Kushikatsu goes beyond skewered fried pork and scallions at Manila’s first Kushikatsu Daruma

No need fly out to try Osaka’s most popular fried snack

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Osaka truly is the food capital of Japan: another franchise from the southern city is flying in to Manila, this time specializing in kushikatsu—deep-fried food on skewers. Unlike its 88-year-old Japanese counterpart, Kushikatsu Daruma in Manila comes with a younger, brighter vibe that’s more reminiscent of the streets outside its Osaka stores.

“If you search for Kushikatsu Daruma in Japan, the look is very traditional,” says Charles Paw, one of the partners of the Tasteless Group, who is responsible for bringing the brand to Manila. To make the new concept friendlier (as friendly as Mr. Ueyama’s—the franchise’s mascot, inspired by the founder’s image—scowling visage could get), Paw tapped designer and illustrator Dan Matutina and Plus 63 Design Co. to help tweak the shop’s branding.

The result? A hole-in-the-wall-esque space, draped in banners bearing Ueyama-kun’s signature face and pose (arms crossed, holding sticks of kushikatsu), and the statement “No double dipping!” emblazoned everywhere. Rows upon rows of wooden board daruma—round, red good-luck dolls, but still with the face of Mr. Ueyama—hang on the cement and steel fence partitions between tables, seemingly watching your every move (specifically if you decide to break the rules, just like that Takashi Miike film).

Kushikatsu Daruma’s interiors are reminiscent of Japan’s neon-lit streets, side by side with small temples bearing lucky daruma images, among other auspicious symbols.
Kushikatsu Daruma’s interiors are reminiscent of Japan’s neon-lit streets, side by side with small temples bearing lucky daruma images, among other auspicious symbols.
One of the more “extreme“ varieties of kushikatsu offered, according to Paw, is this foie gras kushikatsu.
One of the more “extreme“ varieties of kushikatsu offered, according to Paw, is this foie gras kushikatsu.
Each stick of kushikatsu is prepared and cooked in-store.
Each stick of kushikatsu is prepared and cooked in-store.
Plus 63 Design Co. and Dan Matutina helped revamp the brand to appeal to a younger, millennial crowd. The store is surrounded by screens with funny imagery of one’s fate if one falls to double-dipping.
Plus 63 Design Co. and Dan Matutina helped revamp the brand to appeal to a younger, millennial crowd. The store is surrounded by screens with funny imagery of one’s fate if one falls to double-dipping.

It’s meant to be fun and inviting, and compared to the large looming Ueyama head at the entrance of Kushikatsu Daruma in Dotonbori, I’d say the Manila team has achieved the goal.

Kushikatsu Daruma currently has around 30 sticks on the menu, but Paw says he sees it expanding to 45 varieties. The number may seem intimidating for some, especially for the uninitiated in the way of the kushikatsu. For that, Paw recommends their beginner set. “It has nine types of basic kushikatsu that you must try so you can get what it’s all about,” he says, “so you can get why it’s addicting.”

The staff of Kushikatsu Daruma trained at the original branch in Osaka for four weeks to get each stick of kushikatsu perfect. “The batter must be consistent, as well as the oil,” shares Paw. “There are a lot of rituals. We thought it was simple, but we found out that if you mix the batter wrong, or if you get the temperature of the oil wrong, it’ll turn out too oily. Here, we can do [kushikatsu] in a way that the feeling [when you eat it] isn’t oily.”

Several items on the menu were also tweaked from the Japanese original. One such stick is the garlic kushikatsu, which admittedly doesn’t sound like much, but once you break the crunchy breaded coating, you’ll be greeted with the soft, slightly sweet garlic confit. “The garlic here isn’t as tasty as the garlic in Japan,” Paw says. “So we made it into a confit first before cooking it as kushikatsu.”

They plan to offer 30 types of drinks to pair with the kushikatsu. This is the Matcha Highball.
They plan to offer 30 types of drinks to pair with the kushikatsu. This is the Matcha Highball.
Bamboo containers are also provided for diners to place discarded sticks so that plates will remain free for food only. Talk aboutomotenashi.
Bamboo containers are also provided for diners to place discarded sticks so that plates will remain free for food only. Talk about omotenashi.
Steaming hot tofu kushikatsu
Steaming hot tofu kushikatsu
Asparagus, chicken breast, and potato kushikatsu
Asparagus, chicken breast, and potato kushikatsu

The foie gras kushikatsu is another notable item on the menu. Each bite of the breaded foie gras cube is full of flavor, so it can be enjoyed even with just a small amount of sauce. Meanwhile, the mochi kushikatsu proves to be an acquired taste. It bears the usual taste of glutinous rice cake, making it a good meal ender, as it refreshes the palate from all the savoriness of the meat and vegetables.

Eat kushikatsu the way the Japanese do and order a cold glass of alcohol or beer. “We plan to have over 30 drinks. There should be a lot of varieties,” Paw says. “We’ll have San Miguel, craft beers, draft beers, sake, cocktails, and we’ll also be serving highball.” Beers will go for around P65, Paw says. (Now we know where we’re going to spend our nights out in BGC.) For a real cooling treat, the matcha highball provides a mild alcoholic kick, with a slightly minty, green tea taste.

Kushikatsu Daruma is on soft opening on March 26, and will officially open on March 31. More details soon.

TAGS: japan kushikatsu kushikatsu daruma manila nolisoliph osaka tasteless group