The great thing about BF Homes is that it’s home to a wealth of fine establishments you can’t find anywhere else. It’s one of the treasure troves in the South that we have over the North where all the good stuff is.  I generally find myself content with this little bubble of exclusivity, but when I come across a gem like Okini I am just overfilled with joy.

Okini is a quaint little shop near the BF wet market. It’s a cozy joint with sofas, a U-shaped  bar and two big television screens with Japanese cable via satellite. The little red lantern hanging by the entrance accentuates the feel. It’s a great place to grab some good eats and drink with friends and the very friendly proprietor and waitresses.

There’s a Top Ten Dish chalkboard on the wall, telling you what the most popular dishes are. At number #2 today is the house specialty, “Okinidon,” which I will get to later.  But let me say, you can easily order a feast here, and it’s great food at a very, very good price.

Here’s what we had:

butabara
Butabara — or barbecue on a stick, to keep it simple

This is the Butabara — well the two on the left are. The one on the right is a chicken skin stick. I thought the Butabara was more lika Yakibuta, being a skewered pork dish, but apparently it was Butabara — grilled pork belly. The two are basically the same thing — grilled pork, but Yakibuta is literally “grilled pork” while butabara is a type of yakibuta that literally means “pork belly.” Normal yakibuta uses lean parts of pork but the butabara specifically uses the belly part, making it

Okini’s butabara tastes similar to normal Filipino barbecue, but the cut it uses is fattier and more tender compared to the lean porkloin tips used in many Filipino recipes (and in normal yakibuta). The taste was very similar to be honest.

These Chicken Skins reminded me of Isaw
These Chicken Skins reminded me of Isaw

The other grilled item we ordered was Chicken Skins. They were a lot like Isaw… but without the “dirty” taste that I associate with eating chicken entrails. They weren’t crunchy as the grilling method right in front of us didn’t cook them to a crisp, but they were very juicy and tasty regardless.

My Japanese Mainstay - Katsudon
My Japanese Mainstay – Katsudon

Now, everytime I eat at a new Japanese restaurant, I usually order Katsudon. Why? I like to use this dish that I am very familiar with as a baseline or ruler to measure how good the restaurant is in general compared to other restaus. Katsudon gives me a good idea of the chef’s capabilities and the quality of the ingredients, because it incorporates a lot of the elements of Japanese cooking into it — from the rice, the breading, the frying technique, the dashi, and the timing in getting the egg cooked just right.

This Katsudon, though, is not your usual Katsudon. For starters, there’s no dashi. I’m like, huh?! Katsudon without dashi? Sacrilege! That truly threw me for a loop. Now, I’ve eaten lots of Katsudon, and I’ve eaten lots of bad Katsudon. Most Katsudon though follow the traditional donburi dish of having some rice, a big hefty serving of pork cutlet, egg on top, with dashi sprinkled into soak into the rice.

I’ve eaten at two restaurants prior that dared not to follow this recipe. One was Kenji Tei Ramen, with it’s “I will separate the dashi from the katsu” technique which, quite frankly, FAILED HORRIBLY and you should never consider eating Katusdon at Kenji Tei. It was utterly bad. The rice was separate from the katsu, which was separate from the dashi, so the dashi and the egg did not get the opportunity to soak into the rice and give it flavor, and the juices of the katsu while they were fresh from frying did not add any flavor to the rice. That was bad.

The other was Yabu, which did a magnificent job of creating a special Katsudon that also was light on the dashi, and it was pretty similar to this Katsudon from Okini. However, Yabu used much better ingredients (the Koshihikari rice was very noticeable, and really good — you don’t get that here in Okini) but then Yabu’s special katsudon at around 500php is like, more than twice the price of Okini’s modest sub-200php katusdon.

Always one with an open mind,  I took a bite of the dashi-less Katsudon… and was impressed by the rich flavor of the pork!  Wait, I know this flavor…. Ikid you not. This is what Kentucky Fried Pig would taste like if it used pork instead of Chicken. The pork cutlets tasted exactly like KFC chicken! The breading on the cutlet had a flavor that was very, very close to Kentucky’s original recipe that permeates into the skin of its chicken.  But unlike KFC, this pork cutlet was not very oily. It felt quite healthy to eat, without any grimey oil, but was very juicy, the juices of the pig were sealed within that tasty batter! It was utter delight!

Of course, this is a donburi meal, not a katsu, and what’s a donburi meal without the rice? Fortunately, the rice was pretty good. It wasn’t koshihikari rice by a long shot, but it wasn’t poorly-cooked hard rice like you get at many cheap Japanese hole-in-the-walls. Instead of a thick, tasty dashi, the rice was seasoned with salt and herbs, and a good helping of nori. The egg wasn’t soft, it was a scrambled egg cut into pieces and these pieces went into the rice, almost making it feel like fried rice, but it’s not. It’s just well-seasoned rice, sort of like a risotto without any soup, tasty but not to a fault. That’s okay, because the pork cutlet was amazing.

It’s not your usual Katsudon, but it’s very good in its own right.

The basic Shio Ramen
The basic Shio Ramen

We also tried the shio ramen. This ramen is tonkotsu-based, meaning it’s pork broth. However, it was a very thin, delicate broth, seasoned only with salt (shio) and then lots of veggies were added in.  It’s no Yushoken by a long shot.  Now, I did not enjoy it much. I like my ramen thick and tasty. This was very light and delicate, but it wasn’t a complex flavor, just a slightly salty broth with veggies in it. Good healthy option for the health-conscious, I suppose, even considering the tonkotsu base, but I don’t recommend this shio. But if you like light, delicate ramens, this might be up your alley.

The infamous, and smelly, natto
The infamous, and smelly, natto

Now, I’d like to say that, though I’ve been watching anime for more than two decades and have long seen natto used in cooking anime and manga left and right, this is the first time I am going to taste it. Natto isn’t something you usually see on the menu in Japanese restaurants, and probably with good reason: it’s a very acquired taste. For those of you who didn’t get it, that’s euphemism for “It sucks and it stinks.”

Natto is fermented soy beans — in other words, it’s rotting soy beans. And it tastes and smells the part. It has that characteristic, stinky, pungent odor, like rotting plants, and is garnished with some veggies and egg. But the taste, ughh. It was like eating the mold on week-old socks. I don’t recommend this food unless you’ve grown a taste for mildew.

This hot pot had a bunch of stuff
This hot pot had a bunch of stuff

We also ordered some Nabe (or hotpot stew). It wasn’t a big hotpot, it was just a small bowl with some of the stew from their big hotpot in the kitchen. I’ve only eaten Nabe once, from Thousand Cranes and we stewed the pot ourselves chunking all sorts of ingredients in. That said, I didn’t particularly like it. The soup does take on the flavor of whatever you threw in.

This Nabe we had has a bunch of stuff in it, including fish sticks (chikuwa), some fried egg, a chunk of Gabi, an boiled egg, and some other stuff I can’t remember. Eating it was a pain, the components we threw in were tough and sinewy, and not easy to eat (I don’t like the taste of chikuwa by the way — it tastes like flour rolled into a cylinder. Not nice), and the soup wasn’t very pleasant to sip.

I don’t recommend eating Nabe here. The Nabe you concoct at Thousand Cranes was slightly better, but I didn’t really like that one either. Nabe is not my thing, I guess.

Cheese Katsu.. Breaded Cheese!!!
Cheese Katsu.. Breaded Cheese!!!

Now let me save you the suspense. There were three dishes I really enjoyed that night. This is the one I enjoyed the most.  It’s called Cheese Katsu. It’s obviously not a traditional Japanese dish (it’s got cheese), but I loved this fusion dish. It’s basically hunks of cheese — seems to be cheddar mixed with something, maybe thinned a bit with milk or mixed with mozarella, then breaded and deep fried into little handy balls. There’s some Jalapeno-like spice in there, meaning it was probably fried along with a bunch of peppers, or some peppers were rolled into the cheese and breading, but it tastes awesome. You can ask them to make it spicier or less spicy depending on your taste.

But it’s just so good. I ordered this and everyone loved it so much, we ordered another plate! It was the only dish we re-ordered, because it was that good. It’s a lot like Jalapeno Poppers. And I LOVE Jalapeno Poppers.

Another of my favorites = Okonomiyaki
Another of my favorites = Okonomiyaki

Now, here’s a classic dish I first encountered watching Ranma 1/2 on Channel 9. Okonomiyaki. This is the Osaka-style okonomiyaki, which has no noodles but is a nice thick batter with pork, veggies and mayo drizzled on to, and heaps of tasty sweet okonomiyaki sauce.

Sadly, this okonomiyaki was pretty bad. The batter was very thick and it felt like I was eating a cheap Pizza Hut pan pizza (the kind you get 2 for 1 for 40 bucks in stalls in malls nationwide) — too much thick batter and not enough flavor. The consistency wasn’t soft, gooey melt-in-your-mouth batter, but more liked overcooked flour lacking in milk and butter. I was not impressed by this okonomiyaki.  The one at Fukuya, may it rest in peace, was infinitely better. Even the okonomiyaki at Teriyaki Boy was superior. Do not eat this here.

Some nice veggie - edamami!
Some nice veggie – edamami!

Edamami — what is it? Well it’s basically a bean lentil, and its roasted here for you to eat. You peel off that skin (or eat it if you wish — I don’t recommend that) and then eat the tasty legume inside. It has a fibery consistency and a roasted taste, and is quite pleasant to eat. It’s like eating roasted beans. This would make a great healthy snack. It tastes good, it’s extremely healthy, ah if only you could actually but it at the local market. But you can’t. Not that I know of. If you know where I can buy some edamami at a reasonable price, let me know.

The classic fried dumpling!
The classic fried dumpling!

Ah, what would a meal at a Japanese restaurant be without Gyouza? Well to be honest, I eat at a lot of Japanese restaurants and don’t order Gyouza. Haha. But it’s a great mainstay and one that I like to order as a barometer of how good the food tastes in a restaurant. How is Okini’s Gyouza? Well, it’s okay but far from great. The wrapper is soft but not well-fried. There’s no soft, squishy steamed portion, the entire thing looks like it was fried all around, and is even placed on tissue to drain the oil it was frying in. But the frying process was not very good, the wrapper didn’t come out wonderfully crisp like it does at Tempura, or on one side of Yushoken’s Gyouza, or the way Osaka Osho’s wonderfully fried Gyouza comes out.

The contents did not taste very gingery, which is always a plus for me, but was not particularly juicy. The dipping sauce was not very tasty. All in all, a good gyouza, but not a great one.

 

The House Specialty - Okinidon
The House Specialty – Okinidon

Now here’s the house special, named after the restaurant. It’s a bowl of donburi — but it’s named Okinidon. As this is my first time eating it, I have no idea what it is or what it’s supposed to taste like. The bowl is noticeably smaller than the katsudon bowl, but a little deeper. It looks to be rice with a lot of egg, sesame seeds, pork and nori. Unlike the katsudon, this one has a rich dashi. I didn’t know what to expect. So I just dug in.

It’s sweet! The taste surprised me at first, but I suppose the sweet taste was very fitting. It needs something special to differentiate it from the awesome katsudon,  and this sweetness fits the bill. The sweetness seems to come almost entirely from the dashi used. I think the dashi is some kind of mirrin base with probably teriyaki or okonomiyaki sauce, or some kind of unholy mix with those elements, but it works. It tastes great! It almost feels like some kind of teriyakidon, but it’s definitely its own kind of dish. I really enjoyed this one.

 

And well, that wraps up the feast we had at Okinidon. And you know what’s the kicker? All of the foods you just saw us eat, plus the drinks, beverages and souju and beer we had with it, cost us only about 2,500 bucks. The food itself was probably just around 2,000. How GREAT is that?  That’s twelve dishes for just that much? I can’t stress how great a deal it is to eat here.

More people should be going here and eating Okinidon out of house and home! It’s simply amazing what you can have here for such a great price.

It seems to me that Okinidon really excels in donburi and katsu. The best dishes I had were donburi and katsu-based. I would recommend ordering those types of dishes on your first visit.

 

Happy eating!

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Posted by Erwin Anciano

Erwin has been eating food for the past 30 or so years. Yes, he actually thinks that makes him an expert on all things food-related.

Website: http://emuncher.com