Poke bowl and ramen
Nonnette C. Bennett
Hawaii is where one encounters poke, pronounced poh-kay, rhymes with okay, which means “to cut into pieces.”
This usually had fresh fish chunks, seaweeds, and sesame seeds as common basic elements. Ramen is noodle soup that is known in Japanese and Korean restaurants, too. Having a feel of Hawaii and Korea in one place is unusual.
With so many rice eaters everywhere in the world, the poke bowl has become a quick cold meal with elements of protein, seaweed strips, sesame seeds, and vegetables. Some countries have adapted local flavors to a half cup of boiled rice to make their own kind of Hawaiian-inspired meal.
At Yasuragi, the kimchi poke bowl had the fermented cabbage of Korea as the main ingredient that differentiated this particular edition. The fried tofu cubes, I think (I should take notes next time), served as the protein base, with slices of avocado, mangoes, and fine cabbage slices that were beautifully arranged in the bowl. I think this had some seaweed crumbled in the bowl.
The best way to eat this is to mix all the ingredients so the flavor of the soy sauce, sesame seeds, and other elements blend in with the rice, including the spicy kimchi.
To me, this is the perfect rice meal because of the balance of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates. The American version of poke bowls gives you a choice of which raw fish or all the fishes in the bowl, with a choice of vegetables that you prefer. A little bit of Hawaii, Korea, and Japan in a meal.
The salmon sashimi with the finely grated radish and cucumber slices dipped in soy sauce and wasabi was sweet and smooth. The relishing crispiness of the radish after a slice of raw salmon seems to clean the palate to enjoy the next slice more. This and tuna are favorites. The slices of cucumber are added textures to the food.
Of course, sushi is the most popular Japanese preparation anywhere in the world. The California sushi or maki is boiled rice sweetened with a mixture of vinegar and sugar evenly spread out on a sheet of seaweed then slices of mangoes and cucumber with kani or crab sticks are rolled in it. Some versions have the orange fish roe spread on the rice as an outer coating, which is what we had. Japanese mayonnaise was drizzled on top to give it a smooth and sweet texture. Dipping this predominantly sweet roll in the salty and spicy mix of soy sauce and wasabi is the delight this food gives. All the tastebuds come to action in one mouthful.
Volcano maki is a sushi version at Yasuragi. The basic maki roll is topped with a seeming sauteed sukiyaki beef with onions. Unsure if I got this topping right, the flavor of the creamy mixture and the rice roll dipped in mayonnaise balanced the meatiness. They also have a bacon version of maki.
Mixed tempura of shrimps and vegetable slices dipped in batter then deep fried to make them crispy outside is a Japanese art. This is difficult to achieve because the batter is made in a different way. The slices of sweet potato, squash, and eggplant, I believe, were crispy outside but tender on the inside. The shrimps are always tasty with a crunch when eaten this way. The sweet and salty dip that accompanies this enhances the taste of the flour, vegetables, and seafood.
Yasuragi ramen must be tried. This was a pleasant experience of having a creamy soup made from miso and fresh egg, I suppose. The slice of braised pork, the slices of fish cake or maybe squid or crab, the black fungus, green onions, and noodles were textures between chewy, stringy, and soft. On a rainy day, this should warm your spirits, especially when you get the wasabi ball that is in the soup to bring a shot up your nasal passage to your brain. This can send a warm burst to your senses whichcan make this soupy concoction a different experience altogether.
They also serve warm sake to go with your meal. This is similar to the local tapuy but clear. It is smooth as an alcoholic drink and a perfect match to the sashimi and sushi. It helps digest the food and makes the conversation interesting.
There you have it, a merry tastebud day and happy tummy at a fusion Japanese restaurant. The fun in food with the inspirations from two other countries should be fun for the adventurous palates. If you want a different twist to traditional Japanese cuisine, this has got to be the place. Enjoy yourself in Baguio City.