Recipe: Fried Soft-shell Crab with Tartar Sauce

So someone gave me a box of soft-shell crab, specifically mud crabs from Indonesia. Soft-shell crab are basically crabs that just molted or crawled out of its old shell. Like what happens to snakes and some bugs. I’m not sure if these crustaceans are farmed or fishermen catch them by waiting for molting season (is there such a thing?) or fishermen caught them by chance. Anyway, I didn’t know how to cook this type of crab but I discovered the most common way is just to fry it.

The crabs that I got were not yet cleaned so I researched how-to’s and it was quite easy (you can Google it but I’ll explain it below, no pictures though). This recipe is simple and I accompanied it with a tartar sauce, which is always perfect for seafood.

Ingredients

500 g soft-shell crab (5 to 6 pcs.)
1 cup of flour
1 lemon
Oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Tartar sauce

½ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. chopped chives

Procedure

1. Clean the crabs. You can actually ask your fishmonger to do this. First, using kitchen shears cut off the face of the crab. Then lift the side of the top shell and remove the gills (the pointy things with bristles). Do this on both sides. Then flip the crab and on its underside or abdomen, remove the triangular shell cover completely. And you’re done!
2. Make the tartar sauce. Mix all the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Pat the crabs with a cloth or paper towel, but don’t wipe it completely dry. Then season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, season the flour lightly and spread on a plate. While doing this, heat oil in a pan. You can do a deep fry method or shallow fry. What I used was the shallow frying method.
4. Dredge crabs with flour. Let the crab sit for a couple of minutes before putting in oil.
5. Fry the crabs, cook each side for 2 to 3 minutes. It’s important that you do not overcook the crabs. You want them crispy on the outside, tender and juicy in the inside. Also when frying, do not overcrowd the pan.
6. Place on paper towels after removing from pan then serve immediately. Squeeze lemon on crab before serving. Serve tartar sauce on the side. Eat them with a side of salad or seafood soup. Enjoy!

Serves 2 to 3

All-seafood feast

After watching chef Gordon Ramsay decry the use of frozen food on television so many times, I came to a conclusion that frozen food is bad, especially frozen meat. But not after cooking premium frozen seafood that I realized that it’s not bad at all.

While it is true that fresh is still the best thing to use, frozen is a good alternative nonetheless. That is if the brand you’re buying has done the process right.

The right process means that the meat is frozen immediately after slaughtering or harvesting the animal. Freezing the meat at its freshest is the best way to do it. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, freezing “does not destroy the nutrients,” the meat actually retains it in the freezing process. Also, the packaging helps, too, in maintaining quality.

SB King crab with hollandaise sauce on a crunchy brioche bread
King crab flakes with hollandaise sauce on a cr

Recently, Mida Food, one of the country’s top distributors of frozen premium seafood celebrated its 20th anniversary in a delicious fashion. It held an all-seafood lunch for a select group of guests at Gallery Vask, which is also a client.

Mida Food started as a trading company but eventually delved into frozen seafood distribution, starting with tuna off cuts like tuna jaw and tail. Today, the ISO-certified company, has more than 300 store keeping units (SKUs) in its line from fresh Norwegian salmon to pre-cooked New Zealand mussels to frozen Indonesian soft shell crab.

SB Aromatic tuna tartare with avocado and cilantro
Aromatic tuna tartare with avocado and cilantro

According to Mida Food president and CEO Enrique Valles, they have 1,000 base customers and delivers to 150 clients daily, moving eight to 10 tons of products every day. Their clients range from hotels to high end restaurants to fast food chains. Some of its customers include Tokyo Tokyo, Shakley’s, North Park, andWendy’s, just to name a few.

During the luncheon, chef Chele Gonzalez prepared a five-course meal using Mida’s products.

Before the lunch started, two types canapes were passed around. First was the simple pan seared hamachi on bread. The second one was king crab flakes with hollandaise sauce on a crunchy brioche bread. These were accompanied by Spanish Cava and sparkling rosé wine.

SB Grilled tiger prawns with starberry and watermelon gazpacho
Grilled tiger prawns with strawberry and watermelon gazpacho

Beginning the lunch proper is a small bowl of aromatic tuna tartare with avocado and cilantro. The tuna was finely diced and mixed with onions and cilantro topped with a dollop of creamy mashed avocado.

The next course was the beautiful plate of grilled tiger prawns with strawberry and watermelon gazpacho. The refreshing cold soup was complemented by different textures of chicharon-like crumbs and crispy iberico ham chips.

This was followed by the pan fried halibut with pork ragout and crispy iberico ham. The fish was flaky and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

SB Pan fried halibut with pork ragout and crispy iberico ham chips
Pan fried halibut with pork ragout and crispy Iberico ham

Then the last main course was my favorite. It was a seafood risotto with squid ink topped with lobster meat, seared scallops, Parmesan cheese tuiles, and asparagus ribbons (top photo). A spoonful with all components was a play on texture and flavors—the creamy and buttery risotto, tender seafood meat, and salty cheese tuiles.

Another favorite was the dessert and the only non-seafood dish (duh). The “different textures of calamansi” was the perfect ending to the seafood lunch. Different calamansi flavored desserts in a messy but beautiful pile—mousse, crumbled cake, cookie crumbs, and creamy ice cream.

Mida has attributed its success to the growing food industry, with the numerous restaurants opening shop and with Filipinos looking for more seafood options. Enrique said that they plan to put up their own retail store in the future but meanwhile, its retail brand Pacific Bay frozen seafood is available at supermarkets and its salmon bar is open at Markeplace by Rustan’s.

SB Different textures of calamansi
Different textures of calamansi

“Pacific Bay is a very important part of Mida Food, which is our retail brand available at all supermarkets. At some point we want to explore a brick and mortar retail store sort of like Santi’s but for seafood, like a high end fishmonger,” Enrique said.

www.midafood.com

Recipe: Thai-style Mussels

When I attended Mida Food’s 20th anniversary luncheon, each guest were given a bag full of frozen seafood—scallops, bacalao, softshell crab, prawns, and mussels—as a giveaway. The distributor of premium fresh and frozen seafood is known for its quality frozen products through its retail brand Pacific Bay. I immediately thought of various recipes for the seafood. I wanted to do something different for the mussels. It’s a pound of good shellfish, important from New Zealand, which was also already pre-cooked. I browsed the web and found Jamie Oliver’s Thai-style recipe. It looked simple and easy so I tried it and tweaked it a bit.

Ingredients

1 kg. mussels
1 1/2 cups fresh coconut cream
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 stalk lemon grass
1 tsp. cilantro stalks
2 pcs. bird’s eye chili (or Thai chili), chopped
1 pc. lime
2 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Procedure

1. Clean mussels or ask your fishmonger to do this for you. Steam or boil them for about 5 minutes until they open up. Discard any mussel that remained closed. Set aside about a cup of the water you used to cook the mussels.
2. Prep the lemon grass and cilantro. Pound the white part of the stalk until it cracks and opens up. Cut stalk into one-inch pieces. Then, separate the leaves of the cilantro from the stalks. Chop the stalks into small pieces.
3. In a pot, saute garlic and onions in vegetable oil for about 2 minutes, then add lemon grass and cilantro stalks and saute for another 2 minutes. Add coconut cream and water. Wait until it boils.
4. When boiling, add fish sauce and chili. Stir and taste, add salt if necessary. Add more chili if you want it extra spicy. Then add cooked mussels, stir and let simmer uncovered for about 2 minutes.
5. Turn off heat and squeeze lime over the mussels and mix. Serve in a bowl and garnish with cilantro leaves and lime wedges. Enjoy!

Serves 2 to 3

Myron’s: Steak perfected

 

I love steak. I like it medium and seasoned perfectly with salt and pepper. I like it with a side of roasted vegetables and rice or potatoes. Sauces are optional because you don’t need a sauce with a good steak.

I remember eating my first wagyu (or some kind of high grade Japanese beef) at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati years back and it was so good. Every bite was like heaven in my mouth.

Then one of the first steak houses I ever dined in was Myron’s Steak, Ribs and Seafood at Power Plant mall in Rockwell. This was 10 years ago (I think) and the steak house was pretty new then but they served good steak.

Since then, I have consumed many more steaks—bad, okay, good, great—but those two first experiences for me are the most memorable and delicious.

SB Cappuccino of mushroom soup
Cappucino of Mushroom

A little over a week ago, I was able to go back to Myron’s after many years. The restaurant has a new home, at the 6th floor of The Ascott Residences in Makati, moving from Greenbelt 5. The restaurant now serves as the property’s breakfast restaurant and they basically operate Ascott’s food and beverage (F&B) needs.

This is a big challenge for owners Ramon and Monica Eugenio considering that they started in food business at a small stall at Salcedo’s weekend market. Both experienced chefs, the couple started selling their Angus roast beef at Salcedo market in 2005. A year later, they had an opportunity to open their first restaurant at Power Plant mall. The couple partnered with friend and kitchen colleague Melanio Resuma to kick start the steak house.

SB Fusilli with grilled chicken and blue cheese
Fusilli with grilled chicken and blue cheese

After 11 years of operations, the restaurant has grown significantly and turned into a company running several restaurants including The Flying Pan, Franco’s, and Miguelito’s.

“As you can see it’s a bigger opportunity for us. I think it’s the biggest challenge for Monique and I. We started at the Saturday market and then after 10 years we were able to move from a stall in Salcedo to running the F&B department of one of the major players in Makati,” Ramon said.

One of the factors why Myron’s have lasted this long is because of a loyal following. Another is simply because they make good food.

For starters, the restaurant offers a variety of appetizers but the must tries are the caesar salad that’s freshly made beside your table and the delicious cappuccino of mushroom. It’s a mushroom soup that is creamy and foamy, giving that distinct cappuccino texture. The fresh mushroom flavors are there, not the kind you get in a can. It’s also adorably served in a coffee cup with a thin bread stick on the side.

SB Tiger prawn and US sea scallops with roasted pumpkin and scallion sauce
Tiger prawn and US sea scallops with roasted pumpkin and scallion sauce

If you’re a pasta lover, try the fusilli with grilled chicken and blue cheese. Yes, I know, blue cheese is notoriously pungent but this dish has no moldy aroma, whatsoever. It’s a surprisingly light pasta for a creamy dish and the grilled chicken complements it very well.

For people trying to stay away from carbs and want to eat “healthy,” try the tiger prawn and US sea scallops with roasted pumpkin and scallion sauce. I love seafood so this dish pleased me a lot, gastronomically speaking. The huge grilled tiger prawn has perfect charred sides and the scallops beautifully seared—both protein are very tender and well seasoned. The roasted pumpkin adds a smoky sweetness to the dish. All of the components are tied together by a creamy and delicate scallion sauce.

For the main event, Myron’s signature steak was served, called The President. It’s a US ribeye cooked medium and was served already sliced. It has a pink Himalayan salt topping and served with a side of steamed French beans. The sear was perfect and the seasoning was on point. I get why this steak is popular dish. This is best eaten with Myron’s rice, which is like fried rice but using steak drippings.

SB The President ribeye steak
‘The President’ ribeye steak

Although this was not the steak that I ate back then, it still brought back memories. Also, The President doesn’t need any sauce because it’s perfect as it is.

We ended the meal with an intricately plated chocolate cake. Ramon said that their pastry chef was formerly from Mandarin Oriental so the execution was very hotel-y. It was nice but I would have preferred the bread pudding.

The steak house is the living legacy of the man behind the name. Monica’s dad, Myron Papa is a big part of the concept when they envisioned the restaurant over a decade ago. The couple described the late stockbroker as someone who loved to entertain and feed people.

“He loved to entertain people with only the best food and wine,” recalled Monica. “When it came to get-togethers at home, he was very conscious about the quality of food being served, and very generous with the servings. You go home happy and well fed after a date with Myron.”

SB The Marianito
Marianito cocktail

This father’s day, Myron’s will celebrate with an addition to its bar menu. A new signature cocktail will be launched on June 18. Called the Marianito, it’s a classic Spanish cocktail made of vermouth, gin, campari, and angostura bitters.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Myron’s, 6th floor The Ascott Residences, Makati City / +632 755 8898 / reservations@myronsph.com / Facebook and Instagram @myrons_ph

Cebu’s UNO restaurant puts the spotlight on Filipino fare

When you ask me what my comfort food is, I would quickly respond Filipino food. As someone who grew up eating good Filipino fare at home, my love affair with local cuisine will last forever. Pizza got nothing on kare-kare.

The best thing about my mom and dad’s cooking (yes, they both cook) is they still do it the traditional way. Yes, no shortcuts. Why? Well, first, the flavors are different when using convenience products. Secondly, it’s healthier because you know exactly what you’re putting in your food.

Paella negra and arrox con pollo
UNO restaurant’s paella negra and arroz con pollo

My parents would use actual sampaloc in sinigang, boiling the sour fruit and pressing the juices through a sieve. I think my they have never used instant mix especially in kare-kare. They would use freshly ground peanuts from the market and use giniling na bigas (finely ground rice) as thickener.

Lucky for my siblings and I, we grew up tasting the real deal.

Cooking Filipino food the traditional way is also an advocacy of celebrity chef couple Roland and Jackie Laudico. Both chefs champion Pinoy food, promoting local cuisine through their restaurants and festivals here and overseas.

“The number one problem with Filipino cuisine is convenience products, all that instant cr**. We do not only advocate Filipino food, we promote the traditional way of preparing Filipino food,” explained chef Roland who is also known as chef Lau. He said this during a sit down interview with the media during the launch of their collaboration with UNO restaurant of Waterfront Cebu.

UNO restaurant interiors
Waterfront Hotel’s flagship restaurant, UNO

Last month, the chef tandem launched a Filipino food feast in partnership with the Waterfront group of hotels. Called “UNO’s Modern Filipino Taste: A Filipino Feast for All Senses,” the hotel’s buffet restaurant features a special menu by the Laudicos for a limited time, which started last week and will run until Aug. 31 of this year.

The two chefs added more than 40 dishes to the existing Filipino buffet menu. The dishes range from the traditional to modern to the Laudico’s personal spin to local dishes. The special menu is available at the hotel chain’s Cebu branches, Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino (Lahug) and Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino (Mactan).

Ngohiong cones
Ngohiong is a lumpia-like Cebuano dish and chef Lau turns it into bite-sized crunchy cones

“It is really with great passion and love that we always try to promote Filipino cuisine. It is such an honor for us to be able to do it at the country’s only Filipino-owned hotel chain. We are really happy to work with the Waterfornt group,” chef Jackie said.

Owned by the Gatchalian family, Waterfront hotels operate in Luzon (Manila), Visayas (Cebu), and Mindano (Davao). The local hotel chain is known for having PAGCOR casinos and even Duty Free shops at their hotels.

Lechon baka
Lechon baka

More than 60 dishes would greet diners at the hotel’s flagship restaurant. One of the main attraction of the buffet is a row of various lechon, after all, a Cebuano buffet is not complete without lechon.

Chef Lau’s take on the classic roast pig is adding a local flavor. He used basil-like local herb sangig along with the traditional aromatics used in lechon. The lechon line is also composed of baka (cow), goat, and his version of spicy “bellychon.”

Spicy bellychon2
Spicy bellychon

Also included in the lineup are classic dishes like pork humba, paella negra, and local dish balbacua. Chef Lau also put a modern spin on local favorites like the pinaupong nilasing na manok (beer can chicken cooked in a clay pot), inasal siomai, sinigang bites (crispy kangkong with bangus mousse), ngohiong cones (fried spring roll-like Cebuano dish), and many more.

Oh, did I mention there’s bacon bagnet? Yup, that exists in this buffet.

Suman panna cotta
Suman panna cotta

Chef Jackie on the other hand took care of the dessert, as usual. She made classic cakes and pastries and also modern Filipino desserts like queso de bola cheesecake, suman pana cotta, and molten tableya cake.

“We started doing Filipino food 18 years ago. We really wanted Filipino food to be respected globally, not just here and that’s happening. Finally, it’s happening, it should have happened many, many years ago,” chef Lau said.

Molten tableya cake
Molten tableya cake that uses Davao chocolate

“We’ve been doing Filipino food ever since hoping that we could inspire other chefs to do it and we’re very very happy that a lot are doing it now,” he added.

The couple is also bringing the festival in Davao this August and continue to experiment with Filipino food.

Please check out my story on ABS-CBN Life here.

For more information visit: www.waterfronthotels.com.ph

7 things to expect from traditional Japanese meals

My tummy will be forever thankful to Japan for giving the world sushi, tempura, ramen, katsu, and other glorious eats. Japanese food is a favorite around the world because the cuisine is considered umami-rich, healthy, and basically an art form. The Japanese take their food seriously.

When I say the Japanese take their food seriously, I mean seriously. Presentation alone, I think the Japanese are the best at presenting and plating their food. Even the vessels the food are on are also works of art—beautiful ceramic plates, bowls, and cups are often handmade by master craftsmen. And for chefs, some take years just to master one dish. Japanese master chefs are not called masters for nothing.

I discovered in Japan that what we eat today at local Japanese restaurants is far from the traditional meals. Yes, tempura, ramen, sushi, etc. are common dishes in the Land of the Rising Sun, but you haven’t truly eaten Japanese food until you try the traditional meals.

So, for people traveling to Japan for the first time and really want to try authentic Japanese fare, I will give you a list of what to expect from them.

Traditional Japanese setup
The beautiful dining setup at Bizenya restaurant in Goju

1. Traditional dining setup

You might already know this but traditional Japanese restaurants don’t have regular tables and chairs. Instead, a table that is low and close to the floor and pillows or legless chairs to sit on. Don’t worry because sitting on tatami mats is very comfortable even without pillows.

And a reminder, shoes are not allowed inside traditional restaurants. Eateries usually have shelves or shoe racks at the entrance and sometimes they provide guests with slip-ons so you can walk around the restaurant. But the dining area is still off limits to any kind of footwear.

Ready
Cold appetizers would be waiting for you on the table.

2. The food is ready on the table

The starters are already ready on the table before you even enter the restaurant especially if you or your tour guide reserved and ordered ahead of time. A typical Japanese meal starts with several amuse bouche or small portions of appetizers (mostly cold) like salad, pickles, vegetables, tamago (egg) omelet, grilled fish, sashimi, just to name a few.

Mini squid specialty
Toyama’s mini squid delicacy

3. Delicacies and exotic dishes

Speaking of appetizers, depending on where you are in Japan, there are certain specialties to try. When we were in Toyama, Toyama Prefecture, the city’s specialty is a type of tiny squid native to Toyama Bay. This squid is steamed or boiled then served cold with some kind of sour sauce. It’s very briny (not salty) but very fishy. I did not like this one that much.

Another are these small white fish sashimi in Goju. It is mixed in with herbs and pickles. Again, it was too fishy for me. These dishes are for people with an acquired taste.

There are however more delicious things than dishes I didn’t like. I loved the grilled fish, salad, seaweed pickles (or something), blanched green vegetable with crushed peanuts, egg omelet slices, various pickled vegetables, among others.

Cooking your main dish
Hot dish on the table

4. Cook your own main dish

At every restaurant we dined in, we always cooked the main dish on the table. A small pot or pan is usually situated on the side of your starter plate. What’s inside is raw fish or meat in a broth or sauce with whatever ingredients the dish may accompany. The pot is usually on top of a small ceramic or metal “stove” with some kind of burner the size of a small candle. The meat are usually sliced thinly for quick cooking.

This actually was quite a nice experience because we were able to cook the meat according to our liking. My favorite was the Hida beef dish at Irori restaurant in the heritage village Shirakawa-go. Slices of beef, tofu cubes, chopped scallions, bean sprouts (not sure but it may be soy bean sprouts), and miso paste on a bed of dry but soaked in oil ho leaf. It was so good. Hida beef is a kind of high grade cattle meat like Kobe.

Various starters
Small but several portions

5. A meal is composed of several courses

Most of the restaurants we dined in are very fine dining-esque. The dishes come in courses. After the appetizers and while waiting for your main dish to cook, several dishes would come one after another like a plate of sashimi then a bowl of soba noodles then a bowl of miso soup then a bowl of rice then the dessert.

You would think that the meals have small portions but there are several dishes—six to seven courses! You’ll get full but you won’t get that bloated feeling.

rice
A Japanese meal is not complete without rice.

6. Rice comes in late

Like Chinese lauriat, rice arrives towards the end of the meal, usually served with a bowl of miso soup. The rice bowl comes before the dessert. Just be prepared because during our first meals, we were surprised when the rice was served last after we already downed the main dishes. Though some restaurants serve noodles instead of rice and sometimes both.

But like good Filipinos we are, we usually order the rice in advance so we can eat it with the main dish. You can ask politely and they will oblige. But in a non-traditional setting, rice is usually served along with all the dishes.

tempura
Mixed tempura served with fine wasabi salt

7. It gets really authentic

Japanese cuisine outside Japan is already modified one way or another. We were served tempura in two meals and both times, no dipping sauce was served with it. Gasp! We are used to the sweet, soy, and gingery sauce of tempura served here in the Philippines. Traditionally, however, termpura is only served with a small plate of fine salt. Sometimes, the salt are flavored with various herbs and other spices.

When in Japan, expect real wasabi and not the bright green kind that comes in a tube. The real wasabi has a lighter green color, is more moist, and has bits and pieces of the root. The spice doesn’t linger and smoother compared to the fake ones.

So there you go! If you’re traveling to Japan, make sure to try some traditional fare. You’ll really discover how the Japanese really take their food seriously.

Jetstar offers low fares to Nagoya and flies four times weekly from Manila / www.jetstar.com

Beautiful Japan and its colorful food

Colorful in the literal sense but also colorful in terms of flavor, presentation, and texture. Japan has one of the best cuisines in the world and the best way to try this is by visiting the country itself.

I was lucky enough to visit the Land of the Rising Sun last month with a group of bloggers and journalists. It was my first time in Japan. And as I said it in previous posts, it is a dream destination for me.

Sakura in Magome
Sakura in Magome

So when my editor texted me (almost two months ago) if I was available to cover a familiarization tour (FAM tour) to Japan, to say that I was excited was an understatement. I was excited to see this beautiful country, which is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. I was excited to experience the country’s world-famous culture, both past and present. I was excited to taste the food—sushi, ramen, sashimi, tempura, udon, katsu, etc.

The destination was Central Japan, yes we toured not just one city but an entire region. Nagoya was our entry point via Jetstar, the organizer of the trip. The Japanese low cost airline started its flights to the Philippines last year and MNL-NGO (Nagoya) is one of its routes.

Nagoya TV Tower and Central Park from Oasis 21 all viewing platform
Nagoya TV Tower and Central Park from Oasis 21 mall viewing platform

Nagoya is home to around 30,000 Filipino residents. It is also the entry point to Japan’s heartland.

Before we get to the food, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the highlights of the trip.

Matsumoto Castle, the oldest castle in Japan
Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest castle

Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, is the oldest castle in Japan, built between 1593 and 1594. Made of wood, stone, and clay, it’s one of Japan’s best symbols of building skill and design. It’s one of the most beautiful castles to photographs, because the Japanese Alps play as its stunning backdrop.

World Heritage site Shirakawa-go
UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site located in Gifu Prefecture. The small village is famous for its gassho-zukuri-style thatched roof houses. Situated in a valley up in the mountains, the village is surrounded by hills with lush forests, that is why one of the best seasons to visit is autumn. Wintertime is also best, when snow beautifully covers the thatched roofs.

The famous road of Alpine Route with snow walls on both sides
The famous highland road of Tateyama Alpine Route, flanked by snow walls on both sides

Alpine Route on Tateyama mountain (part of the Japanese Alps) in Toyama Prefecture is one of the most visited spots in Japan and now I can see why. It is famous for the mountain road that is sandwiched between towering snow walls. Located at 2,450 meters above sea level, Tateyama experiences some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world. Workers clear up the highland road of snow every winter but snow still accumulates on each side of the road. Parts of the wall can even reach up to 20 meters high! Best part of the visit was the travel route because of the stunning views left and right like the picture perfect Kurobe Dam. This attraction opens every spring.

Different varieties of begonias
One of several pavilions at Nabana no Sato that houses different varieties of South American begonias.

Nabano no Sato is a garden park at Nagashima Resort. Located in Kuwana in Mie Prefecture, less than an hour away from Nagoya City, the park displays indigenous and imported flora and fauna. The current displays include an exhibition of beautiful begonias of South America; field of tulips; and the Winter Illumination light installation.

Now to the important stuff—the food. As you guys already know, I love Japanese food. So to go the place where it originated was such an amazing experience.

For most of the trip, we were treated to traditional Japanese meals, except on the last day. This means no bowls of ramen or tendon or curry or fluffy cheesecakes or strawberry shortcakes.

Since we were in the countryside, the food were very traditional. I will only mention meals and restaurants that stood out for me, after all, there was a lot of food during the five-day trip.

Magomeya restaurant in Magome
Magomeya’s dining space

First eatery is Magomeya in Magome, Gifu Prefecture. The restaurant is located behind the bus parking space at the foot of the famous Nakasendo Route in Magome. It has a simple and traditional dining space but has an amazing view of the mountains.

The food here are set meals that comes with a bento box of starters, soup, soba noodles, rice, and dessert. In our bento box was a variety of proteins like karaage (Japanese fried chicken), braised fish, and egg omelet. It also has a mix of vegetable pickles and seaweed. The miso soup is like no other miso soup I ever had. It’s filled with ingredients like daikon, carrot, thinly sliced pork, and green onions. The broth is very flavorful and perfectly seasoned (this was so good!).

Magomeya set meal
Magomeya’s delicious set meal

The soba noodles was also a meal on its own. The perfectly cooked buckwheat noodles (chewy but still has a bite) was swimming in a warm dashi broth with a mix of mushrooms and green onions. To finish, a simple not-so-sweet jelly dessert with fresh fruits is the perfect light ending to a delicious meal.

Irori hida beef
Irori’s Hida beef cooked on a ho leaf

Another must-try restaurant is Irori in Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture. The eatery in this heritage village serves Japanese meals in its most traditional form. This includes slices of beef cooked on a ho (local tree) leaf with miso paste, tofu, bean sprouts, and green onions. This was, for me, the best beef dish during the trip! What’s even better is the restaurant uses Hida beef, one of Japan’s high grade cattle meats (in the level of Kobe beef). The set meals also comes with the usual starters like vegetables, smoked fish, tofu, and a bowl of rice.

Dinner setup at Bizenya restaurant in Gujo
Bizenya’s traditional dining setup

Then there’s Bizenya in Gujo City in Gifu Prefecture. The restaurant has a beautiful traditional garden and has a traditional dining setup. The restaurant’s setup lets its diners sit on cushioned legless chairs on the floor, covered with the very comfortable tatami mat. The beautifully presented meal has the usual starters. Note that appetizers vary per restaurant.

Fresh sashimi
Uber fresh sashimi
Tempura
Traditional tempura is served with plain or flavored fine salt

Bizenya served us a variety of starters including extremely fresh sashimi (tuna, salmon, etc.) and steamed sea snail. The restaurant also served mixed tempura. At this point I discovered that tempura is originally served with plain or flavored fine salt and not the sweet ginger-soy dipping sauce we Filipinos are familiar with. The main dish is the beef (Hida, no less) sukiyaki, which we had to cook on the table by ourselves.

Hitsumabushi unagi
Hitsumabushi Bincho’s grilled unagi

The last memorable meal for me was the bowl of unagi at Hitsumabushi Bincho at La Chic mall in Sakae area in Nagoya City. Nagoya is famous for its unagi or freshwater eel. The restaurant chain serves the grilled unagi on a bed of rice and different condiments including dashi broth. This dish can be eaten in three ways—as it is; with nori, green onions, and wasabi; and with dashi broth. Diners can divide the big bowl of unagi and eat it however they like. Personally, I like the nori-green onionswasabi combination.

Traditional Japanese food is what I expected it to be—clean, beautiful, and flavorful. Some dishes may be for an acquired taste but most are overflowing with umami goodness. I will detail what to expect from traditional Japanese meals on my next post. And also watch out for what food souvenirs to buy in Japan.

You can also read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Jetstar offers low fares to Nagoya and flies four times weekly to Manila / www.jetstar.com

Asian food with a twist

When opening a restaurant in Manila, one sure fire way to succeed is to offer something familiar with the Filipino palate. And when it comes to food, you can never go wrong with Asian. Well, unless you serve bad food.

The secret behind the menu of Toast Asian Kitchen, one of the newest restaurants in the metro, is a collaboration between experienced and young chefs with different cuisine expertise. According to the restaurant’s managing director Timo Roxas-Chua, the menu was created by several chefs who tried and tested several dishes that keep in line with the Toast brand which they call “playful cuisine.”

Quesong puti croquettas
Quesong puti croquetas

Right off the bat, Timo says that Toast is not trying to be an authentic Asian restaurant. This is immediately clear on the menu because each classic Asian dish is not served as it is, but with an interesting twist. Located at Ayala Mall The 30th in Pasig City, the restaurant is banking on Filipinos’ love for food and big appetite to try something new.

For instance the “gyozig” is a hybrid of the classic Japanese dumpling and a Filipino pulutan favorite, an instant hit to customers. The resto also fuses together Western techniques with Eastern flavors like the quesong puti croquetas and Thai basil chicken poppers.

Tom yum meatballs
Tom yam meatballs

“I really believe that all these Asian dishes are intertwined with each other. Most Asian dishes have the same raw ingredients,” he said.

Some of the must try dishes include the “Blaksa” or black laksa. The resto’s version of the Peranakan favorite is mild—in terms of heat but the flavors are there—and the soup is colored by squid ink, hence the name. Another is the yakitori skewers, specifically the melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef cubes yakitori flavored with teriyaki or soy glaze.

Wagyu cubes yakitori
Wagyu beef cubes yakitori

The twice cooked pork belly on a bed of salted fried rice is another must try. The protein in this hearty meal is first braised then seared in a pan then tossed in a honey-garlic glaze.

Twice cooked pork belly with salted egg fried rice
Twice cooked pork belly on salted egg fried rice

“The inspiration came from my different travels. Asian food has gone way, way up unlike before. Before we only want to travel to the States or Europe, when we go to Asia, it’s only for shopping. Now, I want to go to Hong Kong and eat goose or I want to go to Japan to eat ramen,” Timo explained.

But what makes the restaurant different from others is its Tasting Room, a space dedicated for drinking hard to find liquors, spirits, and craft beers. Timo and his partners’ previous businesses are bars, so having this room in a resto is just combining their love for drinks and food in one setting. This is their first venture into the restaurant business.

Toast's Tasting Room stocked with hard to find spirits, liquors, and craft beers
Toast’s Tasting Room

Toast also commissioned Singaporean mixologist Jason Gray to create Asian inspired cocktails for the restaurant. The bartender created four signature cocktails namely: Tokyo Fog Cutter (whiskey, sake, lemon juice, cloudy apple juice, and absinthe), Pomelo Sour (vodka, lime, red bell pepper and ginger), Seoul Searcher (gin lime, Thai basil, pomelo, egg white, and white pepper), and Jack Sparrow (spiced rum, jackfruit, apple, lime juice, pandan syrup, and egg white)

The interiors also doesn’t scream Asian or a new modern restaurant. It has a rustic and bar feel. The space definitely stays away from the trend of modern interiors that can be a bit stiff and overused.

Toast interior
Toast’s main dining space

“I wanted something homey or rustic, not your typical restaurant. I believe this rustic feeling is long term. It grows on you unlike modern restaurants and practicality wise it doesn’t grow old,” he ended.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Toast Asian Kitchen and Tasting Room, ground floor Ayala Malls The 30th, Meralco Ave., Pasig City / Facebook and Instagram @toastkitchenph