Sunday, June 28, 2009

Japanese Food and then Some...


One of my regrets in my training in Japan was, I never got to sample different mixes of the famous 'okonomiyaki', as stated in the J-drama 'Kekkon Dekinai Otoko'. When I get adventurous, there's always a long line to the stall, not enough to make it in the short breaks I had. The worst was in Yokoham, while I was attending a 'fiesta', there was a queue of at least 30 people. Sadly, in my whole stay, I only got to eat a single slice, after asking a friend for a bite.

To make up for the loss, I decided to go on a search to find the nearest flavor to the original okonomiyaki I tasted, which in turn, drove me to look for authentic tasting Japanese cusine in my backyard. In the Philippines, there are a lot of restaurants, fast food chains and snack carts that claim to be authentic Japanese cusine.

I got a lot of sampling from the almost unknown joints in Makati, but I was looking for places that has the nearest taste while staying well within my spending range.

A weekend Japanese food connoseuir on a budget.

Unfortunately, fast food joints are out of the question. I went in a few and sad to say, the taste has been adjusted to suit the Pinoy palette despite their 'authentic Japanese cusine' tagline. But there are a few redeeming points. 

Tokyo-Tokyo's beef misono dip has the same taste as the beef broth-soy sauce dip I had for Kamakura's cold udon. And the chicken karaage has the same taste and texture as the ones I had in Osaka. Don't waste your time on the makis and sushis.

Teriyaki Boy's katsudon and gyuudon are commendable. So is their kani salad, which offers quantity and quality for your buck, unlike the ones in Kitaro. But their sushis and makis has some elements amiss, maybe its the rice or the quaint fish roe used. And the udons are too thin, lacking in the chewiness and texture of the ones in Kamakura.

Bento gets high marks for their katsudon, and the price they offer for a lot of their food. You don't get to see much of the same taste but the quality is still good for its price.

Saisaki is a good place to get you feet...er mouth wet on what Japanese cusine should be. Of all the branches I went to, you get a good taste-to-price ratio at the Glorietta branch. There I got to sample the pork cutlet package for P250 per person. You start off with appetizers composed of makis and a various sushis. By then, you are almost full as the main course arrives. The vegetable maki was heavenly.

For fried gyozas, look no further than Gyoza, a food cart at the fifth level of Market!Market! in Fort Bonifacio. After being steamed, the gyoza is fried on a steel plate (teppan) as you order them. And for a great price of P32 per 4 pieces. Sadly, that branch (are there other branches?) is closed. Woe is me (crying).

Another place to get good kani salad and sushis is Okuya in Glorietta. Although a bit pricey, you get the added bonus of watching the chef prepare your food with the flair of a sculptor carving a masterpiece, or a performance artist creating a visual piece.

But alas, my okonomiyaki quest was getting frustrating as all the cheap stuff was too starchy and has too much batter in them. The sauce also has a lot to desire for.

Now that's enough of the budget stuff. If money is not a problem, then I suggest either Wazen in Pasay road or Sugi in Greenbelt 3.

Wazen has the atmosphere of a typical restaurant in a cramp building space in Tokyo. There are a lot of private space as function halls have movable walls to suit your party's size. While there, you should indulge in their sushi and maki as they, I heard, were prepared by a Japanese cook and their highly trained Filipino staff.

For a complete experience, I highly recommend Sugi. The interior decor is reminiscent of high-class restaurants in Shinjuku. Aside the immersion you get from the ambiance, you can also dine in the traditional tatami rooms available at the second floor. However, to book a tatami room, you have to be sure your party will be able to consume at least P3000 worth of Japanese delicacies. The best bacon brocolli maki can be found here. As well as an authentic tasting okonomiyaki.

There is nothing wrong with the food prepared by other joints as they were localized to suit the taste of the general public. Its just that once you've tasted the original, you'll crave for more of the same.

As my quest for the okonomiyaki draws to a close, I begin anew as my desires were revived by the taste of salmon and tuna onigiri, and that deep fried squid tentacles I got to eat in a train station in Tokyo.

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