The FooDorama Challenge!: I watch it… I try it!

Jdorama Inspiration: Gokusen

Gokusen is a story of an idealistic, high school teacher who happens to be the granddaughter of the head of a Yakuza clan.  In all of the show’s 3 seasons, Yankumi (played by Nakama Yuki) always finds herself being appointed as the homeroom teacher of an all-boys school’s bottom class that includes the toughest, rowdiest and unruliest students. Undaunted and buoyed by her enthusiasm and fighting spirit, she doesn’t give up and thereby manages to impart to them important lessons that go beyond the four walls of their classroom… like how to win a game of  ‘kick the can.’ ^_^ (More on Gokusen here)

Jdorama Food: Takoyaki

When it comes to Gokusen, only one food stands out and it’s Takoyaki. Takoyaki is a common street snack in Japan; it is basically a dumpling made of batter with a diced bit of baby octopus as a filling.

The FooDorama connection: Yankumi usually hangs out at the takoyaki stand being managed by Tetsu Asakura (played by Kaneko Ken), a subordinate member of her Yakuza “family.” While eating takoyaki, she would usually bump into her co-teachers or students here. Fearing her family secret would be revealed, she would hide behind the stand or she and Tetsu would pretend that they do not know each other.

Tetsu-san’s takoyaki in Gokusen: cooked in a cast iron pan with half-spherical molds over hot coals.

My other Jdorama Inspiration: Another memorable dorama that also featured takoyaki was At Home Dad (more on this drama, here):

In episode 7 of At Home Dad, Kazuyuki Yamamura (played by Hiroshi Abe) tries his hand in making takoyaki at a food fair being sponsored by the neighborhood mommies.

The FooDorama Challenge: The Search for Authentic Takoyaki

Since I cannot obviously make one at home, I started my search for the authentic takoyaki…

Pinoys do not commonly eat octopus (just squid) and it is not readily available in our markets.  So how can I find takoyaki in a country that doesn’t eat octopus? Get it from Japan of course. I asked Pchie to give me a pasalubong of takoyaki, preferably the street-food type. That of course wasn’t possible and so she bought instead the refrigerated ready-made variety.

I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. Instructions on the package were in Japanese and the pictures didn’t help, either. So I tried toasting it in the microwave, and again in the toaster oven because it was still too soft and looked… uncooked.  It came out still looking gooey and strange. Nevertheless, I put mayo and tonkatsu sauce on it… and took a deep breath and tasted it. I wasn’t surprised at the taste: it was… well, gooey and strange. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Fight0oh…OH!: Completely dissatisfied, my search for the real takoyaki was still on. I consulted the all-knowing Internet and found what I was looking for…

The only place around here parts that serves takoyaki is a Japanese restaurant called Hana in Little Tokyo, Pasong Tamo, Makati. Just pass through the torii arch and it will lead you through this corridor (right pic) where you will find Hana at the end of it.

I came in just in time as the resto was just beginning to set up for the evening shift. I ordered a set of takoyaki for myself:

Found at last! Just outside the door of the resto, my order was being prepared by Michael, one of the Hana staff, and you can watch while he does it. The Japanese owner goes out once in awhile to inspect his handiwork.

I watched earnestly how he did it. I was curious as to how they were able to make them into round balls. It was a bit tricky but it was fascinating. I could do it, too if given a chance.

For Php 100, I was given a freshly cooked set of 6 takoyaki balls with ingredients that are said to be imported from Osaka. One order also comes with a cool glass of house tea. So sulehtt!

Topped with seaweed and dried fish flakes, mayo, and takoyaki sauce, my takoyaki tasted just … what I thought it would taste like – strange still yet uniquely appealing. The dough was still gooey but in a good way plus with the chewy octopus bits in the center, I came away satisfied and happy – ending my search for Gokusen’s takoyaki, and walked off (I couldn’t run – I was too full) towards the setting sun – Yankumi style. lol!

BTW: Bear in mind that this may be an acquired taste for some. A lot of Pinoys would still prefer our very own yummy squid balls over takoyaki (and rightfully so!). And if you and your friends happen to drop by Hana and order this, maybe you should order only one set and share it first amongst yourselves just to be on the safe side. Six balls were a lot for me and I had trouble finishing mine.

Hana is located in Little Tokyo, Pasong Tamo St., Makati. It is open from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm; and from 5 pm to 10:30 pm.  They start serving takoyaki at 5.

With my takoyaki cravings fully sated, ending FDC#2, I am prepping for my next Challenge: Shiruko (Red Bean Soup) in time for the Chinese New Year!

My Foodorama Challenges:
Next – FDC#3: Shiruko (Jdorama Inspiration: Saigo no Yakusoku)
Previously – FDC#1: Yakiniku (Jdorama Inspiration: Kekkon Dekinai Otoko)
Takoyaki info source: wikipedia.com
Restaurant info source: kitchencow.com
Jdorama info source: ntv.co.jp, fujitv.co.jp
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Take your hands off my precious students!

This recurring line is usually preceded by the crashing of a door of an abandoned dark warehouse.  Then, a group of baddies inside stops beating a bunch of students and looks on in bewilderment at the person who just broke down the door – a slim young woman clad in a red jersey outfit. They ask who the heck she is. She takes off her glasses and loosens her pigtails as she comes closer while the orchestra music looms louder and louder. Then, she introduces herself: “Who am I? I am… their homeroom teacher!

I think Gokusen was the first jdorama that I watched back when it was shown on the Kapuso network in 2003 (?).  I was also familiar with the anime that was shown on Animax from time to time.  So you could say my addiction for jdoramas began with this comedy series. Gokusen, its all your fault! .\/. grr!

Gokusen (TV live action) is based on the popular manga series (left) by female artist/writer, Kozueko Morimoto.   All three seasons of the TV version were huge hits in Japan, garnering countless of fans all over the world as well, including here at home.

It stars my favorite Japanese actress, Nakama Yuki as Kumiko “Yankumi” Yamaguchi, the yakuza heiress turned high school teacher.  You don’t need to think deep when you watch this. It’s all cute and fun.

It has had three seasons (2002, 2005, 2008) and one movie in 2009 (right pic).  My favorite season was the first one since Matsujun as Sawada Shin was there.

Gokusen 2009: In the movie Gokusen, Yankumi gets to be reunited with some of her students from the past seasons and welcome new ones.

Star Power: And of course, what helped make Gokusen a hit especially for its young viewers was Yankumi’s students played by some of the hottest Japanese heart throbs and pop idols of the day (above pic: the class of Season 2).

Running gags and recurring themes: You have to be a fan to watch all three seasons because the story just repeats itself again and again.  I’ve lost count of how many warehouse doors Yankumi had broken down to save her precious students. The choreographed fight scenes weren’t all that great either.  Plus, they sure run a lot!

Couger Yankumi x Cute Sawada: I am one of the many fans who is still hoping that Matsujun’s character Sawada will come back someday (he wasn’t in the movie 😦 ) and profess his love for Yankumi and end up together, years after he graduates from college, that is (sorry for the spoiler but that’s what happened in its last manga issue!).

More on Gokusen: As a way of giving tribute, I will make Gokusen as my next inspiration for my FooDorama Challenge!

The FooDorama Challenge #2 – Gokusen: Gimme some of that Takoyaki!

*For Image References: click on the pics for their source links

♪♪I’m turning Japanese/ I think I’m turning Japanese/ I really think so…♪♪ [[listen here!]]

So goes the 80’s song from The Vapors.  I’ve been watching many Japanese movies and dramas lately that I think it is turning into a major vice (not really anime though; the only anime I’m obsessed with right now is Naruto–so far). It started with Gokusen and Hana Yori Dango, that produced a fascination with Matsumoto Jun. I know I’m getting too old to be acting like a crazed fangirl but that’s what I am and I’m not ashamed of it!  (≧∇≦)キャー♪poster

Hana Yori Dango (DramaVersion) at right: I admit  I watched it over and over again... The Taiwanese and Korean versions don’t hold a candle to the REAL ONE!

The reason I like Japanese and Asian shows is because they’re short.  I was weaned on watching American shows and movies since I was a toddler.  But I have HAD ENOUGH of watching these shows because Hollywood is not offering anything new nowadays.  My friends tried to let me borrow their DVD copies of this and that US TV show but I’m not going to waste my time and energy on such shows anymore.  I just can’t devote and invest my time and emotions on never-ending stories milled out by Western writers; not really sure where the story will lead to and as a result, tend to fizzle out and lose steam.  And the stories seemed to be all the same–mostly shallow and empty with cardboard cutout and uninteresting characters with same problems and issues.  Some shows start out great but the producers should end it before the audience lose interest and move on to something else (e.g. Prison Break, Lost, Ugly Betty etc.).  Ho-hum! And if we DO like a show, those greedy, a-hole producers would cancel the series before they end because it is not generating enough audience (case in point, Jericho).  Tama ba yon? The audience should fight back and say “We’re not going to take it anymore!”

I prefer the mini-series or those TV shows that promise a limited run. They’re short but at least, we are assured of an ending in time, knowing that t44273here is a destination and that we will not wait in vain for the hero to overcome obstacles and come out victorious.  Come on, we all know the hero will win in the end… why prolong it? If you’re going to show a series, end it early, instead of milking a hit show for all its worth.  We’re so tired of it.  American writers and producers should learn something from this, and do a paradigm shift.

In the 70’s and 80’s, there was a mini-series craze like Rich Man Poor Man (at left), Shogun, Scruples, Lace, and of course Roots (TV shows that featured stories based on best-selling novels) that were short yet memorable. Those were great shows… Why not bring back this type of genre?

And one great thing about TV shows with a limited run is that the writers can concentrate on the quality of the story and not how to prolong it, which could destroy (or jump the shark) what could have been a great idea to begin with.  J-doramas (Japanese dramas) have a headstart on this since some are getting stories from well-loved, tried-and tested manga. And with the news recently about the power of manga and anime (“Japan Looks to Manga to Fight Off Recession”), Japan’s PM Taro Aso is certainly doing his homework.

505806409_small♪♪ I’ve got your picture/I’ve got your picture ♪♪ *sighs*: J-Idol MatsuJun (Right) is in the frontline of actors portraying manga characters such as Doumyouji Tsukasa of HYD and Ban Shogo of Bambino!(* ̄3 ̄)

Keep an open mind and try it… I started out as a non-believer but once I got into it– I couldn’t watch anything else (and mind you–I’m not very easy to please)!  And if you do try, stick with the fansubs, then the dubbed ones– there’s much more oomph when listening to the actors’ dialogues and their original voices; plus it’s also a great way to learn a new language. But I do pick the good ones though.  Not all are worth your time and patience.   So with this… I will be sharing soon my favorite J-cinema and Jdorama in future posts!