Over the past few days, we’ve been seeing Instagram posts confirming the arrival of both Maisen Tonkatsu and Marugame Seimen to the Philippines, and we’re definitely excited for these two to set up shop in Manila. Maybe we’re oversaturated with Japanese imports, but if you’re talking about the quality and caliber of these chains, then they’re definitely welcome. Brought in by the Bench group, Suyen Corporation, who is also responsible for bringing in St. Marc’s Cafe and patisserie Paul, the fast-casual restaurants aim to add something new to the tonkatsu trend in the country and create a new trend with a restaurant dedicated to udon and tempura.
I’m definitely a Yabu loyalist, but Maisen in Japan has served me the best tonkatsu I’ve ever had. Open since 1965, it’s widely regarded as one of the best tonkatsu restaurants in its home country and has enjoyed tons of success with its recipes. They use the Japanese Kurobuta black pig which is mostly responsible for the juiciness and succulence of their pork, but their secret is really in the way they fry the thing. The bread crumbs are made fresh, and are so compact, creating a consistent crumb and delicious coating. It never feels oily, and is really a weirdly magical thing to eat. It’s good in its normal set, but their katsu sandwich and katsudon are also stuff of legend. Their sauce is even so popular that they sell bottles of it at all their restaurants. While no other foreign chain has really come close to beating the success of Yabu in the Philippines, the introduction of Maisen to the market might just be the one to take the crown.
While ramen is way too popular in Manila, we haven’t caught on to udon just yet. But watch out, Marugame Seimen is coming, and their slippery, delicious noodles might have you forsaking your regular bowl for one of theirs. Udon noodles are much fatter and springier than ramen, and come traditionally bathed in broth simpler than ramen too, made of mirin, dashi and soy sauce. It can be simply dressed with scallions, but is usually topped with tempura, which just so happens to be Marugame Seimen’s specialty. What’s great about Marugame Seimen is that you get to choose your udon style and then the tempura that comes on top of it. They’re famous for udon with an onsen egg and a dollop of fat Japanese roe on top, but they have the more indulgent curry udon, too. Their tempura is known for its extremely light and crisp batter, and it comes in a wide range, from half-cooked egg, to fish to squid. We can’t imagine a more exciting concept, and are sure Filipinos will lap up their simple but satisfying take on udon.
There are tons of foreign restaurants opening in Manila in 2015, and it’s definitely an exciting time to be a voracious eater. We can’t wait to get our hands on some Maisen Kurobuta katsu and some Marugame Seimen udon. When it comes to high quality chain eateries, they might just be some of the best Japan has to offer, and with their first stores arriving very soon, we won’t have to wait very long to get a taste in Manila.