Susumu Takahashi, the second-generation owner of Toyama’s half-century-old Ebi-zushi restaurant, cuts the best local fish into very thick slices. Watching the 66-year-old chef make sushi, customers at the counter smile in amazement, saying, “The toppings are so big.” His toppings are more than twice as thick as conventional ones.
“People in Toyama get used to eating very fresh fish, so they won’t be satisfied if we serve regular sushi,” Takahashi said. “I also consider home-cooked meals to be a rival [for my sushi].”
A native of Kyoto, Takahashi has discovered the best parts of Toyama with an outsider’s perspective, and takes advantage of them to add his own style for the established restaurant.
A typical example of his efforts can be found behind the counter, where thin sheets of cedar, each less than one millimeter thick, are piled up.
Takahashi said that no matter how fresh seafood from Toyama Bay is, chefs should not use the same chopping board for slicing every kind of fish. If so, the strong smell of tuna’s red meat would destroy the delicate flavors of squid, hirame flounder, kawahagi filefish or other white flesh that retains the scent of the ocean, he added.
Sushi restaurants have various ways of being careful about this. Takahashi uses the thin sheets of cedar whenever he gets orders for tuna, with one sheet placed over his chopping board to prepare the fish. As the sheets are single-use, Takahashi has about 100 of them on hand each day. This is the method he developed on his own about 30 years ago.
These careful cooking methods have helped Takahashi’s sushi win a good reputation, and his restaurant is known as a place many celebrities visit when they visit Toyama.
Ebi-zushi was established in 1962 by Takahashi’s uncle, who was allowed to open his own restaurant after working as a chief chef at Ebi-tei, a high-end restaurant established during the Meiji period (1868-1912) and considered the pinnacle of food service in Toyama for many years. Sharing the name “Ebi” is a proof of strong links between the two restaurants.
Takahashi suffered gastrointestinal problems in middle school, wasting away until he weighed less than 30 kilograms. The young Takahashi moved from Kyoto to Toyama after his uncle invited him to the city, saying it was blessed with good water.
Takahashi gradually regained his health and started helping in his uncle’s restaurant. “I might not have lived to this age if I hadn’t moved to Toyama,” he said, adding that he makes his sushi with gratitude to his adopted hometown.
“I want to make customers in Toyama happy with the very best sushi.”