Seryna, a Japanese love affair.

10612772_10152374645135098_8889480339923113917_n

I’ve been hearing from my foodie friends that Seryna is not somewhere us regular earning people come to eat every weekend, or whenever we impulsively crave for sushi, but what made me decide to go was when a Japanese friend of mine mentioned this place to me. Japanese people understand quality, and they would pay for it too. So albeit pricey, I’m extremely excited yet a little apprehensive for the experience.

So I arrived in Little Tokyo, a small neighborhood in Makati, rightfully named for ubiquitous Japanese restaurants that surround it. Outside the restaurant, I noticed a significant number of chain-smoking skimpily clad women, always a sign of a good Japanese meal to come. Ethics has nothing to do with food, you connect the dots.

Once inside, being a solo diner, I thought of them generous to offer me a table as it is a packed tuesday night, but I asked to be seated by the bar, as I would like to watch well trained hands prepare my meal. I order an imperative beer before anything else, crucial element to having a better observation of the place. Halfway into it, I am starting to be in unison with the rest of the happy diners, I am ready to order. A confident server arrives, hands me a hot towel, opens the menu to me as I asked to have the food explained to me. I ask for their Omakase, specialty in Nihongo, which she understands, plus 1000 points. I told her I wanted to try their sushi and she recommended I get the special platter called Matsu. Its not the most expensive platter they offer, which is good, because I hate it when a server instantly points to the most expensive dish in the menu. And for the astounding price Seryna charges for each piece, I would rather get the platter and save myself from having to know the price of every bite.

I smile as I observe the hands of the person making my meal, every rolling, slicing, pouring, and patting, the usual hand movements in making a sushi. I look around the place, appreciating the modern Japanese interiors. I eavesdrop on Japanese conversations that I would never understand but they sounded pleasantly drunk anyway and that I understand. I also noticed they have private tatami rooms for bigger groups who want privacy within those Japanese paper like walls, expecting some one will just accidentally roll away tearing down those paper doors laughing. Ahh.. God believes in my undying pursuit of happiness.

A $20 sushi platter

10649660_10152374645310098_2049498767940367665_n

My plate comes and it looked like an asian renaissance artwork. I ordered a hot sake which I think is a perfect accompaniment to the cold food I’m about to cure my hunger with. Each bite was a revelry, lightly damped with sauce and maybe a little more wasabi here and there. The best part was that having been seated at the bar, I can easily ask the person responsible for my meal things about my food, like types of fish used, a hint of spring roll perhaps? Or the origin and freshness of my uni, which made my meal quite educational. What a way to learn! If only academics can always be this pleasant.

Reasonably sized and priced hot sake

10600447_10152374645255098_9073539718760735985_n

Things worth mentioning about my food, tamago/egg sushi was sweet and delightful. Maguro/tuna and salmon were average, the habachi (the palest one) was my favorite among the three. The ama ebi/shrimp was glorious, it felt like cream as it went through my mouth. The only disappointing part of my plate was the uni/sea urchin, already having seen what a freshly opened urchin looked like, I knew this creamy melting brie-like uni (a fresh uni is soft and solid) has been standing here for some time.

Over all, it was a pleasant experience. Its a fun place to be in, people talk and laugh loud enough but not raucous. The owner seemed to be having just as much fun, at times I caught him leaning to the right while walking. Oh how I love an owner representing what it means to be professional (he sometimes went to the kitchen and fiddled with his staff) but not hesitant to join in with his happy drunk diners. The damage? Well its definitely not cheap but my curiosity paid me well. Kanpai!

Advertisements

Getting deeper into Vietnam

When my company and I were planning this 14-day south to north Vietnam trip, we knew it wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Vietnamese trains. When the French built a colony here, much like any other European super power of their time, they brought railroads with them, as it is one of the most functional forms of logistics and transportation. I presume these trains would have been state of the art in their time. It had the air of luxury for the first class cabins with their butlers and buffet cars. And that industrial look of the coach which of course, the rest of the blue collar masses had to partake in. When the French left, the trains continued on , much of it the same with what they used in their good days here. With a little research and visuals, we have formed a brief but solid idea of the current state of these trains, and the conditions of taking them as our main source of transportation. It would have taken almost 2 days of a train ride marathon to reach Hanoi from Saigon. With the figures in hand, we counted how much water consumption versus visits to squatting toilets. If shower is even possible, would it make us cleaner than our previous unbathed states? Or are those couchettes worth the bites? It was then that we decided to cut the trip in half by taking a domestic flight from Saigon to the city of Da Nang, located in central Vietnam. A strategic point, from which we can cut the train ride ordeal significantly.

When we arrived Da Nang airport after an early morning flight from Saigon, we were glad to have made arrangements for transfers to Hoi An, A UNESCO world heritage site in central Vietnam, instead of having to bargain with drivers at 7 o’clock in the morning. From Da Nang airport en route to Hoi An, we would be able to visit the famous marble mountains of Da Nang. There will be some exquisite marble carvings lined up below every mountain, just before the entrance, tempting the most impulsive tourists to ship larger than life sizes of these marble carvings. These five marble mountains spread around the city are more like larger hills. It should not intimidate the most out of conditioned travelers, there is a lift for a nominal fee, if you don’t care to walk. There are pagodas that dot each mountain, small caves that may open up to buddhist idols carved out straight from the mountain itself. For the curious kind with keen eyes, there will be lots of small pathways veering off of the provided map, some will be your most rewarding lone moments because these mountains are quite touristy. But the most rewarding view would be once you get to the peak of the hill and enjoy a 360 degree view of Da Nang. Mountains on one side, and the seemingly interminable coastline of Vietnam on the other. From the time of visit, there have been lots of on going construction of what seemed to be chain of hotels along the coastline. I can only imagine how this pristine area, with its white sand and near perfect shores will be the next hot spot of tourism for Vietnam.

Off the map walkway

A charming pathway off the map in one of the marble mountains

Marble statues carved out straight from the mountain

DSC_0804

Made it to the top with my guidebook!

From the top of one of the marble mountains

Marble mountains side

IMG_1682

Interminable coastline

IMG_1683

     Upon arrival in Hoi An, we decided to stay in nearby Cua Dai beach that’s lined with hotels fit for a James Bond villain. After all, we have spent some rough but fun times during the previous half of our trip. Hoi An is nicknamed “The Venice of the East”, for its beautiful river streets and historical significance of being a wealthy trading post, giving this town an air of wealth and grandeur. The Portuguese settled and traded here too. Its got a preserved architecture and grid city street planning. Buildings are indubitably similar to each other, a whole town filled with old Chinese and Vietnamese houses, now in their antiquated yellow-washed but intact walls, the reason that it has become a tourist attraction. But what I really like about Hoi An is that it still remains a place for locals to live in. They have not been gentrified by negative aspects of tourism. Local industry is still intact. You will have some of the best tailor made silk clothing here as you will see from every tailoring shop. There’s also some good food at cheap local prices to be had from those stalls lined up across the river, apart from the more established restaurants within the town.

Hotel fit for a James Bond villain

IMG_1698

Night swim in our hotel

DSC_0966

Established riverside restaurants

DSC_0983

Munching on some tasty cheap food from Hi restaurant just across the bridge

DSC_1051

Buildings in their antiquated yellow washed walls

DSC_1023

Hoi An at night

Hoi An at night

     After recharging for a couple of nights, we were ready for the next half of the adventure. From Hoi An, we made a short stop in another Cham kingdom relic in My Son en route back to Da Nang, from where we are taking a famous, afternoon scenic train ride to Hue. For our first train ride in Vietnam, we were expecting something quite worse than what we actually experienced. The train cars have definitely come from the French era, but apart from old carpets, worn, funky smelling seats, universal dusty curtains and a distinct smell of dried fish brought by some suspected passengers, it didn’t turn out as bad as predicted. This three hour train ride goes through coastal railroads, and as the sun sets, unobstructed by the sea stretching into the horizon, it makes for the most glorious back drop. Each tunnel we passed through was an eclipse of total darkness, until a different cove appears, darkness gives way for orange skies, reflecting on undeveloped white sand beaches, sometimes just cliffs that fall straight to the open sea. But my favorite is whenever we cross arched stone bridges as we head for a turn and sneak a photo from outside the window when no official is looking. Its one of the most moving train rides to be had, just make sure you sit on the left side. Over all, I would do this trip again.

Vast My Son relics from the Cham kingdom

DSC_0020_2

Ga could be either chicken or train station

IMG_1765

Inside the train

IMG_1777

Coastal railway view

Scenic train ride from Da Nang to Hue

IMG_1784

     That’s it for now folks! Watch out for our following misadventures in Hue, impending doom of a train ride to Hanoi and the rest of our north Vietnam experiences from the next and final installment of my Vietnam series.

A preview of what happens next

IMG_1774