Chicken soup that's good for the soul—and the skin?
You know you’re in for something special from the moment your server enters with a massive soup bowl brimming with a beige, pudding-like mass, places it on the induction cooktop built into every table, and kicks off what can only be described as a roughly hour-long ode to what is deemed—and I quote—“ the Kobe beef of chicken.”
The essence of the Bijin Nabe, known at the restaurant as Golden Collagen Hot Pot, is the milky broth made by boiling down the prized, specially bred and seasonal Jidori chicken in water for 18 hours, which pulls every bit of goodness from the prized bird. A specialty of Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture, the chicken is meatier, more sinewy, and fuller in flavor, making it a perfect base if what you’re looking for is a rich, incredibly indulgent, yet delicate hot pot broth. It doesn’t hurt either that much of the dining experience was designed to make the most of the Jidori’s higher than normal collagen count—there are claims that partaking of this hot pot contributes to good health and, yes, an improvement in your looks.
Filipinos are no strangers to the hot pot concept, but if you’re ever at Bijin Nabe by Tsukada Nojo, get ready to throw any and every expectation you have about this dish out the window. There are no thin, watery soups to be found here. Nor are diners given a go signal to partake in a gastronomic free-for-all that finds everyone aimlessly fishing around in a communal bowl of soup, overcooking ingredients left and right and wreaking havoc on a delicate cooking liquid—order, tradition, method, and control are the name of the game at Bijin Nabe.
Enjoying the Bijin Nabe (P750/head) demands time and the patience to go through a specific, multi-step process which, we’re happy to report, reaps culinary rewards. Begin by partaking of the broth in its purest form as it’s served in tiny tasting cup—essentially, a shot of unadulterated, schmaltzy chicken goodness. The stewed chicken is next served, in the broth, to be dipped into any of four accompanying sauces (shoyu, leek oil, yuzukosho, or chilli layu). As you’re enjoying your chicken part of choice, handmade tsukene and an interesting selection of vegetables (during our visit, it was lettuce, zucchini, fried tofu, okra, black fungus, enoki mushrooms, baby corn, sunflower sprouts, sweet potato leaves, radish, and yuzu skin) is cooked in the broth, timed for serving just as you pop the last chicken morsel in your mouth. Skewered shrimp is dropped into the simmering soup, which by now has been infused with the flavors of everything that has been cooked in it. Finally, a choice of noodles or rice is added to the broth that remains in the bowl, tossed with a beaten egg to make a starchy pudding, and served, to be topped with any (or all) of the four sauces.
As much a meal as a culinary journey, the Bijin Nabe is a dish that demands conscientiousness for it to be enjoyed to its fullest. Whether or not this internationally beloved hot pot actually can make you healthier or more beautiful than when you first stepped in the restaurant has yet to be proven, but it’s more than worth the time the visit might take and, at the very least, you’ll come out of it having had an excellent meal.
Bijin Nabe by Tsukada Nojo is located at the 2/F S Maison at the Conrad Manila, Seaside Blvd. cor Coral Way, SM Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City, Philippines, and is open from 10 AM to 10 PM daily. For inquiries or reservations, phone (02) 809 1268.