Friday, July 31, 2009

An Encounter with ASIMO at Tokyo's Odaiba

Tokyo has a lot of attractions aside from Disneyland and Akihabara Electric Town. During my one-month stay in 2006, I visited Odaiba, a newly developed amusement attraction along Tokyo Bay. One of the sites I visited was the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation or Miraikan. Miraikan is a museum of cutting-edge science and technology in the 21st century. Here, I watched working models of the megalev train - a train which doesn't touch the rails because of magnets. I enjoyed the soccer game of the AIBO robot dogs. I had a photo inside a revolutionary electric car with eight wheels – the Advanced Electric Vehicle KAZ. Designed which has a maximum speed of 311 kph, a total energy efficiency which is approximately 1.7 times greater than conventional gasoline-powered vehicles and emits only 1/3 the CO2 of conventional vehicles. I watched a 3D movie inside the Digital Planetarium. There are equipment and gadgets on display which you can touch and operate. Kids will enjoy and learn working with the models. The most enjoyable part of my visit is the show by ASIMO, the humanoid robot developed by Honda. ASIMO has evolved from a primitive model to a very agile one. He walks, runs, waves and even dances the flamenco.

Odaiba has more attractions. Its central part called the Palette Town holds the Mega Web (a large-scale multi-media car amusement canter), Venus Fort (a European style shopping town), Aqua City, the 100 m diameter Odaiba Ferris Wheel, the largest in the world, Tokyo City show case and more. To go to Odaiba, take the Yurikamome line which uses the Rainbow Bridge and offers spectacular views of the harbor and the Tokyo waterfront area. You may also take a cruise from Tokyo to the Odaiba Seaside Park. It is possible to cross the Rainbow Bridge on foot. The walk across takes about 30 minutes and offers nice views of the waterfront area.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Japanese Food Trivia

(Click the photo to start the quiz.)
I created a trivia quiz about popular Japanese dishes using MyStudiyo. Try this quiz and see how well you know Japanese food. Try to learn the names of the featured dishes so that next time when you visit a Japanese restaurant here or when you're in Japan, you will know what to order.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pinoy Takoyaki

I am not a takoyaki fan but I eat takoyaki. When I was in Japan, I remember eating takoyaki with my friends whenever we go to Osu kannon temple in Nagoya. I tasted also the Gindako takoyaki near the train station at Musahikoyama in Tokyo. After watching one episode of Kuitan 2, where the detective tasted the takoyaki of the different shops in Osaka to solve a mystery, my craving to eat takoyaki was ignited.

So I went around Manila and Quezon City searching for the Pinoy takoyaki. In this food trip, I tasted takoyaki by Gabuki, Musashi, Samurai, Ton Ton Tei and Kuya Chito’s. I remember eating my first pinoy takoyaki from Samurai more than ten years ago. It was good then. But now the balls shrunk and the “kulangot” size octopus seems to have vanished. The Pinoy takoyaki now consists more of the batter, vegetables and alternatives to octopus such as processed crab meat or squid. A new name replacing “takoyaki” should be invented for the Pinoy version with no octopus since “Tako” means octopus in Japanese. Other alternatives to octupus that the Pinoy should try are shrimp, scallops, mussels or even diced squid balls.

In my takoyaki tasting adventure, I became addicted to Kuya Chito’s Takuyaki at the LRT2 Recto Station. I think this is a Pinoy version of Takoyaki. Observed that they call it "Takuyaki" not Takoyaki.

Kuya Chito’s version of takoyaki are balls made with shredded vegetable fillings (I noticed some noodle fillings also) and no octopus. The baked takoyaki is drizzled with mayo, topped with chicken, fish, pork (or beef?) flakes and spicy (which I always choose) or sweet and sour sauce. Wow! The takoyaki was crispy outside and the vegetables also inside were crunchy. The spicy sauce mixed with mayo makes you eat more. One serving is not enough after eating Kuya Chito's Takuyaki unlike the other pinoy versions (Gabuki, Musashi and Samurai) - Nakakaumay because of the sauce. It's the sauce and the pork (or beef?) shavings that make Kuya Chito's unique from the others. Three balls cost P24.00. If you prefer the authentic Japanese taste and sauce, Kuya Chito’s is not for you, but in my case, I love the taste of the crispy balls with the spicy sauce. My only negative observation about Kuya Chito’s is the way they cook their takoyaki is a bit messy (the vegetables scatter on the hot plate) because they use tongs instead of a pointed stick or metal (watch the video below on how takoyaki is prepared in Japan - very systematic. After watching this video, I'm sure you'll crave to eat one).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

KEBAB-aridad too!

King's Kebab. You wonder if the name of the place connotes kebabs fit for Kings, or the place is owned by a guy named 'King'?
One Sunday, craving for another kebab, we troop to this place along Katipunan Ave (near Banapple). Just as we did during our 'Kebab-baridad' resto-tour (see earlier blog entry), we ordered the usual - kebab (chicken and beef), hummus, keema, pita bread, and yogurt shake. (A friend actually suggested this place, along with the suggestion of trying their ox-brain - we were not as adventurous that night though, since the kids are with us - they might gross out with the idea of eating a brain :-)

As always, I was excited with the hummus. To my surprise it was very tasty, just like my favorite hummus offered at Grilled Tomato. It has a nice, fine texture and was not swimming in olive oil. I think I finished all of the hummus to myself, with Andy just getting a bite or two. But Andy and Geof, who are not humus fans, also enjoyed the dish.

The kebab and keema, too, passed our strandards. The kebabs are soft and juicy, and marinated just right. The keema, too, was cooked the way it was supposed to - i.e. ground beef sauteed and simmered 'til soft with tomato to get that "redness" and distinct taste.

The basmati rice is not expensive, but instead of cooked with butter, it simply has butter on top of the hot rice. No complaints here, but there's still no substitue for the authentic preparation - short cuts like butter toppings will obviously fail in comparison.

In all, we were happy with this find. The price is right, too. Andy rates it as the "KIng of Kebabs." The only challenge is the parking - the front of their place can only accomodate 2 cars.

TAJ - An Indian Resto at Tagaytay

A good friend sent this review. We haven't been to the place she described here, but knowing how much she loovvveesss good food as we do, I have no doubt that the resto deserves a visit.

"Jonny and I went to Tagaytay - to give a seminar for Principals under ACED (Ateneo Center for Education Development). For lunch we left the place and ate at Taj - an artsy Indian restaurant located in Alfonso, Tagaytay. We rode along the same route going to Calatagan and went passed Sonya's Garden.

First, the ambience- it is artsy. There are rooms, and look quite nice. However, two rooms do not have windows!. One inviting room, the Master's Bedroom with an Indian name has everything including wifi, also a balcony. At 5,500 Php it is cheap. The place , we feel may render itself as a drinking place at night - therefore not family-friendly.

Second, the food: quite good! Jonny and I love Indian food and this resto approximated the Singaporean-Indian taste that we are familiar with. We ordered vegetarian food - Paratha with Curry and Aloo with chutney. I was served with two pieces of roti Paratha and a bowl of yellow (not red) curry. Agoo is like the Paratha (they look the same to me) but with vegetarian filling). I mixed the chutney with the curry and it tasted good!!
Price: Easy!

Next week, we will go back to the same place (to facilitate in the same seminar) and try out their Mutton Biryani and maybe their chicken masala too."

Guest Reviewer: Alma Maria O. Salvador

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Heartwarming (Free) Japanese Film at Eiga Sai'09

One of the cheap thrills Andy and I enjoy doing is to go on date for free (actually, Andy enjoys these dates - watching a free and rare movie at a first class movie house is indeed a treat). So it's no surprise to see us every year in the free viewing of Japanese movies during the Japanese Film Festival (Eiga Sai). Eiga Sai 2009 opened at Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong City last July 2. The following night, we were among the long queue of eager-beavers waiting our first taste of 'free movie.'
Showing that night was Kamome Shokudo or Kamome Diner (Seagull Diner). The movie is about a strong-willed and compassionate Japanese woman who opened a diner in - of all places - Finland. Her diner specializes in making Japanese rice balls because, according to her, it is Japanese soul food.

Finland is one of the coldest places I have been to. Like the other Nordic countries, it is perennially clear - it only gets dark around 11 to 12 mn, and becomes clears again at about 4 am. You'll hardly see people on the street (when I was there, I only saw very fat but very cute cats roaming around!) . Their food preparation is also simple (definitely not as fancy as the French's). Thus, the country and the people struck me as being laid-back and uncomplicated.

So, opening a diner offering Japanese food in a quiet neighborhood in Finland looks a little odd. But the oddness of the situation is actually the main appeal of the movie.

Sachi, the main character would, day in and day out stay in her diner, cleaning and hoping for customers to come. Unfortunately, she was like a fish in a bowl, watched by passers-by with interest. The comments of the 3 women-'regular' watchers of Sachi actually confirms what my Hungarian friend (Laszo) told me - that Europeans have a hard time in determining the age of Asian-looking people. The 3 women in the movie calls Sachi 'girl-woman'. My take on Sachie's age in the movie is somewhere in the early 40's - she exudes confidence, compassion, and sensitivity that seem to be (deeply) rooted from her life experience.

The events took a turn when Tommy, a Finnish young adult who is fascinated with Japanese culture and anime came to the diner and asked for the lyrics of the anime show Gatchaman. Midori was next to enter the picture. Midori is a Japanese woman (also in her 40's) who decided to go to Finland because that's where her finger landed on the map (ala pin the donkey). She's obvioulsy lost and found anchor from the steadiness of Sachi. Next came Masako, a woman in her 50's who got attracted to the air-string olympics (i.e. playing the guitar ala phantomime) held in Finland. Coming out of 20 years of caring for her ill parents, Masako is also lost when her parents died.

The two Japanese women - Midori and Masako - ended up helping in the diner - not because they need income (they were not paid by Sachi for obvious reasons - she has no customer!) The two, however, were simply grateful for Sachi in allowing them to help in the diner. The irony is - what brought customers in the diner was not Japanese food (that actually came later). It was the coffee and cinnamon rolls that Sachi baked for her and Midori. And just like in any other things, a "first time" is always necessary to break the barrier. Once the shields are down, it becomes easier to have a repeat until it becomes a force of habit. Customers, thus, began coming regularly, trying out things 'new' to them (It was wonderful to watch Japanese dishes like tonkatsu, karaage, grilled salmon and onigiri or rice balls being cooked and served in the diner) and liking it.

The dynamics and friendship of the three very different women established the depth and substance of the script. The interplay of cultures - Finns and Japanese - adds texture to the story. And the unifying theme - food - made the film light and feel-good that viewers actually gave the film a round of applause when the credits came out. Watch a preview of the movie.

More films are scheduled to be shown. (Click here for the screeening schedule of Eiga Sai '09). The festival runs from July 2-12, 2009 at Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong City, Aug. 14-20, 2009 at the UP Film Institute, QC. The festival will also be held at Davao City, Cebu City and Baguio City.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thrilling the World

I just watched the video of the more the 1,500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), Cebu, Philippines practicing Michael Jackson's Thriller. Very entertaining (except for the lead actor or actress being chased by the zombie prisoners). This video was uploaded on Feb 2008 more than a year before MJ passed away. Indeed, MJ has thrilled the world with his music and his life, but the world was also thrilled by the choreographed performance of CPDRC inmates.