Japanese food has become as common on the average Filipino’s table as Filipino food itself. Perhaps it’s our peoples’ shared love for rice or the Japanese’s obsessive (almost pathological) attention to detail that makes Japanese food flourish in our local restaurant scene. But despite the high number of Japanese restaurants out there, Dohtonbori still makes an impact.
With about 300 stores in Asia, Dohtonbori is one of the most popular and ubiquitous restaurant chains out there. Their menu is long and extensive, but if you want a truly exciting cook-it-yourself experience, go for the okonomiyaki, which are special savory pancakes filled with a whimsical mix of ingredients, including pork, chicken, vegetables, and seafood. This dish became popular during World War II, when resources were scarce and people had to cook with whatever was available. Hence, the name “okonomiyaki”–“okonomi”stands for “what you want,” while “yaki” means “cooking.
If there’s such a thing as curb appeal for restaurants, Dohtonbori wins on all levels. Fake food replicas draw you in, while traditional wood windows give you a good peek inside. The entryway looks like what you would commonly see in Japanese restaurants, with a small tiled roof and signs bearing Kanji symbols.
There’s a more bustling and common dining area as you enter, but if you want a more unique experience, sit in the tatami room. There are only a few tables available on this side of the restaurant, so be sure to come during off-peak hours. Don’t worry about sitting seiza-style; there are actually large holes under the grill where you can rest your legs.
Consider these condiments as your best friends during your meal. Aside from an entire bottle of Japanese mayo, your table should have okonomiyaki sauce, yakisoba sauce, oil, soy sauce, chili powder, bonito powder, nori powder, and more.
First to arrive at the table was the Ramen Tonkotsu. I know it’s pretty strange to order ramen at a restaurant that specializes in Okonomiyaki, but Dohtonbori makes a pretty decent bowl. The milky pork-bone broth was hot and rich, and while it was not as amazing as the broth from actual ramen shops, it’s still somewhat passable. The noodles were a bit softer than what I would prefer, however.
To load up some protein, we ordered the Chicken Shio. These meaty, juicy pieces of chicken were quickly grilled on the table before being served. Remember to season this to your taste and to add sauce from the condiment rack before consuming, as the flavor is quite plain. You can add rice and miso soup for only P90 to make this a set meal.
A more exciting option on the menu is the Kalbi Yakiniku. This beef yakiniku has a sweet-savory marinade that goes well with the thin and juicy slivers of beef. A great addition to your meal if you don’t want to be eating savory pancakes the entire time.
As for the house specialty, the Okonomiyaki – well, it took quite a long time to get cooked. We had already consumed everything above before the server finished making the okonomiyaki, even though it was a pretty simple dish to prepare. Nevertheless, it was entertaining to watch. You can do this yourself or ask one of the staff members to have it prepared for you.
A beautifully laid out bowl of ingredients is given to you at the start. To get a taste of everything, we chose the Mixed Okonomiyaki, which has pieces of shrimp, octopus, squid, bacon, mushrooms, and other ingredients.
After being mixed, the server will pour the ingredients onto the high-tech griddles which are specially designed for cooking okonomiyaki. This griddle is set to 190 degrees to ensure that everything is cooked correctly.
The mixture will harden into a circular pancake. Allow some time for it to cook thoroughly. If you’re already hungry, try munching on the other dishes first.
Once the okonomiyaki is cooked, it’s time to dress it up with some sauce. Okonomiyaki sauce is basted on top, while Japanese mayo is drizzled generously.
Bonito and nori powder are added to give this okonomiyaki its final boosts of flavor. I personally prefer bonito flakes, but I was greatly satisfied with these.
Finally, the okonomiyaki is cut into four pieces for you to enjoy. Don’t gobble it up right away when it’s done – allow it to cool a bit to avoid burning your tongue. The cooking time takes around 20 minutes (or more?), so it’s really ideal to try other dishes first while waiting for the okonomiyaki to cook. Don’t hesitate to add okonomiyaki sauce and Japanese mayo to your slice to give it a nice, flavorful kick.
Overall Verdict: Dining at Dohtonbori is hypnotizing. Watching the dishes being prepared on the tabletop grill isn’t only delightful, it’s also mesmerizing. Add to that the classic Japanese interiors, and it’s like you’ve booked a ticket to Osaka, Japan. While the food is somewhat average, the overall experience is a treat. If you’re not in a hurry and you’re up for an exciting, one-of-a-kind dining experience, Dohtonbori is worth a try.
Dohtonbori has branches in 8 Missouri st., North East Greenhills, San Juan, Manila, and Ground Floor, SM North, Quezon City.