hajimemashite little tokyo
About three or so weeks ago, James and I got bitten by the adventure bug one Sunday afternoon. He felt it would be best to show me the route to their office building so I could join them for early morning departure to Quezon. After a long ride from Cainta to Makati, walking down blocks, taking the underpass, and huffing and puffing up stairs, we soon found ourselves in front of his building. Hurrah!
(Come to think of it, he did mention he would walk from the MRT station to his building everyday -- which meant he walked an uneven kilometer, popping over and under the street surface everyday. Now think of how he must've managed carrying all the weapons we constructed back then. Oh dear.)
Hurrah! What now?
We were on this adventure anyway, so we decided, in for a penny, out for a pound! We hailed a cab, and asked the driver to takes to Little Tokyo, just behind Makati Cinema Square and along Chino Roces avenue, whichever route he felt more familiar with, thank you kindly. Luckily, the driver was quite familiar with the place, as he told us he'd delivered many Japanese nationals, food trippers, and couples like us to its torii.
And here we were. Couldn't wait to get inside.
The long walk along a quiet, right-angled Japanese open-air corridor soon opened up to a courtyard of tables, seats, the low buzz of cooking, Japanese television, and restaurant staff chatting away as they prepared for the evening rush of eager diners.
Little Tokyo isn't a single restaurant as much as it is a commune of Japanese restaurants and Japanese grocery stores. We were thankful to have taken the time to read up a bit more on the place, because the choices of eateries were all so overwhelming!
Since we were in the mood for takoyaki, we opted to have lunch/dinner at Hana. Seeing the takoyaki and yakiniku grills just right outside their doors made me catch my breath; I could see there was a twinkle in James' eyes when he saw them too. We gingerly pushed the sliding door and entered, to be greeted with a cheerful "Irrasahimase!" by the waiting staff. "Irrashaimase!" means "welcome, sir or ma'am!" in Japanese -- or a much more literal transalation of it would be "Oh, look -- a customer!"
We could smell some sort of pert, odd, gingerish scent in the air. There was an Edo-period teledrama playing on the widescreen telly set on a corner of the shop -- no subtitles, of course, just good acting and sumptuous costumes and setting. James and I had just figured out the wife of a powerful daimyo had ordered her shocked and teary-eyed daughters to leave the palace for their own safety, when the menu finally arrived.
Since this was our first time, we opted to go with some "snacks": an onigiri each, and a big platter of twelve takoyaki for sharing. The house's plum wine came highly recommended by our waitress, and we decided to have a shotglass each.
Here's a glass of ice-cold water, and our shots of plum wine. I braced myself for a strong, gin-like alcoholic bite, and was quite pleasantly surprised to find I had nothing to fear. The drink itself was delightfully sweet and fruity. James said, if you pay attention, you'll recognize a hint of alcohol somewhere in the sweetness. This drink is one meant to be sipped and savored. I say, not bad for P150!
We sipped and savored as we watched the palace on TV burn to the ground, the retainers weeping bitterly at the palanquins, the princesses screaming for their mother and father locked inside, the look on their parents' faces resolved to right some wrong committed to the bitter end. Oh, Japanese drama.
We were served a small helping of chilly potato salad saabisu to prepare our palates. James marveled at the texture of the carrots.
Our first course: onigiri. I admit that I feel a bit silly when I now say I found it delightful that it looked just like in the pictures, and in anime shows we'd been watching.
Mine had pickled plum filling. This treat surprised me once more: the filling tasted salty rather than sweet or fruity, and left me with the impression I has been eating soft, dainty-tasting salmon-like fish couched in a pouch of rice and nori. Quite fascinating, really!
James' onigiri had bonito flakes flavored with soy sauce. This one had much more body to its flavor, and had a roasted savoriness to it.
The main course. The star of the early evening. We thought -- thought! -- this would be something light, something just enough to take up some space in our bellies. We were terribly wrong, and delighted to be so. It was a sight to see the bonito flakes curling and uncurling, waving about on the surface of the balls as if they had a life of their own. This was clearly not the takoyaki we had from mall side stalls
One bite. The ginger we smelled in the air had been the main flavor of the takoyaki batter, the very same one we were bearing the heat and the steam escaping from the balls to savor. The balls were firm, full-bodied, and flavorful, and was everything all the other local food bloggers said they would be. This was truly authentic takoyaki, as if it were served off the streets of Japan.
Another thing that sets Hana's takoyaki apart from the rest: real octopus pieces. Not tidbits -- pieces. If you look closely to the bottom-right picture, you'll see the circular marks of where the tentacle suckers used to be. (James was already chewing the tentacle quite gleefully.)
Me seconds away from popping the whole ball into my mouth and scalding myself silly. Kidding.
By the end of the meal, we were basking in the pleasant afterglow of good food and nursing the last of our plum wine to a rather comprehensive documentary on crows. Seriously, Philippines, why don't we have shows like these?!
On our way out, we both went, "so this is how they really cook takoyaki..." See the red-orangey ginger bits in the batter?
So we left Little Tokyo with good memories in our heads and bellies, and a resolution to make more here in the future. That's Kagura for the Okonomiyaki next, and maybe Seryna for the sushi. We were all aglow, stepping out. (See? Even James' head is glowing! Ahaha! Ahe. Hem.)
We shall prepare our tummies for you; until we next meet, Little Tokyo.