I first met Mr. Sugawara when he invited me to join them for a family dinner at Kikufuji. His daughter and I had been good friends by then and while our brand of fun seemed to have finished early (and they had room for one more) I would assume that he thought it was possibly nice to join them for dinner. What happened afterwards was a mouth-opening experience as he showed me a whole new flavor palette for Japanese food. Fresh fish, a great balance of rice, wasabi and vinegar makes amazing sushi. Of course, there was also balance in terms of textures, colors, and flavors that by the end of the evening, I could never imagine myself eating at any other Japanese joint.
Of course, that was the start of many dinners with Mr. Sugawara and his family. Next thing I know, I was hopping from one Little Tokyo restaurant to another, watching sports games with him when we can, talking about how lovely and how fresh the food is. Not long after, he opened his home to me and from there I saw the love and care that his wife place on their food and why he was a man of good taste. It is in this good taste that he and his family inherited the restaurant Hana and it became a home away from home where we get to sample some of their family favorites without wreaking havoc in their living room. The meals in Hana have his seal of approval and I suppose the endless sports broadcasts from Japan also adds a bit of his touch. My favorite memory in Hana was his late night World Cup games where we would go to Hana at such a late time just to catch a Japan game.
Mr. Sugawara ate well. He lived well. And I owe it to him and his family for showing what Japanese food is all about while in Manila.
I’m quite sure that we all had our Mr. Sugawaras in our lives and I’m quite sure that they have taught us so much about their own culture and their lives with just a plate of food. I write this with a heavy heart knowing that I will no longer share a meal Mr. Sugawara. But even if he’s no longer here, I will definitely remember him for every chahan, sushi, tempura, udon, and every bite of Japanese food that I will get from Hana. He opened my world to Japanese food with just a bite and I owe my Japanese father a big thank you for teaching the soul in Japanese food.
In memory of Mr. Sugawara who just recently passed away, I’d like to invite my readers to have a bite in Hana at Little Tokyo this month. If you haven’t tried Hana yet, I think it’s about time you do so. It’s a lovely little restaurant in Little Tokyo and they’re known for selling the best takoyaki in Metro Manila. Apart from their takoyaki though, their menu shows a wide array of simple yet lovely Japanese food. Mr. Sugawara always suggests to me to have their shouyu ramen and their chahan. Their shouyu ramen has a rich deep broth while their fried rice is fluffy and heartwarming and if you don’t have crab allergies, it’s a lovely match to shouyu ramen (yes! Even Japanese love double carbs!) Another favorite of his is the grilled fish served in Hana. Currently they serve grilled sanma (pacific saury), grilled saba (mackerel), and sakazuke akauo (grilled sake-marinated akauo). I personally love their sanma with a squeeze of lemon and some radish on top. I know he enjoyed the grilled saba with steaming hot rice.
I hope you guys would get a chance to see the world of Mr. Sugawara through Hana. I’m quite sure you won’t forget and maybe just like me, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the soul of Japanese food.