In Japan, food is a form of art unto itself. Here are nine styles of Japanese dishes that you can find in restaurants across Singapore that prove it. (Fancy a crack at your own Japanese dish? Check out our recipes here….)
What it is: Izakaya is akin to tapas: casual food eaten with an alcoholic beverage or three. The similarities with tapas don’t extend any further, though; the Japanese version includes raw fish with your beer or sake.
Where to get it: Izakaya Enmaru at Laguna National Golf & Country Club | 6248 1722
What to order: Don’t worry that Enmaru is located inside a golf club: you don’t need to be a member and parking is plentiful at this East Coast landmark. It’s the go-to venue for many Japanese who rate the fresh seafood and quality ingredients highly. Get started with a mug of icy-cold, draft Sapporo beer ($8.50) and a bowl of edamame ($5.80) to munch on before the Hokkaido black rockfish sashimi ($40.80) and the Wagyu carpaccio ($20.80). The flavours of both are sensational: melt-in-the-month tender, and fresh, fresh, fresh. Follow them up with the signature quirky Enmaru sushi ($26.80), an assortment of fresh seafood draped over a long maki roll. If you can fit it in, try a stick or two of mentaimoyo tsukune (minced chicken skewers) ($3.80). Finish up with the delicious homemade maccha tiramisu ($8.80) for a coffee hit.
Izy on Club Street | 6220 3327
Izakaya Tomo at Esplanade Mall | 6333 0012
What it is: Thinly sliced raw seafood. Many places pre-freeze sashimi for food safety.
Where to get it: Hashida Sushi at Mandarin Gallery | 6733 2114
What to order: Leave the ordering to the expert; celebrity chef-owner Kenjiro “Hatch” Hashida will prepare courses of sashimi and other Japanese delicacies omakase-style (no menu). Lunch costs from $80 and dinner from $250 to $500. Seafood is flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market and Hokkaido six times a week. Sashimi of this grade and quality is almost unparalleled; urchin, flounder, sweet prawns, an unusual crunchy conch, orange clam and meltingly soft octopus, its sweetness emphasised by Chef Hashida’s special 400-year-old recipe for sour plum sake dipping sauce. If you’re in luck, there will be a huge slab of bluefin tuna – both the fatty belly and cheek are carved from the same piece and are served mixed together atop warm sushi rice. The presentation is stunning. Surprising desserts include red bean and Valrhona chocolate, or persimmon and ice cream – again highlighting Hashida’s varied talents. Pair with the incredibly smooth cold sake Shirakamisanchi No Shiki Tokubetsu Junmai (180ml/$45). A meal here is guaranteed to be an exquisitely personal and memorable experience.
Shinji by Kanesaka at Raffles Hotel | 6338 6131
Aoki Restaurant at Shaw Centre | 6333 8015
What it is: Also referred to as steamboat, shabu shabu is a dish of thinly sliced meat boiled in water. Beef is traditional, but many restaurants now also offer a selection of pork and chicken slices. Interestingly, the name is derived from the sound the meat makes when stirred in the cooking pot.
Where to get it: Shabu Sai at Orchard Central | 6884 6760
What to order: To begin, you’ll be asked to choose two soup bases such as the popular sukiyaki, a sweet soy-based soup that really brings out the flavours of the meat, or the peppery tonkatsu shoyu. Once your hotpot has been filled and switched on for you, proceed to the buffet to choose your fresh vegetables, noodles and tofu to accompany your meat. Then mix your own dipping sauce – a winning combination is peanut sauce with ginger, garlic and a spring onion garnish.
All that’s left to do is to cook your meat and vegetables in your chosen soups, which by this time will be boiling. Though the lean meat takes only a moment to cook, you can order ready-made sushi as an appetiser if you’re too hungry to wait.
Shabu Shabu Gen Restaurant at Shaw Centre | 6836 5155
Shabuya at VivoCity | 6377 0070
What it is: Although traditionally used to describe Japanese skewered chicken, the word yakitori can also refer to skewered food in general. Kushiyaki means the same thing, and the terms are interchangeable, so whichever is used, skewers will be on the menu.
Where to get it: Rakuichi in Dempsey Hill | 6474 2143
What to order: Rakuichi opened its Dempsey restaurant following the successful launch of its flagship outlet in Far East Shopping Centre in 2005, and the chain now has four restaurants. The Dempsey offering has varied indoor seating, from bar counter and casual dining to private rooms, as well as a few tables outside. Its yakitori is reasonably priced and popular. Recommended skewers include the buta kakuni (pork belly with teriyaki sauce) ($4), foie gras ($8), negima, fish and leek ($6), the slightly spicy shishito, green chilli peppers ($3) and the enoki bacon (bacon wrapped with enoki mushroom) ($4).
The sumiyaki moiwase ($28) consists of six skewers chosen by the chef. These generally include a mix of squid, pork belly, fish, chicken and vegetables, but the exact ingredients are determined by what is freshest and in season. Wash it all down with a cold draft Asahi beer ($9) or house-pour sake ($10).
Aburiyatei in Robertson Quay | 6836 5370
Yakitori Emmau in ION | 6636 7282
Kushikatsu (or kushiage)
What it is: Skewered seafood, seasonal vegetables and meat: lightly breaded, deep-fried and served piping hot. In Japanese, kushi refers to the skewers and katsu to pieces of meat. First served, they say, in the city of Osaka (previously known as Naniwa).
Where to get it: Han, Cuisine of Naniwa at Odeon Towers | 6336 2466
What to order: We’re not keen on deep-frying, for the usual reasons, but this fine-dining version is worth making an exception for – it’s not in the least bit oily or heavy. Chef Seiichiro Arakawa presides over the wok, presenting an array of delicacies straight from the heat: succulent prawn, fat scallop, minced chestnut, cheese-stuffed tomato, coral roe-topped salmon, tender beef, truffle-salt-dusted foie gras and more. The kushikatsu is preceded by an exquisite array of appetisers and sashimi, and followed by sushi, miso soup and dessert ($160; kushikatsu dinners start from $120). Try the matcha tea ice cream sandwich or a zingy grapefruit sorbet and, of course, the delicious Janpan ($155 a bottle) – Japanese champagne, get it? – a bubbly sake that’s around 16 percent alcohol by volume.
What it is: Fish on rice, right? Kind of. Although fish is the star of the show, the term sushi actually refers to the vinegar rice. With so much importance placed on the grain (a sushi chef spends at least two years learning how to prepare and season rice), a sushi restaurant can rise and fall on its rice alone.
Where to get it: Sushi Kuu at Palais Renaissance | 6736 0100
What to order: This restaurant sits comfortably at the upper end of the mid-level price range, from the five kinds of broiled sushi ($42) and rainbow roll ($45), to the pricier Kuu house roll ($90), including toro (that deliciously fatty tuna cut), uni, caviar and shrimp.
Visit for lunch when the restaurant offers sets from $30 to $64 that include a main course, miso soup, udon noodles and ice cream. Suggested à la carte dishes include Wagyu beef on rice ($45), assorted seafood on sushi rice ($49) and Japanese shabu-shabu salad ($25). The ingredients are clearly extremely fresh, and the generous portions look attractive and taste delicious. Green tea ice cream is included in the set lunch, or a recommended dish, if you’re willing to go off piste, is the creamy and rich green tea mousse with yuzu sauce ($10).
Budget: Nirai Kanai Okinawan Restaurant at Liang Court | 6339 4811
Bust: Shinjii at Raffles Hotel | 6338 6131
Sushi curtain call: Fugu may be one of the most nerve-wracking foods you’ll ever eat – if you have the courage to try it. A delicacy in Japan, prepare this pufferfish the wrong way and it’s curtains – yes, those curtains – for you. A place that knows exactly how to handle this notorious fish is Fairmont’s fine-dining Japanese restaurant Mikuni. A nine-course fugu tasting menu is available until 15 January. $220 per person.
What it is: Although often called “Japanese pizza”, okonomiyaki involves neither bread nor tomato sauce (and rarely cheese), nor is it baked in an oven. This pancake-omelette is a mix of seafood, meat or vegetables held together by a cabbage and green onion batter and topped with special otafuku sauce, Japanese mayo, and seaweed and bonito flakes.
Where to get it: Nanjya Monjya at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel (edge of Robertson Quay)
What to order: Okonomiyaki falls into two basic categories – Osaka/Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style – you’ll find mainly the former here (though the hiro buta soba, $16, is made in the layered-noodle Hiroshima fashion). Since okonomi and yaki roughly translate to “what you like” and “grilled”, your toppings can be whatever suits your fancy – octopus, pork belly, scallops, Japanese pickles, spicy cod roe, sweet corn and more. We’re partial to prawn and kimchi ($18) ourselves.
The teppanyaki tables are inside, which means you’re ensured a toasty warm dinner experience (dress accordingly) while your waiter cooks – or instructs you how to cook – the dish. It’s a relatively easy stir, grill and flip routine, followed by cutting the okonomiyaki into triangles with a metal kote spatula.
There’s a tatami room in front and private koshitsu rooms at the back. Families, your best bet is sitting outside, where little hands are as far from the blistering teppanyaki tables as possible.
Okonomiyaki House Iroha 168 on East Coast Road | 6738 1683
Ishi Mura at Northpoint Shopping Centre | 6484 1090
What it is: Thought to date back to 19th-century Japan, tonkatsu is a crumbed, deep-fried pork fillet or loin, but it can be substituted with prawn or fish. Normally ordered as a single dish, it can also be eaten in a sandwich or with curry sauce. It always comes with shredded cabbage, and is typically dipped in a thick Worcestershire-style sauce called tonkatsu sauce, served with rice and eaten with chopsticks.
Where to get it: Tonkichi at Ngee Ann City | 6735 7522
What to order: Tonkichi is a tonkatsu specialty restaurant. In typical Japanese style, food is ordered in sets. The signature katsu soba set ($25) includes chawanmushi, a firm egg custard in a cup which comes first. The main arrives on a tray laden with plates bearing three pork fillets, cold soba noodles, dipping sauce, plus the essential shredded cabbage. You’re given a pestle and mortar to grind sesame seeds, to which is added the tonkatsu sauce. This dipping sauce is used for the pork, which is tasty, tender, not greasy and easily broken into pieces with the chopsticks. The cold soba noodles are dipped in a soba sauce. Hire katsu don ($23) is another set: pork fillet cooked in egg and special soy sauce served in a large bowl of rice. A plate of fruit follows, and the Japanese tea is regularly topped up. This is a large and value-for-money meal with quick service.
Saboten at Millenia Walk | 6333 3432
What it is: A melding of European elements, untraditional ingredients and unusual cooking techniques.
Where to get it: Kinki at Customs House | 6533 3471
What to order: The main restaurant has a superb view of the Marina Bay skyline and waterfront, and the interiors are all funky murals and pumping beats – nothing traditional or Zen here. Kick off with Japanese fusion cocktails like the wasabi-infused Spicy Hachimitsu ($18) or the ume mojito ($18). Food-wise, there’s foie gras and scallop sushi ($22) and small lettuce wraps of Wagyu veggie sushi ($38). The delicious Hot Dynamite maki with yellowtail and salmon ($20) and the unagi Hokkaido scallop maki ($28) come deep-fried; truffle oil is drizzled over slivers of sea bream in the tai carpaccio ($32). Vegetarian okonomiyaki ($25) is crispy toasted baguette topped with tomatoes, shiitake, eggplant, spinach and mozzarella and laden with mayo and sweet-and-sour sauce. Popular with the after-work city slickers, Kinki’s rooftop bar buzzes at the weekday Happy Hour, where wines, beers and house spirits are one-for-one.
LP+Tetsu at Tanglin Mall | 6836 3112
Dozo at Valley Point Shopping Centre | 6838 6966