If you order Western food in a Japanese-style Western restaurant, be prepared to have your pasta or burger steak taste the same, but different.
The Japanese word for it is Yoshoku–Western dishes developed for the Japanese palate. It’s usually served as a set in Yoshoku restaurants, with soup, main course, dessert, and sometimes a drink. The cuisine is said to have evolved during the Meiji era when Japan was first exposed to Western culture, and ingredients like ketchup began to be used in cooking. Over the years, this resulted in dishes that form an integral part of the Japanese dining experience.
Some of the combinations are weird at first–I remember ordering mushroom soup spaghetti as a child (I even remember the hotel we were staying in when I ordered it–Washington Hotel Akihabara) because I liked the name and was curious what it would look like, but not quite understanding how to enjoy it. Despite my initial confusion, I kept ordering it again and again, until it became a favorite (this should tell you a lot about me and food)–something that I try to order wherever I can find it.
Another dish I have fond memories of but sadly, did not get to eat on this trip, is Hambagu, or the Japanese version of hamburger steak. This was the dish that punctuated our stopovers; it seemed like it was on the menu of every roadside diner in 80s Japan. I’ll have to make it a point to order it when I go back.
After the Ghibli Museum, we headed to Tokyu Hands in Takashimaya in Shinjuku, stopping for dinner first. Shinjuku can be expensive, though Seicento, the restaurant we picked, was decently priced and within our budget.
I forget what my pasta was called –I think it was Soup Spaghetti–but it was delicious. Spaghetti with mushrooms and bacon (which my friend ate as a favor to me–oh, the things she had to do for her guest!) topped with seaweed, sesame seeds, green onion, and a poached egg. Everything went together, each individual flavor finding purpose as a whole.
Broken, the egg coated everything with a golden sheen, its flavor overlapping with the umami of the mushroom and soup. The seaweed was an especially lovely touch, its semi-crunchy brininess stark contrast to the pasta’s homogeneity. I was happy to note that it tasted as good as I remembered it to be.
My friend’s Mushroom Spaghetti was equally delicious–creamy, but also umami. If I had the appetite and the budget for it, I would have ordered that, too.
Then came dessert! We had the Creme Brulee, which was your typical creme brulee, and was delicious. Like something made for Mama Bear, it wasn’t too big or too small, but just right. It wasn’t too sweet, either, so that it hit that after-dinner sweet spot in terms of texture and taste, leaving us satisfied and fortified, ready to get on with our stationery shopping.
Unfortunately, I was too distracted to document our foray into Tokyu Hands. We didn’t even go very far. We just stayed in the stationery department until closing time. I didn’t buy much, but I did get pen refills not available in the Philippines. Japan takes its stationery as seriously as it takes its food, and for that, I am glad.