Popular for its sushi delivery system, Genki Sushi is quickly becoming a favorite among sushi-loving Filipinos. And I see why.
The Japanese restaurant chain recently opened its fourth branch at SM Aura Premier in Bonifacio Global City, proving that they are doing good business in the country. Managed locally by the Mother Spice Group, Genki Sushi is one of its brands that is growing significantly.
Mother Spice Group also operates Mango Tree, Mango Tree Bistro, and Cocina Peruvia.
Genki Sushi was founded in Japan in 1968 by Japanese sushi chef Fumio Saito, who created the concept of kaiten sushi, where sushi is served by conveyor belt. Today, the chain has grown exponentially, with branches across the globe.
The novelty of its service is what’s keeping people coming back to the restaurant. The eatery employs the Kousoku Express Train System or its toy-like train delivery system. Inspired by the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train), the tracks run from the kitchen to the tables.
Customers order via tablet computers and the food is delivered by a small train. It’s very entertaining to watch, especially to kids…like me.
But probably the resto’s main selling point is its food. Genki Sushi serves quality food, from sushi to donburi to desserts.
According to Genki Sushi Philippines brand manager DJ Atienza, the local franchise gets a visit from the mother ship quarterly. They ensure the quality of the products and the service of the restaurant. Most of the ingredients the local shops get are from Japan, too.
“Even the sauces are from Japan to make it consistent like the shoyu (soy sauce) and also the pickled ginger and green tea. We are not allowed to use local ingredients unless they approve it,” he said.
Along with the opening of the new branch, the sushi resto also launched new items on its menu.
These new dishes include: coconut shrimps (like shrimp tempura but with panko bread crumbs and coconut flakes), kushi-age (small basket of fried seafood and vegetables), crispy salmon skin strips, caramel mochi, and vanilla and strawberry mille crepes.
They are also now offering sushi plates of three. Regular orders usually have two pieces in a plate but now, people can order three different sushi in one plate. They offer a trio of salmon nigiri sushi (regular salmon, seared with pollock roe, and seared with black pepper) and a trio of gunkanmaki sushi (spicy tuna, tuna salad, and kanikama salad).
And if you haven’t tried its Japanese cheesecake, you should. It’s not the fluffy cotton cheesecake kind but a soft delicate, light, and not-so-sweet cheesecake which I think is the perfect ending to a sushi meal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Okay, that title is a bit confusing. How can food be Filipino, Japanese, and Peruvian at the same time Well, ever since Nobu opened here in Manila, foodies (myself included) have wondered how would it incorporate its cuisine with Filipino flavors. After all, it’s a common practice for international restaurant chains to include Filipino food/flavors on their menus when opening shop here.
For those who are unfamiliar with Nobu, the US-based restaurant’s cuisine has Japanese and Peruvian influences, thanks to its genius founder, chef Nobu Matsuhisa. His fusion food is the reason why restaurant is so successful, which first opened in Los Angeles, California. The restaurant is so good, Hollywood actor Robert De Niro invested in it and he eventually became a business partner of Chef Nobu. Now, the restaurant has several branches worldwide.
Two years ago, Nobu opened here in Manila, not just a restaurant but a whole luxury hotel. It’s Nobu first hotel in the world. Although the hotel opened with a rocky start, the restaurant proved why it has been successful around the world.
Last April, Nobu launched its special menu, a collection of Filipino-inspired dishes. For a chef, this is a tough menu to make especially when the restaurant’s cuisine is already fusion. Adding another cuisine to the mix can be daunting.
But Nobu Manila’s head chef Michael de Jesus is no stranger to Filipino food because Pinoy blood runs through his veins. Coming from Nobu Las Vegas, chef Michael joined Nobu Manila last year.
“The challenge is to marry almost three different kinds of cuisines but still holding our identity because Nobu is Japanese-Pervuian. And now we try to add a Filipino aspect,” the Filipino-American chef said.
The special menu took a cue from the very successful Filipino-Japaese omakase dinner by chef Michael and Nobu NYC executive chef Ricky Estrellado last year. Chef Michael, through the help of his Filipino team, chose popular Pinoy dishes and translated them to their food—Filipino with a Nobu flair.
The nigiri and sushi selection is a clear standout. One nigiri features a lightly seared tuna topped with a “ginataan” sauce. The flavors were on point. The familiar creamy flavor of coconut milk with ginger, garlic, and added heat from chili peppers. Another standout is the tuna sisig roll, a sushi roll made of cooked tuna—sisig style—with cucumber and peppers.
The most impressive dishes on the menu are two Filipino classics, palabok and kare-kare. The uni palabok is a rich comforting dish on its own. Instead of a shrimp-based sauce, chef Michael used uni or sea urchin roe, giving the sauce that rich yet familiar seafood flavor. Instead of rice noodles, udon was used and is topped with prawns, onsen eggs (Japanese soft boiled eggs), and Nobu’s version of crushed chicharon. The finely crushed “chicharon” is actually made of bacon, seaweed, and sesame seeds.
The wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho on the other hand, is an elevated version of our beautiful peanut stew. Using high grade beef, the peanut sauce is mixed with the Peruvian anticucho sauce which is made of lemon, vinegar, and various herbs and spices. It’s also presented beautifully with steamed vegetables on the side like Japanese eggplant. You would need a cup (or two) of rice for this.
Chef Michael was able to fuse together the flavors from the three cuisines. The special menu is a definite must try for foodies and especially for the fans of Nobu.
It’s no secret, I love Japanese food. So, every time there’s a new Japanese restaurant opening, I get really excited. The current situation in the local food scene means I get excited a lot. There are so many restaurants putting up shop, including Japanese restaurant chains, that sometimes it’s hard to pick where to dine first.
The newest addition to the market is Yayoi Japanese Teishoku Restaurant. Brought in by business partners Yvonne Yao and Jacqueline Gobing, Yayoi is a Japanese resto chain that already has several branches in different parts of the world. It mainly serves teishoku-style (set meal) dining.
Set meal dining is very popular in Japan because it’s convenient and filling—one meal consists of one main dish, an appetizer, a cup of rice, and a soup. It’s essentially an upgraded value meal, which Filipinos are already used to.
Let me give an example. During the launch of the restaurant, I ordered the hitsumabushi or grilled eel, which I really enjoyed. The meal comes with grilled eel on top of rice and egg, a dashi broth, a kind of tofu appetizer, and Japanese pickles. This dish is special because it comes with an instruction card that advises diners that they can enjoy the meal in three ways. You can divide the grilled eel into several portions and enjoy them differently. One, you can eat it as it is; two, with wasabi and spring onions; and lastly, with the flavorful dashi broth.
There are several set meals available that Filipinos are already familiar with like the sukiyaki teishoku, ton katsu teishoku, kara age teishoku, teriyaki chicken teishoku, teriyaki salmon teishoku, and many more. Then there’s also the new ones like the namban teishoku—fried chicken steak in sweet and sour sauce and topped with a special tartar sauce. Then there’s the wafu hamburg teishoku, a burger steak with Japanese-style sauce served with freshly grated daikon.
What the restaurant hopes is that they would be known as an authentic teishoku restaurant. According to Yvonne, the food is as authentic as it gets because they did minimal adjustments when it comes to flavors and they use ingredients sourced from Japan.
“I have observed that the local concepts and franchises here, the food is already fusion and you don’t get authentic Japanese taste. I understand they have to adjust to the Filipino palate, but that’s not fully introducing authentic Japanese,” Yvone says, Yayoi Philippines managing director. “At Yayoi we adjust according to sweetness or adding more salt. Just little adjustments. We want to make it clear what Japanese food is really about.”
Yayoi, however, do not only serve teishoku but also a la carte meals as well. You can order appetizer separately like a bowl of edamame (steamed young soy beans) and different salads. The Japanese eatery also has a selection of delicious Japanese dessert like mochi, matcha ice cream, ohagi or steamed sticky rice ball covered in sweet azuki beans, among others.
But probably one of the best features of the restaurant is you get to order your food using an iPad. You can scroll through the menu, pick what you want, and tap to order. Now, that’s very Japanese.
Yayoi, 3rd Floor, Bridgeway, Bldg. B, SM Megamall, Ortigas Center / http://www.yayoi.com.ph / Facebook/YAYOIPhilippines / Instagram @yayoiph
Watami is a famous Japanese restaurant chain that has hundreds of branches internationally. In the Philippines, the brand has two branches but it recently launched a spin-off restaurant. A more casual kind of joint that draws inspiration from the Japanese izakaya.
The Watami Grill and Sushi Bar is the izakaya version of the popular food chain. Izakaya is a kind of casual gastropub in Japan where workers frequent for an after office happy hour. These pubs usually serve Japanese street food and drinks. The new Watami spin-off offer the similar feel and menu, like authentic izakayas. It’s much more affordable, too.
I was lucky enough to attend the launch of its first branch at Uptown Mall, BGC. The first thing I noticed about the restaurant is its size, it’s pretty small compared to the regular Watami restaurants. They really committed to the izakaya concept. While the actual restaurant is small, it can still accommodate a number of diners because seating is available outside the restaurant, which is still inside the mall so, airconditioning. Yay!
One menu item that I was immediately drawn to—the yakitori or grilled skewers. I love grilled food because barbecue is life. There are several choices from pork belly to bacon asparagus to chicken thigh to chicken skin. The resto also grills fresh fish like sanma (pacific saury), sword fish, and mackerel. I’m already happy with a plateful of yakitori and a glass of Asahi.
But the restaurant’s menu goes beyond meat on sticks because it also serves sushi, rice bowls, and many more like the very popular Watami Salad. It’s a bowl of mixed greens, tomatoes, slices of grilled chicken teriyaki, shrimp, and crispy wonton chips, all dressed with the special tuna-mayo paste dressing. The nigiri sushi is also a must-try as well as the rice bowls for those looking for filling meals.
And in true izakaya fashion, you can pair your eats with your choice of alcoholic drinks.
“You can go small or big. The nigiri sushi and the rice bowls we see this a popular dishes. In Japan, they don’t really have a lot of rice bowls but since we are a rice-eating country, we cannot discount that fact, so we added more variety,” said Bistro Group AVP for Marketing Lisa Ronquillo. Bistro Group is responsible for bringing the Watami brand to the Philippines.
I’ve mentioned it before—one of my dream vacation is eating my way in Japan. This country is one of my dream destinations. If this happens someday, I will share everything with you.
Anyway, since Japan is fairly near the Philippines and many Japanese call my country their home, it’s easy for us to get a Japanese experience, especially when it comes to food. There are several Japanese restaurants already here in Metro Manila that offer different kinds of Japanese food experiences—from fast food to buffet extravaganza to authentic eats.
One such restaurant that promises “authentic” Japanese cuisine is Sekitori in Ortigas. Owned by former sumo wrestler Seto Masakazu who made sure that the restaurant serves the most authentic Japanese food in Manila.
From the get go, Seto-san made the restaurant look like a homage to sumo wrestlers. Photos of champion wrestlers, including his uncle, adorn the resto interiors. And traditional Japanese dining setup is available at the restaurant’s second floor. More than the interiors, Sekitori serves classic Japanese food that we Filipinos have come to love, traditional sumo wrestler fare, and even the infamous fugu.
For those who doesn’t know what fugu is, it’s a kind of fish—a pufferfish to be exact. This sea creature is actually poisonous but the Japanese has been eating this—sashimi style—for many years now. It has become one of its famous delicacy and only trained and certified chefs are allowed to prepare it. I was able to eat two thin slices of fugu at Sekitori and I am still alive, writing this blog post. The fugu sashimi slices were so thin it doesn’t have a distinct taste. But what got me was the thrill of dying. Okay, I knew that it wouldn’t happen because Sekitori’s executive chef Kamimoto Keita is certified.
But Sekitori has more to offer than just fugu sashimi. The Sekitori Chanko Nabe is a traditional hot pot dish for sumo wrestlers. The dish is a mix of various vegetables and protein in a steaming pot of special broth. The serving is huge, good for six to eight people. Another must-try is the Yasai no Kyo-fu Taki Awase, a traditional Kyoto vegetable dish. Assistant chef Yoshi Mitsume is a native of Kyoto and specializes in the region’s cuisine. The simple-looking vegetable dish was actually intricately prepared. Each vegetable—carrot, shitake mushroom, daikon (radish), squash, and snow peas—are separately cooked then put together in one dish, the result: a delicate dish that is light and yet flavorful.
Another dish that stood out for me was the dessert. The dessert platter included two seasonal Japanese sweets made from sakura blossom or cherry blossom. Yes, those beautiful pink flowers can be eaten, too.
Filipinos love Japanese food. I love Japanese food. For this reason alone why Japanese restaurants flourish in the country—from cheap ramen in Malate to big fast food chains to posh hotel dining. I mean, this cuisine has become comfort food to Filipinos.
So to keep it interesting, one Japanese restaurant in the heart of Ortigas challenges the norm. Yes, they do offer Japanese classics from a platter of sashimi to crunchy tempura, but it offers modern dishes that would interest the ever curious Filipino palate. Minami Saki by Astoria serves up Japanese food with a modern twist.
Headed by the very experienced executive chef Kimito Katagiri, Minami Saki levels up the playing field by creating modern dishes out of the traditional dishes. For example, one of its widely popular dishes is the Aburi Sushi. What’s different about this sushi is it uses the chef’s secret aburi sauce and the each sushi is lightly torched. Yep, like the sugar on top of crème brulee, the perfectly cut seafood is heated up by a kitchen torch. Each fish—tuna, hamachi, eel, salmon, and lapu-lapu—lay on carefully shaped rice, then each piece is topped with artificially colored fly fish roe and a small piece of fruit. This dish is popular for a reason because it is really good.
“A lot of the dishes that we have has chef Katagiri’s aburi sauce. Nobody knows what’s in that sauce except the chef. A lot of people speculate, but we don’t know and I think that makes it special,” explains Astoria Plaza Digital Marketing and Business Development executive Jacqueline Ng.
Nobody knows about the aburi sauce, only the chef knows the recipe. It’s a closely guarded secret.
Another standout dish for me was the US Scallops with Tamago Sauce. When you look at it it looks like a pile of goo but looks can be deceiving. That pile of mush is a plate of tender scallops, delicately sauteed, and topped with an amazing Japanese-style egg yolk sauce. This is really good.
The Usuyaki Steak with Mushrooms is a must try, too. The thin slices of beef is pounded to make it super tender then grilled. Various mushrooms are also grilled and then wrapped by the thin pieces of beef. The Cha Soba is something clean and crisp best to end the meal.
The only thing I didn’t like is Kaki Papaya Yaki or fresh Japanese oysters on a bed of ripe papaya brushed with miso and the special aburi sauce. I’m not fan of oysters so this is something I won’t eat again.
But what the restaurant is also proud of is its “theatrical desserts.”
“What we’ve been doing is really pushing the envelope in terms of researching dessert trends all over the globe. In terms of Japanese, dining, you got the modern and traditional. When it comes to dessert we want it theatrical. At the end, you leave with an impression that you won’t forget,” Jacqueline says.
Its Coffee Jelly for example, a bowl of jiggly coffee jelly is served with a glass kettle filled with mist/smoke. The mist overflows down the bowl of jelly making it look like it came out of a laboratory. The coffee jelly is also served with its homemade vanilla ice cream.
To say that Japanese food is a Filipino favorite is an understatement. Japanese food is already a staple here that there are now restaurants specializing on specific dishes, from tempura to ramen to sushi to katsu. People will line up for a hot bowl of rich ramen or a crunchy katsu meal.
Japanese food is love.
I, too, love Japanese food. When I was younger, my dad was sent by his company to work in Japan for six months and his love for Japanese food was transferred to us, mostly me, actually. He was the one who taught me how to use chopsticks. And because of the country’s rich culture and amazing food, Japan is on top of my list of countries to visit.
Another Japanese concept opened recently that made me think, are Filipinos slowly transporting Japan here? I mean, if that’s the case, can they they transport the weather, too?
Kidding aside, I love how more and more Japanese things are becoming available here. I wrote about Hattendo last time and now this concept. I heard that there are more Japanese brands and concepts opening in the country soon.
iFoods Group, the company behind other Japanese restaurant concepts Tokyo Cafe and Wafu, recently opened Ichiba: Japanese Market, a restaurant that was inspired by the bustling markets of Japan. Imagine Tsukiji Fish Market, Kuromon Ichiba Market, Kyushu Market, and Hokkaido Market, cramped into one restaurant. Upon entering the restaurant, it’s like getting transported to busy street market complete with traditional Japanese market stall facades.
The eatery, located at the Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila, is like a Japanese version of the Filipino “dampa” dining style. Diners can pick from the many live seafood at the restaurant. The restaurant’s live seafood section can hold up to 600 kg of live seafood, from shrimps to lobsters to crabs to various kinds of shellfish. Most of the seafood are sourced directly from Japan while some are from different parts of the Philippines. Customers can ask Ichiba’s highly trained kitchen staff to prepare the seafood to whatever Japanese dish they want.
Ichiba has a ready menu as well, offering classic dishes like sushi, tempura, ramen, and donburi. At the center of the restaurant is yatai stall where busy cooks prepare favorite Japanese street food like takoyaki, yakitori (chicken fillet, chicken gizzard, salmon, pork belly, etc.), among others. You have to try the gyukushi or beef yakitori. These melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef barbecue dish is really good and at less P130, it’s a total steal. The restaurant also has a Asahi Bar for happy hours.
Location: Second floor, Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila, Pasay City Contact: +63917 732-2176