Feeling the need to satiate our inner Japanophiles’ cravings, my friend Angel and I went on a Fridate food trip to a mini-district that earned a reputation for being a ‘palatable’ piece of Japan here in our country: Little Tokyo.
The restaurant village is easy to miss, as it was nestled meekly in the hustle-and-bustle of downtown Makati. Dwarfed by its neighboring buildings, it is only marked by red shrine gates or torii. But with the big buzz it causes in the Internet, it seems that adventurous gastronauts have no problems whatsoever in finding their way here to get a taste (or re-taste) of the distinctive Nippon cuisine it is famous for.
We arrived a little past 6:00PM; people are starting to pour in for dinner. The Zen gardens inside, softly lit by lamps and red lanterns, will make you feel like you are indeed in a little pocket of the Land of the Rising Sun. Most patrons are Japanese expats, too.
We first went to Izakaya Kikufuji, one of the bigger restaurants in the place. We only have a few hours to spend for a couple of reasons (one of which is, for me, having to wait for ages to get a cab or a bus as consequence to missing the train). Since we want to try at least two restaurants before we go, we only ordered something we can easily wolf down: fresh sashimi!
Over this heavenly plate and mugs of deliciously brewed green tea, Angel and I shared stories and exchanged random comments about the place. She mostly let me “steal” as many fish slices as I want, as long as I will let her taste everything first. The fresh and flavorful treat sent my taste buds to cloud nine one slice at a time.
We were not done with our meal when we began talking about our next trip to the place, preferably with more friends. Our order cost us about Php 900.
Before going to our next food stop, we dropped by Choto Shop (aptly named, since that was actually from choto matte—as in, ‘wait’ or ‘stop for a moment’. Even their logo is a rip-off of Mini Stop). Since neither of us can expertly read Japanese, we stick to products that have English labels, those that have pictures, or simply those that we easily recognize regardless of the language written on the package.
Being the budding tea evangelists that we are, we enthusiastically assaulted the tea rack and chose a bunch we think we should try. We got ourselves two kinds each, promising to share what we have the next time we meet. I got myself a pack of plum-kelp or ume konbucha tea (my first taste of seaweed tea, which wasn’t really bad, though I think I’d like it more as broth instead); loose-leaf green tea; furikake; and three sticks of dango (dumplings), which we ate later in the night. Angel got herself a bunch of tea packs too, and some chocolates.
After that, we hurried to Hana restaurant, a small place you can spot easily since it has a takoyaki griddle outside its humble establishment. And indeed, it was a little “flower” in the place.
We sat at the bar and split our order of piping hot takoyaki, the taste of which shamed all my previous tastings of mall-stall takoyaki in my life. I mean, even the fish shavings were tasty enough to make me drool. It was savory inside and out, with all the sauces and mayo and the real octopus bits. Priced at Php160, this is definitely worth going back for.
If you do drop by Hana, do not forget to try their kokiguri or flavored shaved ice. We chose the green tea-flavored one, and we could barely contain our foodgasm moments. I loved how the milky-matcha taste reaches even the finest ice shavings at the bottom of the bowl, unlike the pseudo-kokiguri I have tried before that lose their flavors halfway down their container. The red bean flavor at the top was an added treat, making their combination perfect (borrowing from someone: “Green tea and red beans is totally my OTP!”). I won’t hesitate to try this dessert again. It costs Php130.
It was past nine when we went out of Hana. Thinking there was still time to catch our respective rides home (I know the MRT closes at 10:00PM and there were shuttles still for Angel), we slumped on one of the stone benches inside the district, shared stories again, and munched on the dango we bought from Choto Shop.
The dumplings were quite tasty, but neither of us actually liked it. Angel repeatedly compared the sauce to tempura dip. As for me, my taste buds have no actual problem about it…it was my imagination that has.
I can eat seafood, poultry, meat, whatever…as long as the animal’s head is nowhere to be seen. Any part of the head—the eyeballs and the brains especially—is just an invitation for my previous meal to make a reappearance. Now, the dumplings look an awful lot like preserved eyeballs or something, and its gooeyness and saltiness (and the general quirkiness of Japanese culture) just didn’t help me. Oh, and I have my brain to thank for being helpful in dredging up splatter film scenes in my head. I triumphantly finished one stick, although not without letting out a hushed string of not-so-strong expletives. I know, I know, I would not even be fit for a mild Fear Factor audition.
Quite satisfied for the night, we went home with a promise to come back, perhaps at an earlier hour so we get to enjoy more of Little Tokyo. :)
PS: Bookworms who follow my blog, don’t worry, CICB has not magically transformed into a food blog. More book-geekery in the next posts!