A tiny exotic land covered with rust
First-time visitors to the restaurant Sabi-to-Susu, in the city of Nankoku, are in for five surprises. First, the name—it literally means “rust and soot”—offers no hint as to the type of food that will be served. Second, the building is a tiny old house with corrugated iron walls covered so badly with brown rust that at first glimpse, the place looks abandoned. Third, beyond the colorful shop curtain is a peculiar world made up of ethnic sundries and spices, and eccentric décor and lighting. Fourth, the proprietor, Kazuko Yamada, is larger than life with her turban-covered head and Japanese gown ensemble. Fifth and finally, the beautiful plate of South Indian curry is electrifying and moving, a roller coaster of hot and sour and spicy.
Kazuko is originally from Kochi. She moved to Kyoto to attend university. After graduating, she studied Kyoto Yuzen and Roketsu (wax) textile dyeing, took up painting as a street artist, made and sold accessories, and tried out all kinds of creative activities. One day, she became hooked on the magic of curry.
“My appetite for creation and my love of spices—all that was me amalgamated and took shape in the form of curry. I had always wanted to come back to Kochi eventually. Making a place where I could both continue creating and make curry seemed like a neat idea.”
The striking building belonged to Kazuko’s grandfather. As a child, Kazuko avoided the place; she used to call it a haunted house. When she took a fresh look at it as an adult, however, the rusty texture appealed to her. She renovated the building and filled it with things she loves. Quite a few people become fans of not only the delectable curry but also the creative, unique space itself.
“To me, curry is solely a means of expression. I don’t see myself as a curry chef. At the end of the day, I love people. I have the desire to make people happy and to keep on creating. Curry is the medium of my wonderful job that satisfies both desires. I’m also enjoying the process of broadening my personal connections and establishing this place as a base for creation.”
Curry is an art, and Sabi-to-Susu proves it.
Kazuko Yamada is the proprietor of fusion diner Sabi-to-Susu (“rust and soot”). After graduating from university, she began a career at a kimono merchant in Kyoto and later trained at Kyoto Yuzen and Roketsu (wax) dyeing studios. While engaging in these creative activities, she taught herself to make curry and returned to Kochi in 2017. She renovated an old Japanese-style house and opened Sabi-to-Susu, where she also organizes workshops and other events.