Yonbanchō is a recently developed part of Hikone. It’s a pedestrian area with an early 20th century theme, home to shops and restaurants that are trying new things. One of these is Teraitei, a restaurant with a novel and timely concept. I went to eat and play there, and to ask owner Terai Yuka a question or two.
Terai-san explains the origin of Teraitei. “At first, I wanted to open a restaurant that excluded small children, but getting married and having a child changed my thinking. I realised that when you’re raising children, there are very few restaurants where you can take your kids, so I decided to make one myself. On August 29, 2019, I started this restaurant where you can enjoy a better class of meal with your children.”
Teraitei is a light and airy space with a big window facing the main pedestrian street of Yonbanchō. Low tables, plastic cushions, and dividers are arranged on bare wooden flooring, providing a flexible eating and play space for parents and children. Spills are expected and can easily be wiped up. There’s a selection of toys, with a slight emphasis on cooking. I went on a summer’s day when fans were arranged around the floor to distribute the cool air of the air conditioner. These fans are designed so that little fingers couldn’t be hurt, and a couple of toddlers were busy figuring out where the breeze was coming from.
There’s also a counter facing the kitchen, and as a big person with no children along, I’m seated there. Terai-san busies herself in the kitchen and soon produces a terrine of white fish and vegetables with salad as a starter. It has a very mild and gentle taste, and I could imagine sharing it with my son. But it would happily go with a glass of white wine or sake too, and the menu covers these more adult requirements. The menu is divided between offerings for adults and children, with baby food arranged by aged group. As young teeth develop, the offerings become more toothsome.
The next dish, pork rib stewed in balsamic vinegar with baked vegetables is similarly sophisticated and yet still suitable for a gourmet on training wheels. It’s accompanied by a large slice of sushi roll, or makizushi, depicting Hikonyan, Hikone’s popular mascot character.
“How long have you been running Teraitei?” “We’ve just reached our first year of running this restaurant with the concept of a place where you can enjoy a higher class of meal with your children.” “And where did you learn to make food like this?” “When I was a university student, I waited part time at a high-class Chinese restaurant in Tōkyo. I was moved by the enthusiasm of the older staff working there, and I decided to get involved in this world. At first, I hired a chef and I served the customers. But then I thought that if my chef got ill or something, I’d have to give it up. So at the age of 26, I entered the Shiga Cooking Academy. After two years, I got a license as a cook.
I was given a job at XIV Biwako in the Western food section where I was already working part-time. After training for about five years, I won the Grand Prix at an in-house cooking competition for young staff. That gave me confidence, so I went to Tōkyo where I worked in an Italian restaurant, a bistro, and brasserie, before coming back to Shiga.”
My play for today is attempting to make a Hikonyan sushi roll. Terai-san has made it sort of easy with instruction sheets, a video, and hands-on direction. Making something edible that also looks like a cat in a horned samurai helmet isn’t a trivial challenge. With much care taken over hygiene, I get started manipulating the sheets of nori seaweed and Ōmi rice flavoured with specially mild rice vinegar that suits the palate of young children. Terai-san is full of flattering praise and encouragement. “How on earth did you figure out how to make this in the first place?” “There was a lot of trial and error involved. I took my prototypes to Hikone City Hall many times and they kept saying, ‘You have to make it look more like Hikonyan if you want to use this as a product!’”. “And how long does it take you to make a sushi roll that meets the spec?” “Ummm. About thirty minutes.” Laughs. My finished Hikonyan is recognisable, but his helmet is a bit big, and one of his horns appears to have come unstuck. Never mind. It was fun, and the final sushi roll tastes great. “I was quite surprised by how well the balsamic pork goes with makizushi…” “Since my training is in Western cuisine, I try to maintain a harmony between sushi roll and dishes using Japanese ingredients and seasonings made with Western cooking techniques. I want to be a Japanese mother who values Japanese makizushi culture and hospitality. We hope that foreign visitors will come and make sushi roll.”
I ask Terai-san how her unique vision is working out.
“Although we haven’t been operating for long, we hope that children who currently come to play here will continue to enjoy visiting us as they go through primary and secondary school too. An even grander dream is that when children who come here today get married and have their own children, they’ll want to bring them to Teraitei.”