Pigs really fly at Eight Hills Delicatessen

Pigs really fly at Eight Hills Delicatessen

place Area: Hikone access_time Published: 2019.12.06

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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa is a lake in Shiga Prefecture that has the largest area and water storage capacity in Japan. It’s one of the world’s ancient lakes that has existed for over 100,000 years. The lake is a Ramsar registered wetland. Under the River Law, it’s designated as a first-class river belonging to the first-class Yodo River Water System, and the law refers to it as first-class river Lake Biwa. This is more than a technicality – the water of the lake has a significant north to south current in some places.

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Lake Biwa occupies one-sixth the area of Shiga Prefecture, and the waters flowing through the system have various names including the Seta River, Uji River, and Yodo River, before they reach Osaka Bay on the Seto Inland Sea. The lake water is used as the water supply for communities in the Yodo River basin, and Kyoto city draws water from Lake Biwa through a canal.

The body of water to the north side of Lake Biwa Bridge across the narrowest part is called the North Lake, and the southern part is called the South Lake. The North Lake has an area of 623 km2 and an average water depth of 41 m. The South Lake has an area of 58 km2 and average depth of 4 m. The deepest water is slightly north of the centre of the North Lake, south of Chikubu Island at 104 m. The bottom of Lake Biwa is sinking at a rate of 1 m in 1,000 years.

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In addition to supplying water to the Kinki region, it has also been used as a water transportation route since ancient times, for moving goods from Kyōto and Ōsaka to eastern Japan and the Hokuriku region until railways were developed in the Meiji period.

Lake Biwa is the fourth oldest lake in the world. It’s home to more than fifty endemic species such as fish and bottom-living animals. From the Meiji to the early Showa period, there were about forty large and small subsidiary lakes around Lake Biwa, providing an ecosystem for many creatures. Water control projects since then brought changes to the shape of the lake which proved to be less than desirable. These changes are gradually being reversed to restore ecosystems and improve water quality.

The formation of Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa was formed about 4 to 6 million years ago. It was a tectonic lake formed by crustal movements. Its original location was in Mie Prefecture. The lake gradually moved to the north and reached its current position about one million to 400,000 years ago, stopped by the Hira mountain range. The current position of Lake Biwa was a mountain range, and the Suzuka Mountains had not yet risen. The rivers that now flow into southeastern Lake Biwa then flowed into Ise Bay. Lake Biwa is considered to be the oldest ancient lake after Lake Baikal and Tanganyika.

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The human history of Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa has been used as a transportation route since the Jōmon period, and vessels such as dugout canoes have been excavated. In ancient times, it was given the name “freshwater sea near the capital”, and it was from this that the name of the region Ōmi arose. It was poetically referred to as the “sea of grebes”.

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Lake Biwa forms a choke point between eastern and western Japan, and since early times, gates built on the roads around the top and either side of the lake controlled commerce and the movement of people. Castles were built around the lake using the subsidiary lakes as extensive moats.
Lake Biwa was used as a transportation route for annual tribute to China from Wakasa Bay on the Japan Sea Coast, and there are records of attacks by pirates on the lake. There were various transportation routes from Kyōto to the north using the roads around Lake Biwa’s shores. Cargo was also transported on the lake, and Ōtsu and Katata developed as port towns.

During the Warring States period, Toyotomi Hideyoshi provided a shipowner in Ōtsu with a large fleet of ships. He was placed under the authority of the Commissioner of Ships at Kanon-ji and was given privileges and protection. In the early Edo period, Ōtsu stood in opposition to other ports such as Matsubara, Maibara and Nagahama, which were protected by the Ii clan as the “three ports of Hikone”. Later in the period, the surveyor Inō Tadataka surveyed the shores of Lake Biwa from August to October 1805. The shape of the lake was seen to be similar to that of a type of lute called biwa, and the name Lake Biwa was established.

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Goods were transported by water from Ōsaka Bay via the Yodo River and up to Wakasa Bay on the Sea of Japan, with stops at Ōsaka and Kyōto. This method of transport thrived into the early Meiji period, but with the development of land transport, it gradually declined. During the period of high economic growth after WWII, a canal was conceived linking Lake Biwa to the Sea of Japan, the Pacific Ocean, and the Seto Inland Sea. After much planning and coordination between the relevant Prefectures, the idea was finally dropped in 1970.

The biota of Lake Biwa

The ecosystem of Lake Biwa is diverse, with over 1,000 species of animals and plants. Due to its isolation over a long period of time, many endemic species have been identified that live only in Lake Biwa and its water system. It’s a large body of water and unique fisheries developed here.

Lake Biwa leisure

Ferries ply back and forth between ports around the lake and its several islands. The ferry journeys, with views of surrounding mountains such as Mt. Ibuki, are as rewarding as the time spent on the islands.

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Fishing, birdwatching, and photography are pastimes that are more than adequately catered to.

Lake Biwa presents a huge field for adventure activities. Boating, SUP, kayaking, windsurfing, and kite boarding can all be enjoyed on the lake. The roads around the lake are ideal for cycling, and riding around the whole lake in a day is a challenge for determined cyclists.