The original title of this post is, “What I Eat When I Don’t Want To Eat (Too Much).”
I’ve been avoiding food since January 1. I seriously went gangbusters with the Christmas ham and went beyond my feed limit during the holidays. Now I’m paying the consequences and it’s So. Not. Fun. So when I receive a late-night food-related text query, I fiercely hammer out my reply. “I’m sick of food and I don’t want to eat anymore. I’ll dream about your question tonight and text you my answer tomorrow.” If texts weren’t so ambiguous, this person would be feeling my wrath and fanged fury. Frankly, I can’t even stomach (pun unintended) sitting down to write a post and writing about what? Food? For once, I wish to be in a non-food profession like working in a bookstore (on second thought, too many cookbooks) or perhaps a call center agent (uh, but don’t they snack a lot?) Agggghhhh!
It’s now the fourth day of the year and I’m settling down somewhat. But I still don’t want to eat (not too much) anyway, hence the original title of this post. When I feel like this – and I have to eat something – I head to Hatsu Hana Tei, a Japanese restaurant I’ve written about before. Unlike its more frenzied counterparts in Little Tokyo such as Urameshi-Ya and cult favorite Seryna (good luck getting a seat in there!), Hatsu Hana Tei offers a calm and cool away from the madding crowd.
I’ll write about the only thing I eat here. Although this restaurant offers many good things to eat, an almost equal number of which I’ve tried, I always seem to find myself drawn to this place when food is my foe not my friend (I can’t believe I just said that). In addition, whenever I eat here, I’m almost always alone. I’ve talked about the pleasures of solitary dining and they hold true when dining in or out.
Hatsu Hana Tei’s lunch sets are exceptional, possibly the best value-for-money deals in Manila. Available daily for lunch including the weekends, there are a few choices – sushi, tempura, and my favorite, the Chirashi Set. For only P380 + VAT, I start off with a chawan mushi. A poke of the spoon into this hot custard releases wisps of steam surrendering savory smells of dashi, mirin, and mushroom. Deep inside its quivery depths is a lone square of lean pork, perhaps even a leaf of leek.
Then there’s the soba – cold for when I want to cool down, and hot (in soup) for when I hanker for heat. The cold soba comes on the traditional bamboo mat, stray tangles splayed on ice which I dip into a cool dipping sauce. I like the yellow pickles that come on the side too. Sometimes I choose the hot soba which is frankly, a dish on its own. The bowl is fit for a sumo wrestler, its depths rich with a deeply fortifying broth pocked with fried panko crumbs and littered with leeks and spring onions. And, as if more soupy sustenance is needed, there’s also a little bowl of miso soup on the side and just in case.
I never really finish any of the preceding dishes because the chirashi is what I want. Slices of raw fish are pale and pearlescent, their freshness gleaming coolly. Underneath, a cushion of lightly vinegared, short grain rice to eat in between or draped with a fish and dipped into soy sauce. I never accept dessert (!) which is a choice of fruit, often pineapple, or coffee jelly with vanilla ice cream.
Since I am almost always alone when I come to Hatsu Hana Tei, I’m very well taken care of by the kimono-clad servers. When I first started eating here at my table for one, I was amused by the servers’ thinly-disguised looks of concern at this particular solo and (female!) diner. What might they be thinking perhaps? Back then, they treated me respectfully but somewhat gingerly, like I might burst into tears at any second for lack of a dining companion. But they see me here often now and understand that I’m a satisfied solo diner, and eating alone is something I need to do once in a while…
… like avoiding food.
Hatsu Hana Tei
2/F Herald Suites Hotel
2168 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati