hashida

As a teenager, Kenjiro Hashida would sit in the kitchen to watch his father, the renowned sushi chef Tokio Hashida, at work. One day, he came across an interesting observation that would instil his ambition of becoming a chef. After paying for their meal, a group of customers called his father “oyaji”, meaning father in Japanese, as they left the restaurant.

“Before I fell asleep that night, I was thinking that as his son, the only person who can really call him ‘oyaji’ is me,” says Hashida recalling the memory.

For the young Hashida, this term of endearment meant that his father was loved and respected among his customers. “I started imagining becoming a chef like that, one day being mature and experienced enough that customers would call me ‘oyaji’ too.”

While he may not be of an age where his customers would call him “oyaji” just yet, today Hashida, or “Hatch” as he is affectionately known, has also made a name for himself as a sushi master.

The chef-owner of Hashida Singapore first debuted his namesake restaurant in 2013 at Mandarin Gallery before settling into the restaurant’s current home on Amoy Street in 2021. Here, he tells The Peak how he balances tradition and innovation in the craft of sushi making.

Being a sushi chef is something so steeped in tradition and yet, you are known for your innovative approach to the cuisine. How do you find the balance between creating something new and still maintaining some of the traditional aspects of sushi making?

I started working seriously at my father’s restaurant when I was young. My father coached me and four or five others every day. He taught me his master’s preparation and seasoning methods, the ones used when the market was still in Nihonbashi. This didn’t happen just once or twice; I first opened in Singapore in 2013, so before that, we worked together for over 15 years. This is where I learnt tradition.

hashida
Photo: Hashida Singapore

At the same time, the story also goes back to when my father was finishing his final training in Ginza before opening Hashida. There was a senior chef there who taught him a lot about cooking many different dishes. As a result, in Hashida Tokyo, my father served quite a variety of things, such as flounder meunière and tamagoyaki with lamb raisins.

From my father and in Hashida Tokyo, I learnt how to cook by “playing with the ingredients” while remaining sensitive to culinary history and tradition, rather than cooking by combining ingredients without knowing the basics.

In Singapore, there are a lot of different cuisines, but they share common elements. I always consider ingredients and the market carefully before creating something. For example, we didn’t serve tempura or fries for three years after we opened, because I knew it wasn’t the time. I’ve been to Australia to pick truffles to be used at the restaurant.

I’ve also studied caviar thoroughly in Haruno, Shizuoka before I decided to use it. I take a close look at the ingredients before incorporating them into the menu. The consideration is how I balance tradition and innovation.

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Photo: The Peak Malaysia

Has the use of ingredients changed much in Japanese cuisine over the years? 

Rather than a demand for rare fish, the reality is that people are starting to eat deep-sea fish they didn’t eat about 40 years ago. This shows that there is an overfishing problem in Japan — we’re reaching deeper because there isn’t enough. When I was a kid, you could buy three fish for $10, but now fish cost about $25 each, and I think things like this will happen more and more in the future. There is also a growing demand for farmed fish. 

At the same time, there are visible and invisible problems such as ocean pollution and microplastic issues. If we don’t start solving them first, and we don’t act, these problems may become irreversible. I changed the name of my restaurant after a lot of thinking related to this. Formerly it was known as Hashida Sushi Singapore, now Hashida Singapore.

For one, the restaurant uses techniques beyond those typically found in sushi restaurants, which is why I have decided to leave out “sushi” from the name. 

hashida
Photo: Hashida Singapore

More importantly, there is a real possibility that there may not be much fish left in 20 or 30 years. Perhaps, in the future, the story of sushi might go like this, “in the past, there was a dish made up of bite-sized pieces of rice topped with fish fillets, and it was called sushi!”

What kind of experience do you think diners yearn for these days? 

Based on my experience in Singapore, I think what customers want depends on the occasion. For example, sushi restaurants usually serve seasonal ingredients, like seasonal fish. When customers become aware of the change and flow of ingredients based on the time of the year, it creates a pattern where customers enjoy sushi restaurants based on the occasion.

In Japanese entertainment, there is also a culture of familiarity, where both the entertainers and the guests are familiar with what is being performed, and enjoy seeing repeat performances. Because of this, they often return to the same familiar places. But familiarity shouldn’t be the only thing customers want. In my opinion, there are many ways to enjoy sushi and Japanese cuisine.

Whenever I go to Kyoto in the summer, ayu (sweetfish) is served at every restaurant. I hear about this often from customers. In this scenario, the programme would be ayu and the performer is a chef. I think it would be fun to have performers interpret the same programme differently.

It’s exciting to think about what kind of variations can be created. At Hashida, we try to make sure that even if you come in the same season, you can enjoy different dishes and presentation methods. I want sushi to be art and food to be entertainment.

This story was originally published on The Peak Malaysia.