Eight Hills Delicatessen is full of surprises, but especially its location in a little cluster of houses very close to Lake Biwa. The only thing that distinguishes it from the surrounding homes is the flying pig trademark placed high above the door.
Delicatessens aren’t common in Japan, and it’s surprising to find one in such a bucolic setting. Nevertheless, nearby Shiga University and the residential areas of Hikone provide the clientele that support this quixotic venture, represented by the pig with wings.
Eight Hills is run by Nishimura Takeshiro, whose parents ran a cram school and café on the same site when he was young. His mother helps out with serving customers and other admin. With his tight jeans and sneakers, and natural ‘perm’, Nishimura-san looks more like a footballer than a restaurateur.
“When did you start this business?”
“Just over five years ago. In April 2014. When my father died, the café closed and I started working in restaurants in Osaka and America.”
“And where did you learn to cook?”
“When I was twenty-four, I worked at a restaurant in Osaka. Then I went to Seattle and worked at Cascina Spinasse, the most popular Italian restaurant there.”
“Wasn’t working in a restaurant in America really tough?”
“No, it was a lot of fun. I’d already learned the necessary skills, so I didn’t have any difficulty in terms of technique. But I learned a lot about food culture.”
Nishimura-san prepared a plate of nearly everything he makes. After a brief interview concerning my culinary preferences (quiche, yes!), he goes about arranging myriad little portions on a plain white plate. The result is most agreeable to behold. Nishimura-san tells me what’s on the plate. To my shame, I’m not familiar with most of the European food words that follow in a long succession, but Nishimura-san explains it all patiently. Although many of the dishes use the authentic ingredients from their countries of origin, others substitute local ingredients, such as the gratin dauphinois made with satsuma imo, the Japanese sweet potato.
Everything is delicious. Each viand and each vegetable is packed with flavour. The salmon quiche is fantastic—firmly creamy, rich, and satisfying.
“Is there cheese in this quiche?”
“Yes. It’s cheddar. Quiche is expensive because the ingredients are costly to buy. But people buy it despite the price. They appreciate high quality.”
Eight Hills has a variety of Japanese craft beers. To start with, I opt for a bottle of Mino Pale Ale, probably Japan’s best ale. Nishimura-san pours it into an interesting little double-walled glass. All of the tableware, as well as the food-processing equipment and interior decorations reflect an eclectic but refined taste.
“Have you ever seen a delicatessen in New York? They’re amazing, with food everywhere, even hanging from the ceiling.”
“No, I haven’t. Originally, I wasn’t thinking of starting a deli, since I’d always worked in Italian restaurants. But I really like making cured meats. Then when I saw how many tourists visited the Michou Deli in Pike Place Market in Seattle, I figured that in Hikone, a deli would do better than another Italian restaurant. America has an international food culture, and delis offer a wider range of food.”
“Indeed. There aren’t many delis around in Japan.”
“When I first put up my Eight Hills Delicatessen sign, people were like, ‘What the hell is that?’. And they said that a ‘delicatessen’ would never be popular. I had just one refrigerated case then.”
“Well, that’s an ideal situation for a business. Whenever everyone says it won’t succeed, it usually does.”
“Our logo is a flying pig, which represents impossibility. It expresses our intention to make the impossible possible. I really like making processed pork products because you can use all the parts of the pig, so I wanted to use a pig in my logo, but since everyone said it was impossible, I gave my pig wings.”
“So you’re a real challenger then.”
Appropriately, there’s a picture of the farmer’s market in Seattle above the counter that Nishimura-san bought there. Unlike an Italian restaurant that would need to open for lunch and dinner, Eight Hills opens from 11 am to 7 pm giving Nishimura-san the opportunity to pursue other interests.
When I get to the portion of white liver pâté on my plate, I make no effort to conceal my joy – the first proper pâté I’ve had in God knows how many years! Nishimura-san understands the symptoms immediately and quickly produces a thick slice of a different type, pâté de campagne, prepared with a dried fig in the middle, with some lightly toasted bread served on a pretty plate decorated with a single head of wheat. This seemed like the time to try a different beer. I chose the Two Rabbits Aussie Pale Ale brewed nearby in Omihachiman.
I ask Nishimura-san about his clientele.
“For the first six months we didn’t have many customers, but we got really busy after Instagram took off in Japan about three years ago. People would come in and order while looking at their phones. I’d ask them what they were looking at and they’d say ‘Insta’. And they’d show me pictures of food that I’d prepared for other people.”
“Who are your customers? Is it mostly students from the university?”
“Our customers are actually very diverse. We get students celebrating after they’ve submitted a paper, but we also have quite a lot of older people. Lots of housewives too. People also come from Kyoto.”
Nishimura-san is an avowed fan of Jamie Oliver, who almost single-handedly revolutionised the food culture of Britain in the 2000s by lobbying for improvements in the quality of school lunches, reasoning that if children don’t know what good food tastes like, they’ll grow up into adults who are content to eat horrible slop. In order to raise the awareness of world food among consumers in Hikone, as well as how best to prepare locally produced food, Nishimura-san is thinking of starting a casual cookery class, although he recognises the challenges.