Here’s the thing: I’d like to think I’m pretty traveled. I mean, I’m no Anthony Bourdain (hence “traveled” versus “well-traveled”), but I’ve been to several places on the planet and have made lifelong friends each time.
Here’s the big giant “but”: There’s something about Japan that always makes me feel that whatever time I spend there is too short.
When Chad and I talked about it, it hit us: Japan has such a range of culinary styles and drinks that vary per restaurant/region… So much so that one could never run out of places to eat/food to try/drinks to – well, drink… and breaking the bank is absolutely optional (even the konbinis have delicious, healthy food options).
Case in point: Our favorite ramen place in the world (fight me). We last had their heavenly ramen in December 2019, right before the world shut down… And we hoped. Prayed that they survived the pandemic. Dreamed that one day we’d get to go back and indulge in believe to be the absolute best ramen on earth in its simplicity, richness, and… Well, just go and check out Yoyogi Shoten, located near Yoyogi station. Have a pint while you’re at it. You’re welcome.
I digress… So what’s a Manila-based woman who clearly never gets enough of Japan to do (between trips, of course)?
Attend a JETRO event (and buy sake in Mitsukoshi Fresh BGC after)… Specifically the launch of Prologue’s Mitsukoshi BGC branch last October 19. We enjoyed a myriad of different flavors straight from the mind of Chef Hiroyuki Meno. The drinks and dishes were a great way to tour Japan from our self-proclaimed party table… The loudest one there. I’m positive we made my drinking buddy, Takato Ishimoto-San of Mitsukoshi Fresh, blush with our noise.
First up, the welcome drink: a Yamazakura Tokubetsu Junmai. A sake that says Junmai on the label (not junmai ginjo or junmai daiginjo) makes use of minimally polished rice and has had no alcohol added to it, making it a very approachable sake. If alcohol is added to sake during production, the flavors tend to be heightened… Is it better? Worse? Me, I prefer the subtlety and ease of drinking Junmai… but I wouldn’t say no to a junmai daiginjo either.
Next: Atiho, which is an umeshu with honey and yuzu. An umeshu is a plum liquor (a huge trend when we went to Tokyo early October), and yuzu is a citrus fruit like clementines. Chef Meno paired it with the Kagoshima Hamachi, which is a Japanese yellowtail found in the southern region of Japan. Interestingly, the warm region of Kagoshima is called the Naples of Japan.
Third: A Beniotome Standard, a ginger interpretation of a “martini” (yes, avid mixologists, I am using the term very loosely, calm down) using a shōchū. Shōchū is a distilled Japanese beverage made with rice, barley, sweet potatoes, or a myriad or other produce and again is pretty trendy in Tokyo these days. The drink was pretty punchy in terms of flavor, so I was all too glad to pair it with the Nagasaki Maguro, Hokkaido Uni. While Nagasaki is infamous for what happened in WWII, it also has interesting ties with Catholicism and Chinese culinary influence. Maguro is tuna… and boy did Chef Meno know how to prep it. Hokkaido – the hometown of Makoto Sudo of JETRO (who speaks better Tagalog than I do now, holy cow) – for me is about the cold (think several feet of snow during the winter), dairy products (Ishimoto-San has an assignment to look for that Matcha Mille-Feuille that changed my life), and crustaceans (which is why we’re planning Hokkaido as our next stop). The high quality, orange-hued uni (sea urchin in English or suahe in some Visayan dialects) tasted as fresh as the sea and had the added drama of being served in a smoky vessel.
We then had the Komasa Gin Sakurajima. Now, I’ve written about the gin in a previous article (as Sakurajima Komikan… One of my favorite gins that should be in everybody’s bar), but they mixed it with our native calamansi that night. Perfection. I liked the local touch. It was paired with the Toyama Amaebi, Tottori Surume Ika. Toyama is flanked by the sea in the north… which is probably why Chef Meno chose to feature an amaebi (sweet shrimp) from the region. Tottori is famous for its sand dunes… Pretty easy to remember with the dish, because surume ika is dried squid.
I feel that a Komasa Gin experience isn’t complete without the Komasa Gin Hojicha. Again, I wrote about it in the same previous article, but the night’s take involved mixing it with hot tea. It went well with the Hokkaido Hotate, Chiba Hamaguri. Hotate is Japanese scallop, and a hamaguri is a “common Asian clam.” To me, Chiba is the prefecture you pass thorugh to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo, but it’s also one of the biggest producers of some of Japan’s vegetables.
Next up: Juju Japanese Craft Gin Cocktail (which involved matcha and black pepper). I liked how savory, bitter, and strong the cocktail was… Holy halibut did it pair well with the Miyagi Hirame. Hirame is halibut (see what I did there?). Miyagi is pretty famous for its specialized cuisine, including seafood (hence the halibut) and gyūtan (beef tongue).
Speaking of beef… I usually write about drinks. But… I couldn’t stress enough how, at that point in the evening, I got really confused as to which one my favorite dish was: The Miyagi Hirame (because man… Butter does make everything better, and what a texture), or… The Ōita Kuroge A5. I mean… man if I weren’t so full at that point, I would have asked for more. The kuroge, a breed of Japanese beef cattle also known as Japanese Black, was so soft, rich… and was impeccably paired with a sharp, sweet Okukuma Cocktail made with Shōchū Kumamoto and Amaretto. The garden city of Kumamoto is located at the southern area of Japan.
IMHO, the end of every delectable meal is always made sweeter with a nice, sweet dessert beverage. I’ve always been a fan of Little Kiss liqueur, and their Black Tea variant was the brilliantly paired with the evening’s Warabimochi. Warabimochi is a type of wagashi (a traditional Japanese confectionery). The night’s version was made out of French black figs (an homage to Chef Mano’s time in France, perhaps?), kinako (sweet rice flour mochi), kuromitsu (black sugar syrup), and vanilla ice cream.
Was this enough to sate me until our next Japan trip? A little… But frankly, at this point in the article (after learning all these other areas of Japan that we haven’t been to yet), it made me even more impatient to go back and explore. For now, maybe a trip (or five) to Prologue and Mitsukoshi Fresh should do the trick. 😉
PS: I’m not kidding when I say Sudo-San speaks better Tagalog than I do now:
Prologue’s new location is on the ground floor of Mitsukoshi Mall BGC.