March 12, 2017 11:00 am JST

Budget Japanese food filling Filipino bellies

New Manila food court offers top-class fare at bargain prices

JUN ENDO, Nikkei staff writer

The Yokocho Japanese food court in Manila has about 10 restaurants.

MANILA -- Japanese cuisine can sometimes have a reputation for being a little on the pricey side, but the Yokocho food court, which opened in Manila in February, is trying to change that.

Jella Mejia, a 33-year-old dining at Yokocho with friends, described the takoyaki octopus dumplings and tonkotsu ramen as A-grade taste at B-grade prices.

Juliet, a 25-year-old who lives nearby, was having tempura, deep-fried chicken and sushi with two of her friends. She said it was great that she could enjoy the atmosphere of Japan so close to home.

Yokocho opened on Feb. 1 at a commercial complex in the Baclaran district. There are 160 seats on a floor of 800 sq. meters, which includes an outdoor terrace. Customers pay in advance for their meals.

Yokocho is operated by Japan Food Chidori, a Japanese distributor of commercial ramen noodles. The company leases the entire floor, partly operating stores itself and contracting others.

The stalls make use of inexpensive local ingredients. The company sought ways to turn a profit while keeping the prices low, for example, by not requiring each stall to have Japanese staff at all times.

Half price

The court has about 10 restaurants, including ramen restaurant Chidori Seimen, Takoyaki Maru, Yakisoba Mori Mori and fried chicken joint Umemonya Kyu.

At other shopping malls in Makati City, home to many office buildings, most stores offer a bowl of ramen noodles for around 400 pesos ($7.96).

At Yokocho, on the other hand, the same dish with rice goes for 159 pesos, while a plate of stir-fried yakisoba noodles costs 143 pesos, less than half the price in Makati City.

"With Japanese cuisine already becoming widely accepted in the Philippines, I want to pitch it to lower-income people," Japan Food Chidori President Yoshitsune Toyoyama said. At the moment, Yokocho is still relatively unknown, advertising through flyers and on Facebook. Some 100 customers visit Yokocho a day, but Toyoyama wants to increase the number to 1,000 soon.

Filipinos are increasingly developing a taste for Japanese cuisine.

Ramen restaurants like Ippudo are gaining popularity, while Okonomiyaki chain Dotonbori is tapping into the country, too. Tempura restaurants are also popular.

"We want to use Yokocho as a driving force to franchise Japanese restaurant" Toyoyama said.

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