With Takayasu’s ozeki promotion and Mitakeumi looking to slide into his vacated Sekiwake slot, I thought I’d take a look at the Philippines. I almost lived there growing up. My dad was in the US Air Force and we were supposed to be stationed there but somehow ended up in Biloxi, MS instead. I always consider it a missed opportunity. This is not anything near the “Mongolian invasion” we’ve seen in sumo and more approximates the Bulgarian or Georgian mini-booms. But, will their rise to the upper echelons of professional sumo, timed as it is during a surge in domestic popularity, bring more interest in Filipino recruits?
This satellite mission patch graphically illustrates the commonalities and ties between the Philippines and Japan. On the face of things, the countries have some very interesting similarities. Both are sprawling, earthquake prone, volcanic, island nations sitting off the eastern coast of mainland Asia, of roughly similar population (Japan: #61, Philippines: #72) and size (Japan: #10, Philippines: #13). Basically, the smaller brothers of massive Indonesia (#4 in population; #14 in land area). Their histories are very different, but obviously interconnected at times. Colonized by the Spanish, Japanese, and Americans, the Philippines returned to democratic rule in 1984. Recently, the country has been in the news because of the actions and rhetoric from its controversial President, Rodrigo Duterte.
Because of its fascinating history, The Philippines has it’s own distinct, wonderful culture with flavors from Spanish, Japanese, and American colonizers. For me, culture starts in the kitchen. Traditional Filipino dishes have been noted to be among Takayasu’s favorites. In Japan, nata-de-coco went through its own mini-boom, kind of like the 1980s version of today’s American “cronut” craze.
Tonight, I tried nata-de-coco for the first time. It is really good. It’s more firm than gelatin and has an interesting, lavender-like flavor. Supposedly it has a lot of fiber. It’s big in Japan, though not as big as it once was and seems to be rarely eaten on its own. One of the desserts featured here from Denny’s was a great example. They don’t offer it anymore, but you can see it was offered up to 1992. My wife remembers it fondly and bought us a bottle of nata-de-coco from our local Korean grocer.
The quality of “Family Restaurants” in Japan like Denny’s, Skylark and Saizeria, compared to those in the US, will surprise you. I mention this because if you go to Japan, don’t avoid “Western” brands like Denny’s, 7-Eleven, Starbucks, etc., just because you think you know them. You sure would not find many desserts featuring nata-de-coco, or fresh mango back home. And my favorite bit is always the customer service. *Pro tip*: a call button is usually available in restaurants in Japan to summon help, or just yell “sumimasen!” In the US, we have to rely on making eye-contact with a busy waitstaff or our psychic powers to will them from out of their hiding places in the kitchen.
In DC, we have several Philippine restaurants with high reviews. I’d been planning to try one before posting this article but haven’t been able to make it to one since none are close enough to Navy Yard for me try at lunch. Then, on the weekend, I avoid DC like the plague and I’ve not found similarly high-rated examples here in the suburbs. I’m glad that I was able to at least try nata-de-coco before posting this. Keep an eye out for future posts on Philippine cuisine: like adobo, lumpia,