If you've read it once, you've read it countless times: Kyoto is Japan's "ancient capital." Often, that adjective — ancient — feels like lip service, a cliche that follows Kyoto around, like snap happy tourists trailing maiko and geiko (geisha). But every now and then you get lucky, and stumble across vestiges of this "old Kyoto" that are still in existence.

Sushi restaurant Izuu is one such place. It opened in 1781 and specializes in saba-zushi, cured mackerel pressed on to vinegar-flavored rice and wrapped in thick sheets of konbu seaweed. More than 230 years since its opening, the recipe and the ingredients have hardly changed.

Kyoto's relationship with mackerel predates the opening of Izuu by hundreds of years to the Heian Period (794-1185), when the fish were transported on foot from the Japan Sea on a route that became known as the Saba Kaido — the old mackerel road.