A WELL-LOVED Osaka fixture since 1988, Don Don Tei now offers Ortigas office dwellers a new option for lunch. Their specialty (and the secret ingredient) is rice.

During its opening at Robinsons Galleria on March 19, BusinessWorld got a taste of their more premium offerings, such as the Wagyu Yakiniku Don (P675) and the Unajyu (grilled eel; P650), though there are items on the menu for just P280. Both choices were delectable, with the tenderness of the wagyu clearly evident in the premium beef bowl, and the eel was sweetish and yielding.

It’s a great place for a quick lunch, if one is in a bit of a hurry but one craves a little more than fast-food offerings.

The brand was brought here by Oishi Gourmet Foods, Inc., connected to the Oishi snacks brand, which is in turn connected to the Liwayway cornstarch Chan family (of which clothing company Bench founder Ben Chan is also a member; his brother Oszen Chan sits as president of Oishi Gourmet Foods, Inc.). They have also brought the Indonesian J.Co Donuts brand to the Philippines (they now count 74 branches in the Philippines), through another channel.

Marissa So, Executive Vice-President of Oishi Gourmet Foods told BusinessWorld what makes a good donburi (that is, a rice bowl): “It’s the rice. It has to be really good Japanese rice. Toppings should be high quality. The flavors should not be so strong,” she said. “With the Japanese it’s basically simple, but it’s very good. We don’t want it to be over-flavored.”

The sauces are from Japan, but the rest is procured locally: still, the rice is cooked meticulously to always yield the best possible texture and taste.

Masahiro Nishida, Director for Business Strategy and Planning for Gourmet Kineya (the group that owns Don Don Tei in Japan) said, “It’s a staple food; it’s rice.”

On opening in the Philippines, he said: “The Philippine market is growing. The population is also growing now. It was a good chance to expand the business.”

Japanese rice bowls can be had at many Japanese restaurants, and cheaper versions are available at Japanese fast-food joints. Asked how they might differentiate themselves, Ms. So said, “I think it’s more of the quality, because we’re premium.”

Don Don Tei is located at the second level of the ADB wing of Robinsons Galleria in Quezon City. — Joseph L. Garcia