Episode 1: The Food and Wine Ensemble, Matsuri Bayashi!

I’m currently writing this inside Matsuri Bayashi, a small Japanese restaurant along Mabini Street in Malate, Manila. This is obviously the first time I will write about a Japanese restaurant, much more Japanese food, since I’m a rabid fan of the cuisine.

I discovered this place last June, after I roared the night away over karaoke at a nearby karaoke. I thought before I went home I’d have a hot meal and some Japanese sake to keep me pickled.

Matsuri Bayashi is just a hole in the wall place from the outside. When I first saw the place, the only sign that it was a restaurant was the smell of food, a paper lantern, and the names of the dishes (in kanji) posted behind the glass door.

The interior is just as simple. Some of the walls look like it had bamboo parts. To the left were two picture frames (with text written in kanji). I never got the chance to ask what the frames were, though I presume there were names written on them.
To the right near the door was the robata grill, the bar counter, and a TV tuned in most of the time to NHK. There are four tables; two of them were low tables at the far end of the place. Despite the small area, the restaurant gets very crowded, with as much as six people sharing a table plus the bar.

The main man of Matsuri Bayashi is a middle aged Japanese man whom the waitresses call “Master” (or “Mustard”). He personally cooks orders and welcomes guests, all the while cracking jokes and stories (which I don’t understand since he speaks only Japanese).

I’ve learned that Matsuri Bayashi is sort of translated as “festival ensemble”, specifically, an instrumental ensemble that performs during traditional Japanese festivals. And since we’ve mentioned ensembles, Matsuri Bayashi’s menu looks like an ensemble in itself. Matsuri Bayashi’s menu offers light snacks, rice bowl (donburi) meals, roasted and fried meats and seafood, appetizers, noodle dishes, and alcoholic drinks.

My meal for the night was oyakodon, chicken with egg and onions over a bowl of hot steamed rice. Oyakodon is usually a home-cooked meal among Japanese, and here the oyakodon is prepared just as it’s supposed to look like – home-cooked. That’s because the meals are cooked and served as you order, so to speak.

The oyakodon is cooked and seasoned with salt and pepper, nothing else (chili powder is available though). The sautéed chicken is lightly salty and juicy, and its sauce, along with the chicken’s juices, seep into the rice, making the rice itself flavorful. Be careful, though, when the rice gets cold it tastes kinda dry.

The udon are simple and quickly made but tasty nonetheless. Three varieties are in their menu – niku udon (white wheat noodles and beef), tanuki udon (udon with very salty tempura batter), and tamago udon (udon with chicken bits and scrambled egg).

Others I tried in my subsequent visits include their onigiri, small but satisfying rice balls with salmon filling, okonomiyaki (which had nori flakes and cabbage, nothing much), takoyaki, and their simple but still filling version of gyudon (beef bowl).

One thing that is impressive with Matsuri Bayashi is the price of their meals. A budget of P150-P200 is enough for a good meal, though you can probably spend as much as P300 for a full meal. One example is their grilled saba (mackerel, P150), combined with a bowl of miso soup (P35), steamed rice (P50), and a long-drawn battle with the saba using just your chopsticks (priceless).

As I mentioned earlier, Matsuri Bayashi also serves alcoholic drinks, and I noticed that many of the patrons come here to drink. They serve beer, sake, shochu (distilled wine), and Korean soju, which you can leave behind and come back for at a later time (they call this system “keep bottle”). This must be why the menu also has barbecues and other fried and roasted beer mates.

The place, in hindsight, isn’t exactly family-oriented, partly because of its small space, but probably because it’s built with drinkers in mind. There’s a lot of dishes to choose from in the menu, but only if you want something with your booze. Ergo: Matsuri Bayashi’s menu houses an ensemble, but it may look like an ensemble for wine drinkers.

All in all, Matsuri Bayashi has a quiet ambience, which makes you feel comfortable and urge you to stay a long time. The food is simple but filling; the service is nice, even though you have to wait for a while; and the experience of eating budget-friendly Japanese food is something to look forward to.

In my most recent visit, I brought along my favorite mascot Kero-chan (of “Card Captor Sakura” fame) to have him photographed onsite. You see, when it comes to food, I believe that “when Kero-chan appears, chaos follows.” Having Kero-chan brought inside an establishment means it has my ultimate approval.

Just as I expected, chaos ensued – the waitresses wanted to kidnap Kero-chan, and then some of the guests were wondering why I was carrying a stuffed flying animal and taking pictures. Don’t worry, I’m not taking pictures to send them to their spouses or anything. And no, you can’t have Kero-chan. Sorry, Bing.


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