It all began with okra. Yeah, that slimy, funky vegetable that a lot of people have a hard time with.
I, on the other hand, love me some okra. And it's just as well that this story begins with it.
Taka Hayano, from Chiba Prefecture in Japan, grew up in Manila through the IS system. His business: growing and exporting organic okra to the land of his birth. (his okra is quite awesome, by the way.)
Now where's the beef? For more than 10 years, Japanese beef has actually been banned from being distributed here in the Philippines, apparently because of a case of mad cow disease in Japan. So all that stuff you've been eating in Japanese joints? That's imported in small quantities.
Recently, that ban has been lifted (cue angels singing!), and Taka's father - using his business wisdom - decided to move on it. They joined a meat cooperative in Japan, and now are the first distributors on the ground selling authentic Wagyu beef from different areas. All excellent. All the real deal (they even come with barcodes so you know their origins, like when they were slaughtered, what farm, etc). All... MARBLED. Sexy, no?
They sell out of this tiny sliver of a shop in Sunvar Plaza along Amorsolo in Makati. The idea really is to sell to local chefs and restaurants. That's the main business, at least to them. But they also have a few seats - and I mean "don't bring your barkada or you'll take up the whole space" kind of few - where you can order from a very limited menu and try some of the beef and other things they sell, like pork from their farm, organically raised and fed their okra (yes, the piggies are vegetarian too, so that makes it vegetarian pork! harhar!) which they make into a couple of things like tonkatsu and Japanese style croquettes. Now here's the thing - since they opened very recently, people have been going there to -- you guessed it - eat. As in the other day they had to turn away dozens.
While they take time to solve this problem - which isn't that bad a problem, if you ask me, because it means people are willing to pay for their product - I got to sit down when there was no one around and have a few bites.
I'm not even going to bother dropping praises and fireworks, because you know what to expect when you get premium Japanese beef: explode in your mouth, juicy, fatty beef - best eaten in not-so-big portions unless your system can handle more of it. The simpler the preparation, the better. Heck, some of it is best eaten raw.
Apart from their meats, the other great secret they have is their chef: Chef Seiji, a Manila stalwart, plying his craft for many years here. Back in the day, my folks would take me to his restaurant called Miro (named after the artist Joan Miro) where he cooked crazy (at least for back then) Western food with Japanese touches. Back then I was too busy reading fantasy novels, playing b-ball, and hanging with friends to really care about food that much, but I do remember Miro being quite excellent and way ahead of its time.
Chef Seiji + all this glorious beef = happiness.
Suffice to say, it was a great day. I got to try some stuff, and I met Chef Seiji, too (a hero of mine, really)! Real Wagyu isn't cheap, but keep in mind that the prices here are very close to Japan's prices, AND you're not meant to eat that much of it anyway. It's a once-in-awhile indulgence (or gee, often if you wish, if you're a high roller!) and it's a guaranteed pleasure. Check it!
WAGYU JAPANESE BEEF MEAT SHOP
G/F Sunvar Plaza
Amorsolo corner Pasay Road
(02) 808 9508
Store hours: 10am to 10pm