That’s a very bold statement to make, especially in the Philippines — with our “authentic” bulgogi, “authentic” cuapao, and “authentic” paella. Many of the restaurants we’re so used to patronizing employ different sets of tactics to make us believe and support them. There's nothing wrong with that, because at the end of the day, food is food, and food is meant to be eaten. But there are times when, in the midst of enjoying a meal, we suddenly pause to think, perhaps even remark to our date or significant other, “Do you think this is how they eat their meals in the original country?”
And that’s a legitimate question we often ask ourselves before we eat anywhere: After we’ve gone past “Is it good?” and “Is it expensive?,” we would end up asking “Is it authentic?” and that’s a very difficult question to answer, especially if you’ve never been to the purported country of origin.
Many restaurants that claim authenticity only do so superficially to attract customers, who are served food that is a far cry from how they are originally prepared in their home country. These dishes are altered to suit the Filipino palate, who are often unprepared to sample the heat of Indian food, or the musk of Korean cooking. But more and more Filipinos are becoming culinary adventurers, and are always looking for a taste of something different, and more importantly, something real. Luckily, they can turn to restaurants like Go-En.
Japanese cuisine has always enjoyed mainstream popularity in the Philippines, since it has the right blend of familiarity and novelty, both comforting and different at the same time. Go-En takes this a step further, claiming that their dishes are unaltered, freshly-made versions of their Japanese counterpart, and that the flavors are blended in such a way that it is nearly identical to what you find in the streets and stalls of Japan. They even claim to have a long list of Japanese families and businessmen who visit their restaurant regularly, and if you've lived in Japan for over 20 years, just like co-owners and couple John and Marilyn, anyone would believe you. And if you serve food as delicious as it is real and authentic, no one would ask any further questions.
John and Marilyn of Go-En met in Tokyo and have been living there since the 1990s, but in 2011, they've decided to come to the Philippines to try their luck in a new kind of business. After some training in accounting, food preparation and handling, they opened their doors to the public, serving various ramen, katsu, and maki dishes. If you've been craving for a good Japanese meal, but don't have the time (or budget) to sample the more expensive Japanese restos in Little Tokyo in Makati, Go-En serves the same good food at a fraction of the price.
Kogashi Shoyu Ramen with Gyoza
They have various dishes that can match whatever mood you're in: Craving for something smoky and charred? Try their Shoyu or Kogashi Shoyu Ramen, best paired with a beer. Want something cheesy and delightfully silky? Try their sweet and salty Cheese Ramen, paired with a great-tasting gyoza side. Or if you just want something savory and filling, satisfy your palate with any of their rice or noodle-less dishes. Whatever dish you end up choosing, you're assured by the staff and owners themselves that each dish is crafted from scratch and made with careful attention to detail to ensure that your meal is as authentic and real as any Japanese meal can be.
Stepping into the restaurant feels like stepping inside a Japanese Izakaya
But don't let the realness of the food scare you: You'd be surprised as to how similar Japanese cuisine is to the Filipino taste. There will always be a dish that will surprise you, but it's a pleasant kind of surprise, and something that you will definitely look forward to the next time you visit. Go-En Ramen is at Jardin de Zenaida, Unit B1, #34 Sgt. Esguerra, Quezon City. Contact them via +632-441GOEN (4636) or +632-3765761. Learn more about Go-En and their wonderful dishes here.
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Photographs courtesy of Go-En