Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pepper Steak

It took me a few weeks before I even realized that I haven't blogged in a while. And looking back, there seems to be a lot of things to write about but it just seemed like I didn't have time to write as the days seem to whiz by and now, I'm staring at a December approaching dangerously (but excitedly) fast.

I've mentioned in past blogs that I enjoyed my stint in Japan from 1996-1999 as well as the shorter visits since then. One reason I was able to settle in quite quickly and became "hiyang" was the food. I was introduced to Japanese food and its variants only in 1995. At the time, I only knew about Italian food through Shakey's and Pizza Hut, and what passed of as American via McDonalds and Wendy's, and the Filipinized Jolibee, Cindy's and Tropical Hut. Needless to say, Filipino food was always on the dinner table at home or when I was able to go out with friends to restos like Trellis and other grills.

Japanese food at the time was Tokyo Tokyo, and then Saisaki. I didn't quite get the taste at Tokyo Tokyo and equated Japanese cooked food to what was offered in the menu. Saisaki was definitely better and offered more variety including my favorite salmon sashimi. I did get my first taste of authentic Japanese food via Benihana and another Japanese resto in Makati. It wasn't until my first trip to Japan in February 1996 that I was able to finally and happily introduced and enjoyed Japanese food. Even the food served at the University shokudo (cafeteria/canteen) had the distinct taste that told you you were in Japan. And in hindsight, I say this because I've tasted cafeteria food in Thailand, Singapore, China and the US.

When I returned to the Philippines in 1999, I was elated to learn that there were more Japanese restos in town. I, however, learned that many of them weren't able to capture that all too familiar taste whether the food was cooked or raw. If you wanted good food, you really had to pay for it and so the only opportunities to enjoy good Japanese food was when we occasionally lunched or dined with Japanese professors or visitors.

Tokyo Tokyo and Saisaki were still around (even now) and they were joined by Teriyaki Boy, Kitaro and Sushi-ya. But Teriyaki Boy had that westernized taste. And Kitaro and Sushi-ya, though offering good sushis and sashimis seem to lack that certain ingredient similar to the X-Factor one usually looks for. Benihana was gone but in its place, there's Sugi and, as I discovered in 1999, the authentic restos in Little Tokyo near Makati Cinema Square that was the hang-out of Japanese expats including embassy and JICA people.

I was actually elated when Yoshinoya came to the Philippines and was all the more happy that they retained the taste and didn't decide to Filipinize their famous beef bowls. I just hoped that their layout were similar to those in Japan and that they didn't go for the typical fastfood layout like McDo's and Jolibee. The additional food on the menu is excused and is most welcome for the variety as well as the good taste.

Most recently, the Clairvoyant informed me of a new resto that opened at the Powerplant in Rockwell. When she mentioned the name of the resto, it immediately rang a bell in my mind and my stomach sent messages to my brain urging me to go to Rockwell to investigate the new resto. I also looked for my stamp card from my recent visits to Japan from where I remembered the name of the resto - Pepper Lunch.

It was only last Saturday that we were able to go to Pepper Lunch together to enjoy the double beef serving of authentic Japanese pepper steak and the curry variant. After eating so many times at a Pepper Lunch knock-offs - Star Carrots and Sizzling Pepper Steak - I must say that I was more than satisfied with Pepper Lunch and would like to go back for more if only it were not inconveniently located in Rockwell. Star Carrots is passable and is a decent place but again, it lacks the X-factor that I found at Pepper Lunch Powerplant. So I look forward to the opening of a branch at Shangri-La EDSA and maybe verify if they're able to replicate the taste and ambience of the original especially the one located at the top of the gigantic Yodobashi Akky in Akihabara.

I'll leave the Clairvoyant to write about the experience of eating at an authentic sushi restaurant in Asakusa... That indeed is another story for writing and telling!