20 July 2007

The closest thing I will ever get to visiting Japan

Japan, the land of the rising sun, has always fascinated me. Their origami, ikebana, samurai, anime, onsen, kites, sushi, sashimi, asimo, bento, manga.... simply amazing. So if I were granted one wish to visit a foreign country with all expense paid (I wonder where I can get this?), Japan will surely be at the top of the list. And I'm sure to come back to the Philippines with 10 times the luggage I originally hauled going there. It will be smack full of ramen, action figures, DVDs of Godzilla and Gamera, toys, a samurai costume (or two), and more action figures!

Dream on.

So how do you get to experience a bit of Japan? Go to Little Tokyo!

Little Tokyo is like a small town square with a small park in the middle and small shops on the perimeter. To get to the "town square", you have to cross a narrow corridor with lamps lighting the way.

I have been here previously with a couple of friends, but that was years ago. We just chanced upon this place, not unlike Burnett's The Secret Garden, and we were mesmerized by its tranquility. In fact, you couldn't imagine that the street just outside Little Tokyo is one of the more notorious traffic jam magnets in the city. We arrived late, though, and most of the shops have already closed except for one, which was preparing to do the same. We implored that we be let in and the owner, who is a sweet Japanese lady, smiled and ushered us in. We removed our shoes, squatted beside the low table, and had a nice, light dinner of rice balls, fish, and some sake'.

My going back there a couple of days back as a treat from a friend brought back this nostalgic memory. It seems that Little Tokyo is doing rather well because tables and chairs have now joined the park.

It was still quite early so I was surprised that a couple of the shops were closed, including the one I visited years ago. Then we saw Niko-Niko Tei, which was quite packed. The food must be good there. And so we decided to dine there.

We were greeted by the waitresses as we entered thru the sliding door and we got ourselves comfy on our bench as we were served appetizer on saucers.

The place looked deceptively small. In fact, the dining area is just a section. There are separate rooms where you do squat and there's even TV. I would think that's for videoke? In the dining area where we were, there's a sushi bar at the corner with the seats fully occupied. A TV overhead broadcasted football in Japanese. And there were Japanese guests as well. There were announcements on our table written in Japanese. It wasn't difficult to imagine at all that you're in a small, homey shop in suburban Japan. Nice.

We ordered items we were familiar with such as sushi and sashimi, and we also tried out new dishes.

This dish used small shrimps.

I love Yoshinoya's beef bowl, but this dish is simply something different altogether. Sweet, tender beef! I wonder why we forgot to order rice?

There was also a small sampling of ginger that came with the maki. The ginger was delicious! Sweet when you first bite into it, and then its spiciness would gradually ensue.

But I rather like the flavor of the mung bean sprouts in Tokyo Tokyo better though. This one was tasteless. Or is it really supposed to be this way?

Hmmm... my camera phone is missing other shots, like a couple of the sushi and maki! Aaargh.

One had sea urchin on it. That one I watched with a weary eye as I picked the fish, shrimp, and roe. I had a rather unsettling experience with the sea urchin a couple of years ago. In the end, the sea urchin remained untouched. *sigh* It's one of the more popular food items but I guess for me, getting used to it will take longer.

It was overall a wonderful dining experience!

[Little Tokyo is located at Pasong Tamo near Makati Square]
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