Bites: Ishikari-nabe, Otaru Suisan

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Hokkaido is a fascinating part of Japan if you’re into history. Over the centuries it has been an enemy, a wild frontier, a place of occupation and colonisation. Even now, most place names on the island aren’t Japanese at all, but derived from the native (and sadly endangered) Ainu language. This includes Ishikari and Otaru, the namesake of Otaru Suisan.

Of course Hokkaido is also awesome for the foodie, with its bounty of seafood. But places that boast air-flown seafood from Japan are no longer a rarity here. It was more the promise of Ishikari-nabe, a mighty hit of umami, and the presence of a dining companion, that led us here. And oh boy does Otaru deliver.

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Bites: Riverside Grilled Fish Restaurant 江邊城外

I like wandering malls on those few holidays when most shops are closed – Christmas in London, CNY here. Maybe, as a reaction to the festival, it has the same logic as the people who go overseas during this period – just to get away from the socialising that would be necessary if they were here. It’s also interesting to see which few places are still open.

To find that Riverside Grilled Fish is among the open restaurants, though, is a real surprise. Of all the Asian imports in the Raffles City basement, only the ones from China and Taiwan showed up. But unlike neighbouring Din Tai Fung, Riverside was not rammed to the gates with white people. In fact there was only one white guy, at the next table. We’ll get to him shortly.

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Bites: Tonkotsu Ramen, Hakata Ikkousha, Chijmes

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My friend D is a living example of cosmopolitanism – he comes from Italy, studied in Ireland and the UK, lived for a year in Japan, works across Europe, is in love with a Singaporean. More to Babette’s point, he knows and loves eating. He can hold forth on the virtues of Italian food today, and be a partisan in the Fukuoka ramen chain rivalry tomorrow. (He supports Ichiran. They aren’t in Singapore, unfortunately.)

So when he proposes a ramen joint – especially one that his friend from Japan recommended – I’m all too happy to go along.

Ikkousha is a relative newcomer in its native Kyushu, seeing as its founding date was during the Heisei era. But in Singapore, it’s been around since 2014, which would count as ‘established’. The Chijmes branch, nestled in along a whole stretch of Japanese joints, puts out an open welcome with its warm lighting and wood-based decor.

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Bites: Budae Jjigae, Yoogane, Bugis

This evening was not supposed to go this way. I had a reservation for another restaurant ready, but the companion was having none of it, chanting Yoogane at me until I gave up. So here we were in Bugis, in the queue poring over dishes spanning all the shades of gochujang crimson, sandwiched between excited groups of the beauteous youthful.

People say eating chilli makes your skin better but I think causation runs the other way – it is the taut-skinned and finely chiseled, who would simply glow if they sweat, that don’t mind hunching over jjigae or hotpot. That, or the very hungry, which I was.

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Review: Rumah Makan Minang, Kandahar Street

Man, this place has been on my list the longest, longest time. Long ago, at a work-related function, I first saw the logo of Rumah Makan Minang – imitating the distinctive, buffalo-horn eaves of the rumah gadang, the traditional communal houses of the Minangkabau people. The crew, working noisily and efficiently, soon had a long table decked with catering trays. A taste of their chicken, and of squid cooked in an ink-black sauce, and I have been looking to come to Minang ever since.

Rumah Makan Minang Bugis Babette

The Minangkabau, one of Asia’s few matrilineal societies, hail from West Sumatra but have spread out over maritime Southeast Asia. They have had an outsize impact on the region. Our first president, Yusof Ishak, was of Minangkabau descent, as was Indonesia’s first vice-president and Malaysia’s first Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Others work their influence more humbly and subtly, one serving of rendang or nasi Padang at a time.

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Review: Hungry Bazterdz, The Arcade

What it says on the sign, bro.

Most restaurants pay attention to how they taste, and many to how they look. But in Singapore at least, the question of how they sound – the presence of music, its type, its volume – tends to be neglected. But precisely because I have low expectations here, I cannot decide if Hungry Bazterdz is intentionally having the Backstreet Boys serenade my first sandwich-eating experience with them. Is it neglect, or inspiration?

They do switch to a slower, chiller soundtrack that’s more to my taste when I visit again, not that it matters. Idiot that I am, I come in at the start of the CBD lunch rush. I only hear the music vaguely, amid the frantic lunchtime chatter, the ringing of bells and the calling of numbers as the staff try to match sandwiches to hungry people. I’m practically sitting on two other people and being shoved into the wooden ledge on the wall that serves as a table, trying to find angles for photos without accidentally molesting anyone.

All for this.

It’s the sort of dining experience that I normally hate. So would I do it again at Hungry Bazterdz? Hell yes.

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Bites: ‘Shuu’, KOKI Tamagoyaki, Raffles City

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I’ve been playing a game of hide and seek with KOKI Tamagoyaki for a while, albeit in my own mind. Twice I’ve come too late for there to be any of their choux puffs. But this time I’m here – five minutes before the teatime offer ends, when the shelves are full of the goods. Yes.

Koki is, as the name suggests, a tamagoyaki place – serving the square-pan, rolled, mildly sweet Japanese omelettes with a range of toppings. Except that even now its dessert options – choux (or ‘shuu’) puffs – are already overshadowing the egg dish. (Honestly, take a look at the Burpple reviews of the place. How many tamagoyaki pics do you see? Precisely.)

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Review: Alter Ego, Esplanade

Alter Ego the Spread.jpg

Who are you then?

I am part of that power which eternally wills evil, and eternally works good.

— ‘Faust’, Goethe (1749 – 1832)

The word ‘sin’ gets thrown about very easily when it comes to food. We don’t hear much talk about murderers being sinners nowadays, outside of a church. But dark chocolate, pepperoni, fried food, a good grilled cheese? All sin. No doubt this is partly because we recognise that food – even the sinful ones, the luxurious and tasty – is always a good thing. A city with many of the avaricious, wrathful or envious is a hard place to live. A city with many of the gluttonous tends to be brilliant.

Alter Ego Grilled Cheese 2.jpg

Alter Ego, a new concept by the people behind A Poké Theory, plays on this theme. The promo and website play up the contrasts in its menu, but it seems a little ahead of its time here. Elsewhere it is the absurdities of the clean eating cult that increases the tension over how ‘good’ your food is; Singapore, thankfully, has yet to be drawn into the stupidities of kombucha, gotu kola, sucka, etc. So without that tension, Alter Ego is really a place where people who work on poké all the time decide to work on other things as well. That’s not as dramatic, but it sure as hell works.

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New Opening: Yogurtland, Suntec City

This was an invited tasting. Thanks very much to the organisers and hosts. Also, Yogurtland is holding a competition – details at end of post.

How much of life is predetermined? Do we really have a choice? Is free will an illusory construct of a human mind desperate to maintain its sense of control in the face of events beyond its influence or even comprehension?

These are the questions – the big ones, anyway – that come to mind when I see a frozen yogurt shop. Well, Yogurtland – which has just launched in Suntec City – is all about the freedom. Nothing is predetermined; everything is a choice, for $3 per 100 grams.

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10 Course Weekend Brunch – Crystal Jade Prestige, Marina Bay

Crystal Jade Prestige Dim Sum

This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

One of the smaller problems of traditional gender roles, with its demands on men to keep things to themselves, is that there is little consensus about how best to treat a father on ‘his’ day. (I already told you it’s a small problem.) Seen another way, though, this is the best thing for restaurants – a gap they can fill.

So here comes Crystal Jade Prestige to fill this gap with a champagne brunch option. The terms are as follows – for $58 ($48 for DBS/POSB cardholders), you get a choice of ten courses in total from the menu. Another $98 ($88) gets you free flow bubbly. The ten courses include 5 dim sum options (out of a list of 10), an appetiser, a wok-fried dish, a soup, a roast meat and a dessert.

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