Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little Tokyo: Itadakimasu!

August 18, Tuesday, I clocked out of work at exactly 5:30 in the afternoon and headed straight to that little food district dedicated to Japanese cuisine—Little Tokyo.

Little Tokyo is composed of five Japanese restaurants: RioZen, Hana, Uramesiya, Noda, and Kagura. RioZen was the one I saw upon arriving. 

There were very few people when I arrived that I actually thought that the place was still closed, not to mention how quiet it was. Most likely because I arrived early. The later it is, the more Little Tokyo is alive.

I was thrilled to see several Japanese restaurants standing side-by-side all in one place. I walked around first to check each of them before having a meal.

Outdoor tables and chairs for the different restaurants

Outdoor tables and chairs for the different restaurants

Inside Uramesiya

Uramesiya offers various kinds of alcohol
Uramesiya's raw meat for grilling displayed outside
You could say that they offer almost the same dishes, but each of them actually have their own specialty. Hana’s signature dish is the famous Japanese street food, Takoyaki. Kagura specializes in Okonomiyaki, which is the dish I tried the last time I visited Little Tokyo. Noda’s area of expertise is handcrafted sushi, sashimi, and maki. While Uramesiya’s forte is Yakiniku or grilled meat.
After several minutes of checking the restaurants, I decided to start my dinner with Hana’s Takoyaki. It took long before it was served because the waitress still had to heat up the metal where the Takoyaki balls are cooked.
Takoyaki balls being cooked in front of me
While waiting, it was getting darker and I couldn’t help but notice these glowing and beautiful Japanese-style lanterns.

The Takoyaki was worth the wait because each of the six pieces was very plump and every bite brought overflowing octopus flavor to my tongue.

The Takoyaki balls were soft on the inside that it was almost jelly-like to the bite.

Chewy octopus pieces inside the Takoyaki ball
Halfway through the meal, I asked the waitress for more Japanese mayonnaise because why not? You can never have enough of it, to be honest. It’s not too sour unlike the ones we have here in the Philippines. I was overall satisfied with the dish. 
After having my Takoyaki appetizers, I went to Noda to have a helping of Chicken Katsudon, which I have been craving for the past few days.
Unlike in Hana, the dish was served in a quick. Even without tasting the dish, I was already satisfied with its size and appetizing presentation. 

I grabbed my chopsticks, split it into two, and had a spoonful (or should I say chopsticks-full?) right away. The first flavor that welcomed me was the familiar savory sweetness of every Katsudon meal I’ve had so far. It’s highly worth its price because each ingredient that formed the meal was added in generous portions. Tender breaded chicken slices and egg covered the top of the huge bowl, strips of onion in every bite, flavorful rice because of the sauce that was distributed all throughout.

I was busy chowing down my meal yet I couldn’t help but be in awe of the situation. Out of all the Japanese restaurants I’ve tried, it was in Noda that I literally felt like I was in Japan. The food was Japanese. My fellow diners were Japanese chattering in Nihongo. The interior design was Japanese. Even the television channel was Japanese. Honestly, all I could hear and see was Japanese.

Fresh and raw seafood used for sashimi and sushi. Displayed at the sushi bar.
Japanese baseball game playing on the television
Customers who didn't eat at the sushi bar had their meals on tables with short legs and chairs that didn't have any.

The most striking part of my visit was the following scene: a Noda customer ordered sashimi and the head chef was quick to his feet and stood up to make the dish. It was very heartwarming and inspiring to see a very old man, most likely in his 80s, making sashimi with such enthusiasm and a huge smile on his face. It was evident that he has been doing this art for his whole life. He also greets and smiles at every customer, whether they’re coming or going. He never forgets to express his sincere thanks as well. He’s the type of person I’d like to call “happily tired”.

Little Tokyo is a place I’m sure I’ll go back to again and again. There are a lot of dishes I have yet to try and it never fails to give me the feeling of being in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Food Writing 101 - Day 2 (August 15, 2015)

For yesterday's session, the second one, we had to bring our assignment: an essay expounding on our chosen herb/spice/fruit from the Taste-Memory exercise. We were asked to read our essays out loud and have our fellow participants criticize our work so we could know our areas of improvement. 

I picked sweet basil because it's the one out of the thirteen I was most familiar with. My essay included the history and etymology of pesto, the dishes I make with it, and the fact that I find it as the perfect alternative for mayonnaise. One of the participants said that my essay "made me want to eat pesto". The other one said that she liked the last part because "it was a call to action". Some said that my work was informative and sounded like a magazine article, which was what I was after. For the negative comments, some of them said that it "lacked personality" and could be improved by having more details on the dishes that I make with pesto. But the most striking comment I've heard was that the voice of my essay was a bit confusing because it was informative at first but then became personal in the middle part. I agree with that comment to be honest. I know very well that I'm finding it a bit hard to find my writing voice, stick with it, and continuously improve it. SIGHS.

But I'm glad and relieved because a good solution to that problem was tackled yesterday! A fellow participant and Ms. Ginny said that in order to make a food writing essay both personal and informative in an effective manner, I could begin the essay by telling the story of a scene (better if based on my real life) with complete details. An example is (since my essay was about making pesto):
"When I went to the kitchen, I saw my mom, back facing towards me, grinding the basil leaves using a mortar and pestle. After that, she then started to add the other ingredients like garlic, salt, and pepper. And continued to grind them all even more. It didn't take long for the room to be filled with this medicinal and minty fragrance, which is all thanks to the herb being ground." 
After describing that scene, that's where I could put the informative paragraph about the history and etymology of pesto and relate it to the scene above.
"Just like what my mom did with the sweet basil leaves, Italians in the olden times used a mortar and pestle as well in order to grind the herb and turn it into pesto. This is how the word 'pesto' came about; it's derived from 'pestare' which is Italian for 'to crush' or 'to pound'."
After that, I could discuss the different dishes that I make with pesto and how I recommend it as the perfect substitute for mayonnaise:
"Since the day my mom first tried making pesto and had me and my siblings taste it, I was a fan. And now I always make my own from scratch. I often serve it with almost anything because it effortlessly turns any simple dish into something more special, both in taste and in presentation. I mix it with eggs to make a Pesto omelet. I serve it with Tuna to make a healthier sandwich or taco filling. I spread it onto Cream Dory to add flavor. And of course, it's the best when it’s served with what it was originally made for: pasta. But besides those things, what I really love about Pesto is that it’s a healthy alternative for Mayonnaise. It gives any dish that extra flavor without the guilt unhealthy ingredients bring."
There it goes! Though that's not the whole essay, I think it's way better than the one I presented yesterday! 

For our next assignment, we have to write our experience after cooking something or dining at a restaurant. I don't really have time to cook so I decided to have dinner this coming week at Little Tokyo, a small food district dedicated to Japanese cuisine lovers. I'll write more about it and my experience with it next week! 

Food Writing 101 - Day 1 (August 8, 2015)

Last Saturday, August 8, was the first day of the workshop I recently signed up for, Food Writing 101. It's facilitated by one of Philippines' prominent Food Writers, Ms. Ginny Mata. 

Our main agenda for the first meeting was to learn about food writing through the Taste-Memory method and practice it with a very interesting exercise. Ms. Ginny brought around thirteen herbs, spices, and fruits. Some of it were vanilla bean, kaffir lime, lemon, orange, curry leaves, cinnamon, sweet basil, Italian oregano, and lemongrass. She asked us to smell each of the thirteen and write two things: (1) at least three words/phrases that came to our minds upon smelling and (2) an invented/imagined or true memory related to the herb, spice, and fruit. Below is what I wrote for vanilla bean, as an example:

Vanilla Bean - cookies, cheesecake, desserts in general - baking oreo cheesecake with my mama

Being able to smell the different fragrances of the herbs, spices, and fruits was a very refreshing experience. It also taught me appreciation and made me realize that subconsciously or not, we take for granted even the smallest things like the smell of a staple ingredient that we keep in our pantry and use for our meals. So next time, it wouldn't hurt to take a few seconds to smell that one herb, spice, or fruit.