If I had to choose one Japanese dish to eat forever, it would have to be ramen. As a matter of fact, I indulged in the different flavored ramen offered by the local Japanese restaurants in Manila. But one thing I have never tried before was tsukemen, which was another way to eat ramen. Luckily I was told about Mitsuyado Sei-Men: House of Tsukemen in Makati. I did not know what to expect but I was briefed that the restaurant was styled like a street in Japan. Similar to what I have done in my previous restaurant visits, I had to wear something that would suit the place. Since I did not bring my sewing machine with me, I decided to go for a simple Wa Lolita coordinate. I hand-sewn a red kimono top and paired it with a petticoat as my skirt.
Once I and my photographer Kei arrived at the venue, I was simply blown away! Wardrobe-wise, I felt good that I put a bit of effort in doing a kimono-inspired look, as opposed to my dolly outfits.
Mitsuyado Sei-Men was a delightful visual overload. From the stone pavement to the wooden furniture, from banners to that one bicycle upon the wall, a rather curious detail among other Japanese pop culture markers, there was simply so much to see! And of course, upload in IG. I was glad we got there in the afternoon, as the restaurant really gets busy by dinner time.
I was transported to some other place. This has been the closest I have been to being in Japan, which remains a dream for now. I loved everything but it was the noodle stand that piqued my imagination. I have always wanted to experience the real deal as I would often watch in NHK's travel shows, which was to have "street ramen". I got to try that here, though for now in a simulated street. Indeed, Mitsuyado Sei-Men has fueled my dream of traveling to Japan.
After exploring almost every corner of the place, we sat down to finally have a try of the tsukemen. The basic meal consisted of noodles freshly made right at the kitchen, served with the broth. I wanted to be adventurous with mine so I had the Cheese Sauce Tsukemen, an invention by the owners themselves. Kei had the Marutoku Tsukemen, which included char-siu (tender pork slices) and Aji-tama (Japanese egg). We also had a side order of chicken karaage and gyoza.
Trying tsukemen for the first time was a fun learning experience. What separates it from regular ramen is the way you eat the noodles by dipping it in the broth, as opposed to having them submerged in the soup! The noodles themselves were preferably served cold and al-dente, and the broth, interestingly, at room temperature. But this could be customized to your liking.
The separation of broth and noodles made sense as the tsukemen broth was a lot more savory. I have never tasted anything like it before, and the closest flavors I could recognize were vegetables, black pepper, and a slight hint of citric sourness, which seems to counter the otherwise overpowering umami. Since I ordered mine with the cheese sauce, I got to pour it all over my noodles. It tasted like Mac and Cheese. It was weird but in a good way.
Just by looking at the size of the noodles, I knew I would not be able to finish my tsukemen. I had a few bites of the karaage, which was easily likable, and gyoza, which I found a little oily. It was a very filling meal. However our food adventures did not end there as we also got to try desserts from their sister shop, Yamato Bakery Cafe.
Once again, everything looked so good! The pastries had the kawaii going on. It was all IG worthy. Even if I already had a filling meal, I could not help but want some for myself.
We tried a slice of both the strawberries and cream and match green tea cakes. I could straight away taste the freshness of these desserts. These and the rest of the pastries were made on that day, and had to be sold that day as well, which leads me to my pro-tip: visit after 8:00 PM so you get more for less the price!
I was eventually able to try their cronuts as well, which were on a Christmas promotion at the time of my visit. What I liked best about Yamato was the very mild sweetness of their pastries. I could not pick a favorite but one flavor that I was able to appreciate more all thanks to them, were the matcha green tea-filled pastries.
I am writing this post now here in California, but revisiting my experience of Mitsuyado Sei-Men and Yamato Bakery Cafe, makes me want to come back so bad! I have been looking for a tsukemen place in Orange County and Los Angeles, but so far, no luck. When I do get to visit the Philippines, I would surely dine at these places again. Aside from the food, it's the experience of the place that sets them apart from all the other local Japanese restaurants.
Photos by Kei Villanueva.