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The Okuya experience

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo () - November 27, 2002 - 12:00am
Whenever I crave for Shrimp Tempura – no, I don’t mean just any Shrimp Tempura but that one – I hie off (tagging along a friend or two) to the Okuya Tempura House at the ground floor of the Imperial Palace Suites (Timog-Morato Rotunda, Quezon City) no matter where I am, even if I’m in, yes, "Far"view.

The Shrimp Tempura at Okuya has a distinct taste to it, very tasty, so addicting that you crave for more – and more – even if you’re already burping and having your third serving of house-blend iced tea. It’s that delicious!

"We have a secret way of preparing it," reveals Divina Espiritu-Okuya, wife of co-owner/manager Mutsuo Okuya, without, of course, revealing the "secret" (a good business move, you know, especially in this country where the gaya-gaya/puto-maya mentality reigns supreme).

Suffice it to say, according to Divina, that her husband has his own "very personal" way of preparing the Shrimp Tempura, from the oil temperature to the butter mixture to the mixing of the special sauce. The proof of the cooking is, you guessed it, in the eating, so at the first bite, you get the tender feel of the shrimp and the butter mixture and everything else in it. Yummy!

The name of the place is a misnomer, though, because the Okuya Tempura House actually offers a lot more Japanese goodies done the authentic Japanese way. Oh, well, Mutsuo Okuya is, after all, an authentic Japanese, a licensed chef no less in his country where getting such a certificate is not that easy.

"The Okuya Tempura House is the only Japanese restaurant owned and managed by a Japanese," says Divina. Needless to say…

Besides the Shrimp Tempura (P245 per order, consisting of seven big pieces), maybe you can also try the Yaki Udon (P160 per order) which is pancit canton Japanese style "invented" and introduced in the Philippines by Mutsuo. There’s also the Japanese Hamachi Sashimi (P350) or the real-fresh Salmon Sashimi (P300) flown straight from Norway or the Angus Ribeye Steak (P500) that comes with miso soup, Japanese rice and dessert or the Buta Daikon Mizane (P120) or the local Ribeye Steak (P200) that is served with miso soup, Japanese rice and dessert.

The shy, self-effacing and low-key Mutsuo hails from Oumori, a province one bullet-train ride away from Tokyo where he worked as chef for six years before he was recruited by the owner the Kimpura chain of Japanese restaurants 26 years ago. It can be said that it was Mutsuo’s "magic touch" that attracted all those Japanese-food lovers to Kimpura.

I’m not sure if Mutsuo now speaks English or Filipino because he hardly talks; he simply smiles and smiles, nodding every now and then while his wife Divina does the talking. But it doesn’t matter. Who cares if Mutsuo isn’t that articulate as long as he excels where he should – in the kitchen.

There was a funny incident when Mutsuo landed at the airport alone, straight from Tokyo, 26 years ago. There was some miscommunication. The one who was fetching him thought that Mutsuo’s arrival time was 7 p.m. The poor Japanese landed at the airport at 7 a.m and patiently waited 12 hours for his sundo to show up. Hadn’t he been patient, Mutsuo could have taken the first available plane back to Tokyo and woe to Japanese-food lovers who would have been deprived of the chance to gorge on Mutsuo’s culinary wonders.

It was at Kimpura where Mutsuo met and fell in love with Divina who was Kimpura’s supervisor.

Last year when Mutsuo retired, he and Divina thought of spending their time in Japan, coming to the Philippines for occasional visits, with their three sons (Ken, Seike and Mikio). But then, why let Mutsuo’s "chef-ness" go to waste?

And that was how the Okuya Tempura House was born, with the Okuya name as come-on. As far as his believers are concerned, the name O-K-U-Y-A might as well be spelled T-E-M-P-U-R-A or Y-A-K-I-U-D-O-N.

"The place is only 11 months old," says Divina, "and already, we have regular clients."

Besides, the Okuya Tempura House, the couple also runs two other Japanese restaurants, the Kenji Japanese Cuisine at the K.A.F.E. Food Court at the ground floor of the FBR Building on Loyola Heights, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City; and the Nakayohi Japanese Restaurant at G-5 Creekside Mall, Milelong Building, Amorsolo corner Legaspi Village, Makati City.

"We come up with new items on the menu every now and then," says Divina.

Monday last week when our starving group dropped by the Okuya Tempura House, Mutsuo and Divina made us taste the set lunches, the ones they’re promoting until end of the Christmas season. Each set costs only P180.

Here they are, take your pick – and fill:

• Set A
Miso Shiru, Maguro Sashimi, Mixed Tempura, Sukiyaki, Japanese Rice, Buko Pandan Gelatin or Fruits and Iced Tea (house blend)

• Set B
Miso Shiru, Spicy Tuna Maki, Assorted Seafood Teppan, Buta Shogayaki, Japanese Rice, Buko Pandan Gelatin or Fruits and Iced Tea (house blend)

• Set C
Miso Shiru, Aspa/Bacon Maki, Salmon Furai with Tartar Sauce, Chicken Teriyaki, Japanese Rice, Buko Pandan Gelatin or Fruits and Iced Tea (house blend).

As usual after such a gourmet trip, our group left the Okuya Tempura House with a big, big burp.

(Note: For inquiries and reservations, call Divina Espiritu-Okuya at 925-9894 to 95).

BUKO PANDAN GELATIN DIVINA HOUSE ICED TEA JAPANESE MUTSUO OKUYA OKUYA TEMPURA HOUSE SHRIMP TEMPURA TEMPURA
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