refraining from judgement. 'Being healthy means something different to each person, everyone's different and on their own journey'. I asked her when her health journey started, to which she traced it back to 12-13 years ago when she was pregnant with her daughter. 'As a young mum, you want to do everything you can for your child's health'.
I asked Yoko what she ate on a normal day. 'I drink a cup of water with apple cider vinegar when I wake up, followed by a Chinese tonic tea depending on what I'm going through. I then have a green juice, and typically eat salad for my meals throughout the day', she shared. 'I don't believe in eating after 7pm, or when the sun sets, as this is the time for your body to rejuvenate. If you eat too late you wake up with a sort of food hangover, and feel foggy. I like to wake up hungry!' While mainly eating raw food, she also boils tonic teas with mushrooms regularly.
At this point of the conversation I started to get a little hungry, and it seemed like the right time to ask her what her favourite items on the menu were. If you need help deciding on what to order, like I did then, here's a few items she recommends trying:
- Berry Prebiotic Beauty Tonic Smoothie: pomegranate, water kefir, seasonal berries, tocotreinols, baobab, camu camu and yacon. She describes it as 'not too tangy, not too sweet'.
- Reishi Cappuccino: reishi, maca, cacao, cinnamon and coconut oil. The Reishi mushroom is an adaptogenic herb- it helps the body to adapt to physical and emotional stress, making it quite an intelligent herb! (While you might initially be shocked to find out that Shoku Iku doesn't serve coffee, you will soon learn the benefits of this alternative!)
- Kelp Noodles: vegetable and kelp noodle with coconut dragon sauce served with teriyaki sprinkle
The warm elixirs, the grainless wraps and sandwiches (made with flaxseed) and anything with medicinal mushrooms are also amazing. Other favourites I have tried across my many visits include the Beauty In a Cup and Immunity In a Cup elixirs!
Here is what I ordered on this day, though.
'Technology has given us access to these amazing foods in the world. We kind of forget how lucky we are. Back in the day, only kings in China had access to medicinal mushrooms. Nowadays, it's easy to access'.
'Being healthy is not about taking something away from your diet, it is about being excited about finding a new way of eating', Yoko shared. So true- in my own opinion at least, there is always an alternative to a typically unhealthy food!
I highly recommend visiting Shoku Iku, no matter where in Melbourne you live/spend most of your time. Not only for its extensive range of medicinal herbs and superfoods, but because of the philosophy that Yoko shares, that is, to eat consciously and to listen to your body. On another note, I might make a trip down soon because I can't seem to get enough of the smoothies and elixirs.