Centuries ago, the Setoda port established itself as a site of trade: exports included locally produced goods such as salt, and rare ingredients would arrive from both across Japan and from neighbouring countries. While much has changed since then – such as citrus becoming the region’s main produce, Azumi still continues trade practices on a more direct and local scale.
Mornings are particularly exciting for deliveries, as farmers and fishermen deliver goods to Azumi by ferry and personally by car. A small truck stops in front of a small staff door on a side street off the Shiomachi shotengai, hand-delivering plump, plum-coloured figs from the single fig tree at Tatemichiya, a citrus farm up the street. Next, the chicken arrives on a ferry from Miharaya, which was passed from farmer to butcher hours earlier. On another ferry from Imabari, a styrofoam box containing tachiuo, black grouper, sea bream, sazae, and shima-aji fish makes its way to Azumi. They are still glistening with seawater, and brimming with vitality from a lifetime of swimming along Setouchi’s strong currents.
The chefs take the produce inside the kitchen to admire and decide how to serve the day’s goods. The chicken becomes sashimi and the fish are arranged as both starters as well as the final main dish for dinner, followed by perfectly ripe figs and other refreshing small bites for dessert.
In the evening, guests make their way to the glowing dining area, which feels airy and cosy at once. The exposed wooden bones juxtapose with the white high ceilings to take on a sculptural effect. Similarly, the tables that surround a square sunken central service area also appear like an installation, or to witness a unifying performance.
Eri, and other kitchen staff enter the center area to present each dish, so they can talk to seated guests at eye level. Smaller fish are fried and spiced with cumin and fennel, along with donguri. Larger ones are served on a family-style platter that were passed on from the original aruji of Horiuchi-tei which were collected from all over Asia. Rayu and vinegar for dumplings are served on intricately decorated small saucers that speak to Chinese influence on both cuisine and ceramics, as well as paying homage to Setoda’s past as a cultural hub.
Living on an island comes with increased awareness about who, where and how to procure ingredients. While this awareness used to be out of geographic necessity, it is now part of the larger experience of Azumi, which brings us back to our communal roots.