Sushi and sashimi chillers and other surprises from old and reliable Saisaki | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022


In the ’80S there were Madonna, Boy George and Saisaki’s Chef Isao Takada!

He is the man responsible for the evolution of Japanese cuisine in the Philippines and, safe to say, the one who gave sushi and sashimi their mass appeal.

I had stopped dining at Saisaki, for no particular reason other than perhaps, somehow, in the restaurant boom, I found myself exploring new tastes and flavors, leaving my fond memories of Saisaki behind, till I caught a glimpse of chef Takada meticulously doing his rounds of the Sambokujin chillers.

It was then that I realized how imbedded this character was in my psyche. To those who belong to my generation, Takada is considered a culinary icon.

Revisiting Saisaki Megamall, I was pleasantly surprised by the massive sushi and sashimi chiller display. Before me was a sushi parade of over 60 varieties, each looking fresh and, to my delight, tasting fresh as well! You can also choose from 20 kinds of temaki that they roll fresh on the spot.

I asked chef Takada how he came up with all these variants. He said that the ones they serve are basically fusion, US-influenced creations. Japanese sushi, he says, remains very traditional.

I was surprised to see Bokie Villavicencio, the young boy I used to see running around the house, now a grown man and one of the restaurant chain’s managing directors.

With great pride, he spoke of how the chillers have allowed them to make their food a feast to the eyes as it is to the palate. He spoke of the tedious process of coming up with the quarterly sushi menus, where ample experimentation goes on. “But we stick to principles that work, things that go well together and combining those different tastes, making sure that we give our customers the best and not trash.”

My favorites are Salmon Kurage Roll (salmon sushi topped with jellyfish); Spider Roll (ebi tempura, sushi rice and tororo konbu); Garden Roll (pickled radish, kampyo and tamago with a fruit mayonnaise); and Kani Bu Maki (with kiwi and spicy crabstick). I love Deep Impact (Spicy Salmon, sushi rice and kimchi). Grilled Beef sushi with deep charred taste I found interesting, topped with cooked salmon.

To be honest, I ate my sushi  faster than I could make mental notes of which was which. I had eaten way more than the buffet price of P525 (weekday lunch rate) on sushi alone!

Asked why he thinks Saisaki food has kept a band of loyal followers, Takada said, “It is because our Japanese food caters to the Filipino taste.” He added that 40 kilos of salmon are served for sashimi and sushi every day.

Aside from the sushi chillers, what blew me away were the endless choices from the three massive buffets of over 250 dishes—the best of Kamayan, Dad’s and Saisaki, all in a row.

They even have merienda buffet for P100+ which food photographer Mark Floro swears by to be very good.

CHEF Isao Takada

While I was having sushi, I saw the pork from the Kamayan spread, calling me. Pork was served four ways—lechon de leche, lechon kawali, crispy pata and prichon

The lechon de leche was, to my surprise, tender, succulent, perfectly salted, aromatic and citrusy.

Note that to cross over three buffets costs only P565 on a weekday. Seriously, what more can you ask for?

I have truly forgotten what kind of dining experience the Villavicencio restaurants had to offer but when I heard the Kamayan rondalla play Justin Bieber and their singer belch “Baby, Baby, Baby”  happily, to a packed weekday lunch crowd, it all came back to me.

Saisaki and Kamayan bring a unique flavor, a touch of local color, to our palate as it does to our soul. Rightfully so, for after all, they are an integral part of our food history as Filipino.

Which explains why even after decades of being away from them, a visit elicits a kind of warmth, comparable to coming home.

Saisaki Megamall, tel. 6363785, 6331758

E-mail the author at [email protected]

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