House of Kobe chef talks sushi

January 22, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Fuli Sabit has been a sushi chef at House of Kobe since 2000. A native of Ponorogo, Indonesia, Sabit came to the United States after hearing that this country was "the No. 1 country.
Photo by Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of profiles of local restaurant chefs.

When customers jam the sushi bar at House of Kobe, fingers fly to assemble rice, fish, ginger and wasabi. But busy as a sushi chef might become, he must maintain calm and be conversational with customers, according to Fuli Sabit.

Sabit, 40, is the longest-serving sushi chef at House of Kobe, the Japanese dining institution on the Dual Highway in Hagerstown. Sabit was born in Ponorogo City, a mostly rural jurisdiction in Indonesia, northwest of Australia.

Ponorogo is renown as the birthplace of a traditional Indonesian entertainment, the Reog Ponorogo —  a dance drama with an elaborate lion-and-peacock costume — and a classic Indonesian food, Sate Ponorogo, a grilled marinated chicken dish served in peanut sauce.

Sabit sat down with The Herald-Mail to talk about making sushi and moving to America.

The website says the House of Kobe introduced sushi to Hagerstown 30 years ago. How long have you been here?

I start working here in November 2000 — about 12 years.

Help me with the difference between sushi and sashimi.

OK, sushi comes with rice. Sashimi is just sliced fish. Just fish — no rice.

Then there's the roll wrapped in rice and seaweed. The roll is easy to tell apart. Now, when someone says "Make something for me," you ask "What kind of things do you like?"

Yes. We can make sushi and sashimi and some roll, you know, some combination. I don't know if you like sushi or sashimi.

What is the most popular sushi people order?

In here, most people order tuna — spicy tuna roll, tuna sashimi, anything tuna. Also, many Americans like the California roll.

Is there fish in the California roll?

No, no fish. That's why they like it. Or they order tuna.

What are some unusual fish people ask for?

People ask for giant clam, and also sea urchin.

Why do you put ginger and wasabi on a plate of sushi?

It's very difficult to make just right when we make sushi, because we don't know how much they like it. Some won't touch wasabi and ginger, but we add them, sometimes just for presentation — the pink color or green, like a leaf and flower.

You're not Japanese.



The staff here — some are Japanese, some are not?

Most of them are Korean and Philippine and some American, too. Now only Mr. (Masahiro) Hirai, (owner of House of Kobe) is Japanese. 

Did you learn to speak Japanese before you came here?

No, we don't learn Japanese.

What was your sushi-chef training like? Did you go to Japan?

No. At the time, I had the job and I had to apply to my boss, and at the time, we had a Japanese chef here, so the Japanese chef, he teach me how to make sushi.

So you learned here (at House of Kobe).

Yes. And for 12 years, I don't go anywhere, because my boss asked me to stay.

Tell me about growing up in Indonesia.

My city is Ponorogo, in East Java. A small city. Population more than Hagerstown. 

What did you do before you came to America?

Actually, I worked with my parents. My parents were farmers, growing rice or vegetable like eggplant, green beans or chili.

What brought you to America?

I read in the news America is No. 1 country at the time. So everyone was interested to come to the United States. Including me, too.

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