Food, glorious food!
My little family arrived in Manila on Jan. 10 (which happens to be our wedding anniversary) still on a high from the wonderful holiday we had in Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan.
Of course, it wasn’t just the clean, crisp mountain air and the freshly fallen snow (and randomly running into friends), but the fantastic food, as well. Whether it was a cheap meal one had to line up for an hour to enjoy, or something higher-end with glasses of lovely wine or sake, every single food experience was something to remember.
It also bears saying that the company we kept had so much to do with each bite of everything (and for that, we thank our friends Cayo and Sid Tayag and their adorable kids, Sabina and Gael).
To properly kick off the ski/food trip, we headed to Tozanken Ramen in Hirafu. The food is more than reasonably priced, and the place incredibly popular judging by the long line of customers waiting to be seated, many of them in their ski/snowboarding gear.
There is ramen of all kinds, fried chicken, venison sausages, gyoza, katsu curry and more. Rob ordered a combo plate of a smaller bowl of ramen, gyoza and steamed white rice, while I got the miso ramen, plus we got some sausages for the table to share. Everything … and I do mean everything … was absolutely delicious. And on a cold, snowy day like that day was, it was the perfect meal with which to warm our insides and prepare for the rest of our stay.
The following day, everyone else headed out to the slopes while I stayed safe and warm indoors with a book (“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah which talks about his life in South Africa during and after apartheid … I highly recommend it) and a hot cup of coffee.
However, because we would all be hanging out quite a lot at this particular spot—The Edge Restaurant and Bar at Hanazono Resort—we’d all get to sample various items off their menu during this week. Japanese comfort food like ramen and katsu curry with rice, or more western fair like spaghetti and meatballs, pizza and meat pies were available.
My favorites were the Margherita pizza and the katsu curry. And, of course, the meat pies. When I saw them, I couldn’t help myself, and after that first forkful, I did find myself saying, “God, that’s good!”
Next on the list was Raku-Ichi, a tiny soba place with very limited seating, boasting of an incredible tasting menu of Japanese delicacies ending with either cold or hot hand-cut soba noodles in delicious duck broth. We had selections of sashimi, shabu-shabu, the most delicately prepared scallops, tempura vegetables, and incredible mochi for dessert accompanied by a special sake from Kyoto that went down smooth.
The restaurant is so quiet that it’s easy to have conversations during the meal, until you hear the steady pulsing rhythm of the chef and owner of the restaurant cutting the soba. That’s when just about everyone took out their mobile phones to take a video of him to record the precision of his cuts and the sound of the slicer hitting the wooden cutting board.
Musical director and friend Rony Fortich, himself a frequent visitor to Niseko, gave us one wonderful restaurant recommendation: The Barn, also in Hirafu. In contrast to the cold weather outside, the place was warm and welcoming, extending even to the staff in their hospitality.
The fare was divine: tenderloin steak with hand-cut potatoes, aburi wagyu sushi torched right at the table, salads, seafood chowder and cheesecake for dessert. Rob and I were impressed not just by the quality of the food, but by how much Nicole ate. That might’ve been the most food we’ve ever seen her eat at one sitting.
And finally, on the eve of our departure was a restaurant we had already visited on our previous visit to Niseko: Kamimura. We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary here, and now we would have an early feast for our 16th in this very same spot. Incredible food, paired with some amazing wines: salad, potato soup, risotto, grilled chicken and steak.
But the more memorable part of the meal was our waiter, Stefan, who was traveling the world before returning for graduate studies in the United States. He had spent a considerable amount of time in Cebu and said that he had a great time, never mind that part of his stay was in the hospital after contracting dengue fever. Thank you, Stefan, for adding to the already wonderful meal.
There were also a couple of great foodie finds in Milk Kobo (a dairy farm where you can get all sorts of cakes and pastries, as well as soft serve iced cream), the coffee bar at Rhythm (where everyone rented his or her ski gear), and delicious pizza delivery from Lava Lounge Pizza.
I have a feeling that we’ll all be back again next year. Skiing may or may not be in my future (and frankly, if I never try it again, that’s perfectly fine, as snow tubing and snowmobile driving can give me enough of an adventure fix), but the food? It’s definitely worth coming back to. Here’s hoping we find even more amazing restaurants next time!
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