Been meaning to try Little Tokyo along Pasong Tamo in Makati ever since I read about it months ago and there’s only one person I could think of who would enjoy the place more than anyone, that is my otaku friend, Dianne. I know our schedule would be less and less compatible over the next few months so I picked her up first thing after waking up yesterday afternoon from night duty and off we searched for that little red Torii gate which served as the entrance to this quaint space occupied by Japanese restaurants.
And I was right. My bebe was all smiles when we walked past the gate. There’s a Japanese garden in the middle (though the stones didn’t have landscape designs) and the facade of the restaurants were similar to the ones we see in anime and Japanese movies. The whole place made us feel like we weren’t in Makati, it was so serene. Dining in the alfresco area while staring at the garden and talking to one of your closest friends about anything (nope, we mostly talked about our dream to go to Japan together for a month haha) was soothing.
Most of the restaurants are open for lunch but they close during the lean hours of the afternoon and then open again at 5-6 PM till midnight. Good thing Dai and I arrived at around 5:30 PM since we were the only customers in the whole compound (I’m sure the place would be packed in the evening because it’s a declared holiday, 2013 elections baby). Unfortunately, all of the other restaurants were still closed except for Nodasho so that’s where we had the first meal of the trip (because we def planned on having more than one).
When the waitress handed us the menu, Dai began pointing at all of the items she wanted to order while exclaiming their names and I found it funny because (1) she looked like a child in a toy store and (2) from too much anime and manga, she already knew what the items were called by heart onigiri, sashimi, soba, okonomiyaki, etc. name it and she can describe for you. Unfortunately, our budget was limited so we settled for two of their bestsellers.
Onigiri is made from white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes, often wrapped in nori (seaweed) with various fillings and flavors. This is a staple in the Japanese diet. I remember, my host mother made a couple everyday and she ate them while driving and doing other chores.
Bebe and I had Shake onigiri (salmon rice ball) and I was hesitant at first to order my share of this item because I was not very fond of nori and the onigiris I’ve tried in the past didn’t make me happy but we gotta give food another chance so we ordered 2 pcs at 80 pesos each.
Oh boy, oh boy. This is one of the best decisions I’ve made the past couple of months (especially because there’s been a lot of bad ones lately). The first time I picked the rice ball, its warmth already struck me. When I took my first bite, I forgot that I refused onigiri for the longest time. The nori wasn’t makunat, the rice was everything you expect Japanese rice to be and the salmon was perfectly salted. Seriously, this was the best thing Dai and I had that day we were talking about it even after we left. I might be having post-shake onigiri syndrome where I desperately force the goodness out of my mind. Connoisseurs might tag this version as regular but it was good enough for me.
We also shared in an order of Shoyu ramen. I don’t remember the broth of the ramens I order, I just always end up with shoyu (soy sauce) even when I find it a little salty. Next time I’ll veer away from the broth. haha. Anyway, the noodles were thin and I always like my noodles thin, the pork was lacking something and it wasn’t super tender and the egg wasn’t “half raw-half cooked” (I don’t know the term, no, not “poached”). Still, it was a satisfying bowl.
We wanted to try okonumiyaki at Kagura but the restaurant was closed. We checked again after eating at Urameshi-ya and Hana, still nada. At least we have another reason to come back (though the onigiri was enough).
Next stop was Urameshi-ya. This place is famous for their yakiniku or grilled meat. These pieces of protein are usually cooked in Sichirin (japanese barbecue grill) using Japanese charcoal (because they burn longer). Unfortunately, they’re a bit pricey so we’d have to try it some other time. But that didn’t heed us from trying other items in their menu.
On our way to the booth, Bebe spotted a wall full of Manga and she excitedly opened one. Over the past few weeks, we have been looking for a place where she could buy these comics, to no avail. Unfortunately, the Manga we saw weren’t translated in English. Instead of being disappointed, it inspired my bebe to learn Japanese characters. Talk about an addict.
According to the waitress, their bestseller is Enma ramen. The spiciness of this dish ranges from Level 1 to 20 and we chose level 5. When the food was delivered, I thought two things: First, thank heavens we decided to share in one bowl because it was huge and second, if level 5 had this much spice, I could only imagine how level 20 would look like. Four times this amount could easily fill the bowl to the brim.
We liked this one more than the shoyu ramen. There weren’t too many ingredients, just the spice, ground meat, scrambled egg, some onion and the curly noodles which reminded me of Pancit Canton. My tongue got scalded a couple of times because of the temperature and spiciness of the dish. Still, I took another bite and another sip. My tongue could recuperate later because I need to enjoy this bowl of ramen goodness. Also, we were making those really loud slurping sound and it does make the meal more enjoyable. By the time we finished, we were both sweating (not profusely) and red.
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter typically filled with octopus, ginger and green onion then topped with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise. I’ve seen a lot of stalls offering takoyaki in malls but I’ve never tried them because all those veggies discourage me from doing so. Dai loved the texture of the snack and if not for her feeling full, she would have been able to finish the five pieces. As for me, I wasn’t fond of these balls (I found the texture icky) and one was enough, for tasting purposes.
For dessert, we had Kakigori (Japanese shaved ice with syrup). I had peach flavor with milk while Dai had green tea flavor with milk and red beans. Both were delicious and sweet and I am still curious as to how they execute this in a way that there’s still flavor up to the last spoonful because I tried making one at home and it tasted like water after a couple of minutes.
We both agreed that if we weren’t Filipino, we would like to be Japanese. After we arrived home, Dai started playing anime soundtracks — Japanese songs which she knows all the lyrics to complete with proper pronunciation — and this one from Toradora! stuck like glue.