Manila, August 19, 2003 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes  - Korean businessman Kwang Oh Chang knows that Filipino seafood is high-quality because he has been exporting it from the Philippines to Seoul for some time now. In fact, he believes in Filipino products so much he decided to set up Minato Japanese Restaurant in the Ortigas Center to showcase his seafood finds in the country.

It comes as no surprise that Chang owns and operates a number of Japanese restaurants in Seoul. His decision to open a Japanese restaurant in the Philippines goes with his belief that Japanese food is healthy food.

"Many Filipinos are used to Chinese food, which is very oily," Chang said through an interpreter. "Japanese food is healthier because it is high in calories but low in fat. Considering the trend for healthier foods in the Philippines, I believe Filipinos should try what we have to offer."

Though Japanese food might be popular fare among Filipinos, there are still not enough restaurants in Metro Manila. At the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong City, there are very few authentic Japanese restaurants in the area. Most of the outlets that offer Japanese food in the area are either fast-food establishments or buffet restaurants that offer Japanese food alongside an international selection.

"There really is no authentic Japanese restaurant in this area," he explains.

His Japanese restaurants in Korea serve Japanese food that appeals to Korean palates. Just think kimchi; food is often spicier than the Japanese original. Thatís why for the Philippine market, Chang and his crew worked on the recipes for a couple of weeks to make them suitable to Filipino palates.

The work the Korean businessman did to make Japanese food even more appealing to Filipino diners seems to have paid off. Apart from Japanese staples, like sushi, sashimi and tempura, the Minato menu also features a number of innovative items that play around with Japanese flavors and ingredients.

Those who are fond of hot prawn salad in Chinese restaurants will love the ooasari yaki, steamed giant clams that come with a rich mayonnaise-based sauce and are served on clam shells. And weíre not kidding when we say giant clams. A bite often yields a huge chunk of clam meat.

On the other hand, the chicken teriyaki comes with a sauce that is less sweetish than the traditional Japanese teriyaki sauce. Instead, it is a little tart, adding a different dimension to the dish. For a variety on the traditional sushi, the restaurant serves the innovative chicken asparagus and ebi maki.

Among the Minato specialties are Korean hot pots. There is also a selection of rice toppings. The tabiko rice is a rice topping of fish roe and chopped nori, while the bamboo sticky rice is rice cooked in a bamboo tube with chickpeas, black beans and other fillings. There is also kimchi rice to remind diners of the restaurantís Korean origin.

As an add-on to most bento meals, the restaurant serves four small appetizers including a dessert dish. Coffee is complimentary, too.

For the past three months, business has been brisk. Says Minato restaurant manager Willy Boquiren, lunch is busy with businessmen, while dinner sees more families dining.

"The restaurant is really designed with office workers in mind," Boquiren says. "Thatís why our prices are still reasonable."

This early, Chang is thinking of opening additional branches in Metro Manila. In spite of the security situation in the country, he has actually moved permanently to the Philippines, bringing with him his whole brood. He sees his children learning English in the country, while he continues with his seafood exporting business.

And heís not fazed by the coups and the bombings.

"I like it here," he declares.

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Minato Japanese Restaurant is located at St. Francis Square Bldg., Bank Drive, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City. For inquiries and reservations, call 633-3845 and 634-0519 or fax 634-0578.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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