A diner’s relationship with chashu often begins and ends in a ramen bowl. On an average, each bowl comes with around two to three slices; if you find yourself craving for a bit more, you can flip on over to the ‘extras’ section of the menu. End of discussion. “That’s how chashu is recognised in most cases, unfortunately,” Joy Morillo Lo, owner of Shitamachi Japanese Chashu House, shares. “They don’t give much thought to it because it hardly ever appears anywhere else besides the ramen bowl. We want to change that notion, though. We want people to experience having chashu as the main dish and try it in different ways.”
Shitamachi Japanese Chashu House now open in Podium Mall
Shitamachi’s chashu is cooked with organic soy sauce, sea salt, high-grade natural seasoning and a secret spice blend. This recipe is inspired by the old days when people would line up for chashu ramen in Shitamachi, a place in downtown Japan where ramen has said to have originated from. “So much preparation and consideration goes into cooking the perfect chashu,” says Morillo Lo. “You have to pay attention to how thick or thin it is, how small or big the slices are, and how long you cook it for.”
Chashu: the braised sliced pork takes center stage at Shitamachi
The restaurant makes use of the limited space it has by being inventive with their walling and ceiling lights. A section of the wall is dedicated to an artwork of raised wood panels, while the bulb fixtures dangling from the ceiling keep the establishment warm and well-lit.
We began with the Cereal Prawn Balls (P255) and Gyoza (P160), two of Shitamachi’s most loved appetizers. I have to give the team kudos for the prawn balls, a rather unique offering. Fried prawns are rolled in wasabi sauce and cornflakes, and topped with alfalfa sprouts, making for a fun and interesting starter dish. The gyoza, simple as it is, is also something worth trying because the dumplings are chewy and the pork stuffing is fresh. We were also able to try the Chashu Salad (P190). Grilled chashu is served atop a bed of assorted greens with Shitamachi’s super-secret and super special shoyu dressing.
Cereal Prawn Balls
The next course was the Tan Tan Men (P305), a spicy ramen dish that can sell out quite quickly. Shitamachi only sells one hundred ramen bowls a day, and the Tan Tan Men is one of the more fast-moving ones. This ramen’s main ingredients are homemade sesame bean paste, spicy ground pork, bokchoy, leeks and the famous tamago. Although not as thick as the usual Tan Tan Men broth, this variant does have its own charm. It is average in terms of spiciness, which may be why it appeals to many diners.
Tan Tan Men Ramen
Shitamachi offers several interesting donburi dishes. We tried their Chashu Don (P180), a rice bowl that is theirs and theirs alone. Slices of chashu are cooked in a special sauce and are topped with onsen tamago and nori. For pork lovers, the chashu makes a terrific alternative to the more well-known katsudon, especially if you want to try something that varies from the deep-fried end of things. I found that the chashu goes really well with the rice, and the sauce (another of Shitamachi’s trade secrets!) gives it a nice, subtle flavour. The Sandoicchi or Chashu Sandwich (P210) is yet another clever invention by Shitamachi. “This is very popular with foreigners,” Morillo Lo shares happily. “We have one customer who would eat here almost every day and order the sandoicchi each time. When I asked him what he liked about it, he said that it was very unique.” True enough, we don’t really get to have chashu sandwiches that often. Slices of chashu come tucked inside a homemade bun with goma miso, wasabi mayo and teri mayo, and special Japanese fries on the side. The fries themselves are terribly addictive!
The Black Chahan (P180) is probably my most favourite dish from Shitamachi’s menu. This is basically Japanese fried rice cooked in squid ink and served with shrimp tempura. There is just no way to describe how great it is until you taste it for yourself. The flavour of the squid ink seeps well into the rice; it is not too salty nor too bland, making for a good companion to many of their other menu offerings. Presentation-wise, it also makes for a highly attractive sight.
For dessert, we had the Mango Cream Flan (P65) and the Matcha Panna Cotta with Azuki (P65). Both flans are very light and subtly flavoured, which is a good match for a series of heavy main courses. The mango flan carries a delightful semi-sweet taste, while the matcha panna cotta relies on its green tea flavour and the natural sweetness of the azuki.
Mango Cream Flan
Matcha Panna Cotta with Azuki
So far, Shitamachi Japanese Chashu House has been successful in introducing a new aspect of Japanese dining to the Philippines. “We get full during lunch and dinner time, which is really good to see,” says Morillo Lo. “Ramen lovers are curious about what we have to offer because they are familiar with chashu. For those who aren’t, there are plenty of new things to experience here because we serve chashu in each and every way we can think of.”
Who ever thought we could do so much with the slices of pork that we have relegated to the confines of our ramen bowls? I, for one, have never really thought about it. With Shitamachi in the picture, chashu no longer has to play second fiddle to its fellow ingredients.