Experiencing Japan in a Plate » Manila Bulletin Lifestyle

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By Erick Lirios

The Philippine public has looked to Japan for a lot of things–culture, technology, history, and its food. Flights to the land of the rising sun are much cheaper now and contact with Japan is so much easier. But can it even be better?

Dohtonburi recently opened a new restaurant at the UP Town Center and it gives an interesting experience of how things may be like on a regular street in Japan. There’s even an imitation cherry blossom tree right at the entrance to set the mood. The idea is to present what looks like a street in say a place like Kansai and then tables are inside “stores.” There’s a place marked like it were a fish place but there’s really a Japanese table where cooking can be done and diners get to see how their food is going to be prepared. The thrill really starts as soon as you take your shoes off to get into those stores. People in a rush who just want to get really good food can stay at the tables outside these stores. No need to take the shoes off.

  • A typical Japanese street or market area?

  • How’s this for friendly Japanese interaction?

  • All sizzling and tasty. There’s Camembert inside. Whoa.

  • Want your meat fresh and flavorful? This is the place for it.

  • One of the rather private areas


Japan is a photographer’s dream place. Almost everything easily translates into a good photo. That is, amazingly, true for this restaurant. Perhaps some of the best compliments that have been given were regarding the fact that “it really seems like it’s in Japan!”

This is the newest branch of Dohtonburi and some people may be asking if there is anything new with the food. Some items offered previously have been replaced by 19 new dishes pushing the envelope of the whole okonomiyaki experience. The owners want to show what else can be done using this cooking method. Very loosely, okonomiyaki is frying various ingredients into a savory pancake of sorts. The result can be more than pleasantly surprising. How about a whole piece of Camembert cheese in your okonomiyaki? Dohtonburi in the Philippines, as part of the international group, can experiment and offer to the public the best possible okonomiyaki. The idea really is, according to Dohtonburi Japan, to mix plenty of vegetables and other natural ingredients and then grill these to perfection to come up with a meal that tastes good while being good for you. (Incidentally, more and more articles are coming out on how Japanese cuisine seems to offer one of the healthiest options around.)

Of course, this is the Philippines and Filipinos will expect the usual Japanese fare they are familiar with. That’s there, too, but Dohtonburi does encourage diners to relish just what okonomiyaki is all about. Think about it: Your food being cooked right in front of you and you are immersed in the total aroma and even the sound of cooking as the smoke engulfs you. Talk about being able to leave your cares behind as you watch the food being prepared to transform from ingredients into dishes that touch your taste buds like they never have before. That’s a mouthful you can surely want.

The photographic experience

The people at Dohtonburi pride themselves in having been able to create the most Instagram-friendly surroundings. It’s actually a bit amazing that something like this exists in a place like UP Town Center. The general area is your usual Ayala Mall—very clean with a relaxing ambience. However, once inside Dohtonburi, things go up by not a few notches. It’s really like being in one of the side streets of Japan and you don’t get that irritating shouted greeting that you get in many trying-hard local Japanese restaurants. (Fast fact: They don’t do that in Japan for goodness sake.) What you get here is a more relaxed atmosphere. The only thing missing is the true Japanese weather and sakura petals on the ground.

One of the main advantages of having your food cooked in front of you is that you can start shooting photos as soon as the ingredients are brought in. You can so easily do a vlog or podcast with a true blow-by-blow treatment. You do need to be careful that you don’t come in too close that you get in the way of the cook or your lens or even your camera getting in the cook’s way! You also don’t want oil getting splashed on your lens.

Be prepared with a lens that allows you a good safe distance from the action while being able to get an image that is as large as you need. A 100mm macro lens comes to mind. A 200mm may be too long while a 50 or 60mm one may require you to get too close.

Will a kit lens do? Yes! The photos here were shot using a Canon EOS M5 borrowed from CameraHaus. The 15-45mm kit lens performed admirably here and the M5 didn’t have difficulty focusing and generating brilliant images. In fact, a camera like the M5 would be perhaps the best type of unit for shoots like these. It’s light and easy to use and the images are stunning. (Fun fact: A Canon DSLR with the usual big L lenses were brought along for this shoot but they weren’t used at all.)

If you’re into food and want to exercise your photography abilities, head on down to UP Town Center and make your way to Dohtonburi. You get magically transported to Japan, have a taste of Japanese food, and get so many opportunities to shoot —you get the possible landscape shot (within limits), the street shot, the al fresco dining shot, the food shot, and more. Don’t forget the possible selfie with sakura.

Here’s an idea: Go to Dohtonburi to prepare yourself for a Japan trip, fly and enjoy Japan, then go back to Dohtonburi to relive your many good memories while making some more.

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