Episode 28: How to eat sushi, and then some

I love sushi, plain and simple. I love the taste of raw salmon, the sweetness of the sushi rice, and the sudden burst of wasabi in every bite. Anyone who’s into Japanese cuisine would have sushi among their favorites, along with ramen, tempura, curry rice and yakiniku. It is, after all, the most popular icon of Japanese cuisine.

So when Century Tsukiji (at Century Park Hotel) announced that it’s having an all-you-can-eat sushi promo, I thought why not go for it, I can enjoy as much sushi as I want. It’s the Japanese food fan’s ultimate fantasy! But what I thought was a simple food raid turned into a crash course on the Japanese way of eating sushi.

As soon as MC and I entered Century Tsukiji, we took our seats at the sushi bar, where all the fresh fish are at. If you’re having sushi, the bar is said to be the best place to have it; not only is the service faster; you can watch how the sushi is prepared and served.

Chef Yamazaki, Century Tsukiji’s sushi chef, was at the bar to take my orders. Right beside his station are thick, chilled slabs of fish and other seafood, including octopus legs. Damn, they look fresh and tasty. Heck, come to think of it, it’s the freshness of the fish that makes sushi special.

The server brought us some oshiburi (hot towels). I remember reading that some Japanese restaurants give oshiburi to customers before they dine. It’s supposedly the norm. After wiping our hands, the server poured some hot tea and soy sauce of us.
While my sushi is being prepared, the server brought a pot of dobinmushi (clear soup with shrimp, chicken, mushroom, and calamansi on the side), and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard with shiitake, ginko nuts, chicken and seafood). I learned that just in case the sushi chef takes a while to serve me, I can have some of those.

A server set a plate near the bar counter, and Chef Yamazaki placed piece by piece of sushi. He said I’m allowed to dig in at this point and he’ll just fill up my plate as I go.

And fill the plate he did, as he served what turns out to be a total of 21 varieties of sushi for me. There’s the tuna and salmon, crabstick, octopus, cuttlefish, sea urchin, mackerel, shrimp (boiled and raw, salmon roe, eel, egg, maya-maya, flatfish, tawilis, octopus… Ack, I can’t remember the rest!

With the sushi in place, I knew it was time to attack. I quickly took out the chopsticks set beside me…
“No chopsticks! Eat the sushi with your hand!” Chef Yamazaki suddenly said.
While eating sushi with chopsticks is fine for some, more traditional Japanese prefer that you eat them with your hands. Hence, the oshiburi. (Also, it ensures that you don’t drop the sushi in case your hands go numb from holding chopsticks.) Your mileage may vary, though.
At the plate is a small mound of gari (pickled ginger) and wasabi. Eat only a little bit of gari to clear your palate, I was told. No wasabi on your soy sauce; wasabi loses its flavor when mixed in soy sauce. If wasabi is added, apply it on the fish using chopsticks if you wish.
By the way, trust the sushi chef to know how much wasabi would make your sushi taste good. If the wasabi’s flavor crawls to your nose on the first bite, banzai!
You’re not supposed to dip the sushi rice first, because the rice would absorb the soy sauce and fall apart. Dip the fish side instead. Toppings with their own sauce, i.e. eel (unagi) should not be dipped in soy sauce.
A sushi meal is traditionally ended with a bowl of soup, hence, the dobinmushi. I sipped everything and ate the morsels while eating the sushi. Oh well.

After finishing all 21 varieties of sushi, the real fun started. Anyone would be satisfied with eating the whole line-up of Century Tsukiji’s sushi, but no, Barangay Ginebra, I’m here for the all-you-can-eat sushi promo, and eat all I can is what I was about to do.

First up was some California maki, rice roll with crab, mayonnaise, nori, rice, sesame seeds, and tobiko. Some enthusiasts say California maki is for wimps; why eat this when there’s good sushi available? Futo maki, (fish powder, egg, gourd, vegetables, rice, and nori) was next, followed by some octopus sushi, raw shrimp, salmon, and whatnot.
 While all of this was going on, we took the time to talk with Chef Yamazaki. He helped us identify some of the fish I had, and then went on to proudly say how fast a sushi chef he is; in fact, back when he was younger, he could prepare 120 pieces or so of sushi in one hour. (Wow, that restaurant where was in must have been really busy!)

Accommodating and cordial as he is, the chef looks very dedicated in his craft, and strict when it comes to enjoying sushi the traditional way. In any case, it’s nice to strike a conversation with the sushi chef; it establishes rapport and the chance that you’d be recognized as a valued customer.

Soon, Century Tsukiji was about to close for the afternoon. Any last orders, I was asked. “One more of that first set I had earlier,” I answered.
“What? You’re gonna eat all of that?” MC asked. He should have known better.
MC didn’t avail of the sushi promo since he didn’t want to stuff himself and go fat. Instead, he ordered a bento meal with sashimi, several kinds of appetizers, chawanmushi, salmon teriyaki, assorted vegetables and seafood, stir-fried noodles, shrimp and vegetable tempura, and rice (his most hated part of the meal).
It’s not the only stuff that Century Tsukiji serves; they also have teishoku (set meals), sashimi, noodles, salads, grilled dishes and desserts. They also serve beer and Japanese sake, just what you can expect from a place that takes pride in being as authentic as a Japanese restaurant can be.

Eating norms vary in every country. Filipinos, for example, can eat with or without utensils, though if one want to impress the locals, eating food with bare hands is the way to go. (Phil Younghusband comes to mind.) Woe to you if you end up in countries where you’re expected to dine with only your right hand. Table manners in other countries, utensil or not, is another matter.

The same goes with Japanese cuisine. Now that I remember, the Japanese follow lots of dining rules, such as the consumption of noodles and soup, the proper use chopsticks, pouring alcoholic drinks, paying (or not paying) tips, etc. This from a culture that shows high regard for tradition.


In the case of sushi, eating it the way the Japanese traditionally do adds to the enjoyment of the experience. Plus, the sushi looks really pretty sitting in that plate, and you can’t help but admire it first before eating it. After all, the Japanese dine not only with their palate, but with all five senses.


Knowing cuisine etiquette is a way to show respect to the country whose cuisine you’re eating. Whether it’s to have a deep understanding of a foreign culture, to impress your hosts, to act properly in formal situations, or simply to be able to do as the locals do, following the norms at their dinner table is an interesting and enlightening dining experience.

However, keep in mind that some people from different cultures can’t eat the way we do. Some would even prefer to eat something the way they want it. Let this go. We have to respect the way we eat, though we must remind them to respect ours as well. Respect and tolerance, along with proper education, is the key.

By the way, I learned recently that one is supposed to eat sushi moderately, and set a pace at it. It’s said that eating more than ten kinds of fish and other seafood is too much because your palate numbs. And yet I ate 21 kinds of sush, and quickly at thati. I ended up very full, heavy, and sleepy for the rest of the day. Thank goodness for the gari.

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Aikyatchi: Rockwell’s Ultimate Taste Test!

Hear yeah, hear yeah! The Ultimate Taste Test is back, and it’s now in Rockwell!

Our Awesome Planet brings back the greatest food tasting event in Metro Manila, where food lovers, critics, and basically everyone who appreciates good food can gather and sample treats from the most promising establishments here and beyond!

In Rockwell’s Ultimate Taste Test, visitors can be critics-for-a-day and sample food products from over 50 home-based food businesses and establishments located at Rockwell’s Power Plant Mall. 

The concessionaires will give a free taste of their popular, current, and upcoming products. Visitors get to rate the food and the concessionaire that prepared it on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

As per Our Awesome Planet, the participating concessionaires are:

Yummy Food Vendor Category Food/ Drinks Products for Ultimate Taste Test
1 Farm n’ Deli Appetizer Barang’s Tinapa
2 Marla’s Original Muncheez Appetizer Muncheez
3 Daims Food Inc Appetizer Cocktail sausages: Debrecziner, Wasabi, BBQ, Vienna
4 De Original Jamaican Patties Appetizer Beef Original, Beef Pinaubo
5 Cafe Mediterranean/ Wild Ginger Appetizer Moutable with roasted eggplant rolls, Vegetable samosas/ Spinach & Dhal Chapati
6 Purple Mustard Appetizer Sebadas con miela rosmarino (fried ravioli with rosemary honey)
7 5 Loaves & 2 Fish Appetizer Baked Crunchy Veggie chips with homemade dips and spreads
8 The Fruit Garden Breakfast Jam flavors: Fruit Cocktail, Lychee Berry Rose, Winter Season
9 El Kapitan Drinks Spiced Chai, Vanilla Chai
10 Concept Specialist Inc Drinks Coffee with different flavors
11 Party Fuel Drinks Mojito Mocktail
12 Istituto Culinario Drinks Limonada
13 Bugle Boy Distributors Corp. Drinks Arizona iced tea
14 Chef C’s Paella de Andaluz Main Dish Paella de Andaluz
15 Big Daddy Jay’s All American BBQ Main Dish Smoked Pork Ribs and Bama Chicken
16 Hyphys Main Dish Calamansi Tuyo, Spaghetti, Falafel/ Hummus Tapenade Rolls
17 Luigi’s Muhlach  Main Dish Chicken cordon bleu with a choice of aligue mayo, cream cheese or wasabi sauce, Phillychanga
18 HKR Food Express Main Dish Asado, Roast Chicken
19 Heart, Meat and Soul Foods Main Dish Hearty meaty spaghetti
20 Sushi Mo Main Dish California maki roll, Tuna&mayo maki roll
21 Dek A Authentic Thai Main Dish/ Drinks Popia, Thai milk tea
22 Pinakbest Main Dish Bagnet
23 Eat my GF Savoury Snack Original GF with toppings
24 The Flying Chef Savoury Snack Ham and Cheese Empanada
25 Muesli Granola Kitchen & Bakeshop Healthy Snack Monkey Bar, Chocolate barmuncher with almonds and cashew nuts
26 Almost Gourmet Savoury Snack Parmesan chicken sticks
27 Joy’s Fuzion Kitchen (JFK) Main Dish Fried chicken wings
28 Edible Options Main Dish Fish Fillet, Chicken Galantina, Sunflower brittle
29 Casa San Luis Pastries Savoury Snack Adobo quiche
30 Spring by Ha Yuan Savoury Snack KaPao: Pulled pork, Braised short rib, Lychee and Sesame crusted Teriyaki tofu
31 Chori Chori Burger Joint Savoury Snack Boracay original Choriburger
32 Cre-Ate Concepts Savoury Snack PIZZA-teriyaki mayo, PIZZA- 4 cheese
33 Gourmet Keso Savoury Snack Chevre(goat cheese), Chevre w/ cashews & truffled salt; Chevre w/ garlic & herbs, Kesong Puti Hiyayako
34 Mang Pedro Savoury Snack Taho
35 Tina’s Pie Outlet Main Dish/ Savoury Snack Main Dish: Callos. Tart: Shiitake With Swiss Gruyere, Prawns In Aligue, Chicken With chorizo
36 Chef’s Table Sweet Dessert Buko pie martini
37 Hansie’s Desserts Sweet Dessert Chocolate Chunk Cookies
38 Cupcake Boutique by Klar Joseph Sweet Dessert Cupcakes (Red Velvet)
39 Merry Moo Sweet Dessert Artisan Ice Cream: Brown Bread
40 Empire Sweet Dessert French macarons
41 Sweet Life by Ange Sweet Dessert Cam Chips
42 Mochiko Sweet Dessert Cookie Dough & Cream Mochi
43 My Pink Wasabi Sweet Dessert Kashi Maki
44 Symphony of Flavors Sweet Dessert Lecheflan cheesecake
45 Pink Candies Kucina Sweet Dessert Food for the Gods
46 Elle’s Torta Sweet Dessert Torta cebuana
47 YOH-GEE Sweet Dessert Frozen Kefir
48 Carmen’s Best Sweet Dessert Ice cream: Salted Caramel & Coffee
49 Riz Rice Sweet Dessert Homemade suman
50 Sugarhouse Sweet Dessert Yema balls/ Sylvannas
51 Baked by Anita Sweet Dessert Bacon n maple mini cupcake
52 Theo&Philo Chocolate Sweet Dessert Chocolate bars
53 Kiddie Affairs Sweet Dessert Cupcakes
54 Yumy.Aco Sweet Dessert Banana loaf with walnuts and choco chips
55 The Ice Cream Bar Sweet Dessert Lemon Crumble Yogurt

Slots to this food-tasting event are limited. Get your tickets at the Power Plant Mall Office (Tel. # 8981702), or at the Creative Juice Office (Tel. # 5707827).

Take note of the date:

Rockwell’s Ultimate Taste Test Event
What: Rockwell’s Ultimate Taste Test — Be a Food Critic for a Day!
When: September 3, 2011, Saturday, 11.00 am – 9.00 pm.
Where: Rockwell Tent
Ultimate Taste Test  Fee: P585/head

See you there!

Episode 27: Farewell, Cosa Nostra!

Cosa Nostra (or Cosa Nostra, Casa di Pasta), an old, hole-in-the-wall spaghetti house in Malate, is gone. This was one of my most recent discoveries, yet I would never be able to dine there again. Why? Because it closed down last June 30. How sad. 

I found this Italian restaurant by accident during one of my night-outs in Malate. It was standing on a dark corner of Remedios Circle, hidden in plain sight, a simple, plain-looking place that only a few who knew its story would visit.

Everything about Casa Nostra made one feel the place was frozen in time. Lamps, jars and old photographs (presumed to be the relatives or ancestors of the owner) lined up against the walls. Soft, ‘60s or ‘70s music played in the background. It’s cozy, good for dining alone, with a group, or a special someone. At night, the place is dimly lit, making romantic candlelight dinners possible.

The food was homemade, served hot and fresh. You had to wait for 15 minutes or so, but the wait is worth it. The taste, on the other hand, is up for debate; some loved the simple flavors while other found them too salty or bland or stale.
I’ve only tried a few dishes from their menu, namely: a hearty bowl of lentil soup, spaghetti carbonara followed by a cup of café rivello, pesto pizza, and seafood casserole, one of their best-sellers.
Lentil soup, warm, thick and hearty with sausage bits
Cosa Nostra’s carbonara, with ham bits, separate serving of parmesan cheese, and a thick heavy cream sauce

Cafe rivello, bittersweet with a cappuccino-like creaminess

Pesto pizza, a salty pizza with lots of cheese and a hint of pesto
Seafood casserole, oily pasta infused with the light, natural flavor of seafood and herbs
Other dishes they have are the lasagna, fried mozzarella, spaghetti with crab roe paste (also known as the heart-breaking “taba ng talangka”), and Black Spaghetti (spaghetti with squid ink sauce).
From what the patrons told me, Casa Nostra opened about 28 years ago. The restaurant was a favorite spot, much like some of the old restaurants around Remedios Circle. It was, as they said, one of the icons of Malate’s so-called bohemian lifestyle.
I was there when Casa Nostra closed for the last time, as the elderly staff served the last orders and the customers bid farewell to everyone, as the decors were taken down one by one. It felt like waking up from a pleasant dream. I never bothered to ask why it was closing down, but I might find the reason outrageous. I’m saddened that just when I have yet to fully appreciate the place, it would become out of business.

Now that I think about it, I’ve encountered other places that go down in Malate’s history but are now overshadowed by modern hang-out establishments, some of which get closed down in the process. Only the old patrons of Malate and those from the present generation would know of these places.

For example, we had Anthology, an institution for music lovers, that closed down a few years ago, and is now nothing more than a bunch of ruins. Cafe Adriatico closed down when fire damaged its second floor (thank goodness it didn’t stay that way, and it’s still as popular as before. ). And now, we have Cosa Nostra. (Then there’s Hobbit House, but I’ll save some space for that in my blog soon.)

Someday I’d like to seek out the old places in Malate that are still standing despite the changing times. I’ve had enough of the karaoke clubs and girlie bars sprouting all over Malate. I’d like to know how people hung out a long time ago, which were the spots that were popular among the youth, artists, businessmen, and so forth. I’d like to know which places were part of Manila’s old lifestyle.

Argh, I’m having a hard time explaining this. In any case, it would be nice to relive and preserve what’s left of Malate’s past, if only through where the past generation hangs out. I’ll think about how to go about this until my next discovery.

Side Story: Lechon Cebu, Lutong Sapul Style!

Just this morning, “Sapul sa Singko”, our morning show at TV5, featured lechon Cebu in its “Lutong Sapul” (a cooking portion) segment. It was such a waste that I wasn’t able to watch the whole segment, but I found out that it’s possible to enjoy the taste of lechon Cebu right at your home!

Lourd De Veyra (of “Word of the Lourd” and “This Is A Crazy Planets” fame) and Chef Raymar of Modern Culinaire shared to us a simple lechon recipe that anyone can follow at home. In this case, they performed the recipe, not on a whole pig, but just on a smaller chunk.

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Ingredients

Meat
Liempo (pork belly, probably a kilo will do)
Pepper
Onion leaves
Soy sauce
Salt
Garlic

Stuffing
Tanglad (lemongrass)
Saging na saba (Saba banana)
Gabi (taro)


Procedures
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Rub salt and pepper on the liempo. (Three words: season to taste.)
3. Brush soy sauce on the liempo skin. (Brushing soy sauce on skin gives the skin its reddish look.)
4. Lay the liempo over a bed of tanglad, gabi and saging na saba arranged in a baking pan. (The better thing to do is stuff the herbs in the meat for it to better absorb the flavors.)
5. Place the liempo in the pre-heated oven. Dance the macarena (kidding).
6. Wait for the skin to become crispy. (How long is this – 30 minutes? Probably as soon as steam comes out and the skin gets toasted? Your call, actually.)
7. Serve with a vinegar or lechon sauce dip. (Chef Raymar recommends vinegar with peppercorns and onions as the best dip for lechon Cebu.)
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This recipe looks easy to follow, and maybe one can make a few changes on the recipe along the way. Come to think of it, I guess this is how lechoneros start and develop their business: work on the default recipe, and improve on it. In any case, enjoying lechon Cebu at home is easier now. (Having an oven for this is another story though.)

Anyway, right after “Sapul sa Singko,” the crispy, tasty, juicy lechon was distributed to everyone in the studio. Not everyone was able to have a piece of it though, since the pig disappeared like it was devoured by typhoon Ondoy. As for me, I got a big, fatty chunk of the stuff. To hell with what people will say about my lechon consumption habits. Nothing beats a dose of heaven early in the morning.

On the other hand, normally I’d ask for a larger portion for sharing. Not this time, though. I can’t demand for one anyway. No lechon for you, sorry.

EDIT: I talked to Chef Raymar this morning, and he said you can throw the pork into a pot of hot cooking oil in case you don’t have an oven.