What is it about raw fish on rice that is so addictive? BiTES speaks to chirashi experts and hunts down the best bowls under $30.
“EVERYTHING has to be perfect,” chef Yamashita Teppei stresses, “especially the fish, rice and sauce.” His outlets (Teppei, Hanare, Hana-Hana, Teppei Syokudo) all have one thing in common: a bara chirashi don that many would stand in line for. They now dish out a combined 750 dons daily. Many patrons are regulars who “tabao for their friends or colleagues” , he says in well-honed Singlish.
Meaning “to scatter”, chirashi is basically that–fish strewn over vinegared rice. The dish was born from the need to use extra, unattractive pieces of fish, the leftovers after perfect slices are carved out for gorgeous sashimi platters.
On our island, you’ll find this colourful fave almost everywhere. From high-end restaurants to hole-in-the-wall cafes, and even in supermarkets–we picked up a $3.90 package from FairPrice Finest. Then there’s the marinated version like chef Yamashita’s kaisen (seafood) don. It’s an umbrella term he uses to include seasonal items like snow crab and scallop from Hokkaido.
Chef Hiroki Saito, who helms Uogashi, chimes in: “Many chirashi in Singapore are fusion-styled rather than authentic. They may include foreign ingredients such as avocado, soft shell crab, or others. Sashimi slices should be kept inside the bowl, and not overflowing.”
But authentic or not, we sure love our chirashi.
From just a few places serving it five to 10 years back, we now have easily 100 places to visit. The popularity explosion also surprised Yamashita-san, who plans to open more Teppei Syokudo outlets (at least another four by 2016) both here and overseas.
The BiTES team tasted 15 value bowls that you should check out.
FISH MART SAKURAYA <$15 nett> – “Puts the ‘bara’ into bara chirashi”
This humble emporium cum dine-in store has been around for about a decade, and has served their bara chirashi don for just as long. If their West Coast Plaza flagship is too far west for you, visit their Parkway Parade or Anchorpoint outlets for your raw fish fix. The bowl of assorted chopped sashimi, crab stick, tamago and crunchy kyuuri is topped with pink ginger slices that resemble a bara (rose) in full bloom: look out for a seasonal autumn version ($16) this month. Also sells sashimi-grade fish by weight and Japanese sundries.
Main outlet: Daily 11am-10pm (L.O. 9pm). #B1-50/51/52 West Coast Plaza, 154 West Coast Road. Tel: 6773 6973
FUKUICHI JAPANESE DINING <$18++ (lunch)> – “Prettiest plating”
Amidst their bara chirashi’s good-sized chunks of raw fish, we admired the edible decorations like a shiso leaf and kiku, a yellow flower often used as a garnish but also possesses similar bactericidal properties as wasabi. Atop the vinegared rice, strands of seaweed, sakura denbu and toasted sesame seeds add a moreish fragrance. Fukuichi’s new digs in town affords diners the luxury of space, convenience and comfy seats.
New outlet: Daily 12-3pm, 6pm-12am. #01-05 Hotel Chancellor @ Orchard, 28 Cavenagh Road. Tel: 6737 0788
GINZA KUROSON <$22++ (lunch)> – “Most atas”
We had the popular choice: ryoshi-gokai nagekomi don, or fisherman’s bowl. Choice catches on the day we visited included translucent shirasu (whitebait), amaebi, anago (sea eel), katsuo, crunchy ika and negitoro (raw fatty tuna with spring onion). The lunch set also comes with miso soup, salad, an appetiser (ours: homemade tofu with shoyu jelly), pickles and
dessert (ours: coffee pudding). Choose to dine at the centrepiece sushi bar where you can watch chefs slice, prepare and plate as well as face the glazed stares of the array of whole fish on ice.
New outlet: Daily 11.30am-2pm, 6-10pm. #03-10 Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Road. Tel: 6235 3785
HAHA SUSHI JAPANESE RESTAURANT <$12.90++> – “Like mum’s cooking”
Haha means mother, and (especially comforting) the wallet-friendly price of the HAHA chirashi don. In addition to the fave four (salmon, maguro, mekajiki, yellowtail), we also delighted in the crunch of tako, the sweetness of tamago, cucumber, the satisfying pop of tobiko and the fragrance of finely chopped spring onions in our rice topping. Do check out the restaurant’s magnetic induction-style conveyor belt too.
Daily 11am-10pm. #02-07/08 Aperia Mall, 12 Kallang Avenue. Tel: 6702 4589
KINSA SUSHI <$15.80++> – “Most innovative”
Their purple fusion menu introduces antioxidant-rich purple rice said to help fight heart disease and cancer. Of course we picked their #chirashicupcake, or chirashizushi kappu. Despite its name, it’s a substantial creation served in a clear parfait glass to showcase the unique colour of the grains. Its crowning glory: glistening amaebi (sweet prawn), and slices of salmon, tako, akami (lean tuna) and mekajiki (swordfish). Another creative twist is the sesame and ponzu dip which is a great option for those who turn their noses up at wasabi.
Mon-Thu 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-10pm; Fri-Sun & PH 11.30am-10pm. #02-02 HillV2, 4 Hillview Rise. Tel: +65 6710 7278
KOJI SUSHI BAR <$17++> – “Most bite”
If you opt for brown rice in your sashimi rice bowl, you’ll get barley-like bite and nutty flavours, in addition to the crisp tempura bits. These differing textures work well to break up the delicious monotony of the jelly-like cubes of raw fish lightly marinated in a tangy sauce. Dining can be a bit of a squeeze (high bar-top seats and a cramped indoor area) but overall the place is an affordable find in the busy CBD/Chinatown area.
Mon-Sat 11.30am-3pm, 5-10pm. #01-42 China Square Central (Nankin Row), 3 Pickering Street. Tel: 6225 6125
MANZOKU JAPANESE RESTAURANT <$25++> – “For satisfaction”
Thick cuts of raw fish adorn sushi rice at Manzoku, which means satisfaction in Japanese. Their chirashi set comprises fruit and miso soup; sashimi slices include salmon, tuna, swordfish, yellowtail with tamago and the pop of ikura. This new opening (Jan 2015) is along the hip-and-happening Purvis Street–look out for its wooden double doors to enter a restaurant bustling with Nippon food fans. Other wood touches include the beautifully illustrated menu boards and the sushi counter. Classic yakitori menu also available.
Daily 11.30am-3pm, 6-10pm. #01-01, 18 Purvis Street. Tel: 6734 4436
MARUGOTO SHOKUDOU <$17.90++> – “Aburi-style”
Their bara chirashi zushi comprises aburi salmon, maguro, swordfish, tai, tobiko, ikura and avocado. Each cube of raw fish is seasoned with sauce and torched for that delightful
caramelised flavour. This heartland find is tucked away in Ang Mo Kio’s Broadway Plaza–a short walk away from the MRT station and from the hordes of people at AMK Hub. Other interesting menu items include homemade pitan tofu and foie gras chawanmushi.
Daily 12-2.30pm, 6-10pm. #01-07 Broadway Plaza, 4190 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6. Tel: 6451 2822
SUMIYA <$18.80++ (lunch)> – “Best value”
This charcoal grill specialist’s set can feed a ravenous person. It’s very good value, comprising edamame, an appetiser, soup, salad and generous mochi in addition to the main event, kaisen bara don (limited quantity available daily). You’ll even find chunks of prized otoro (fatty tuna) in your bowl. Wasabi and shoyu’s a must, but we found ourselves drawn to the truffle-scented dip. Opt for brown rice or plain white rice (instead of vinegared rice); and you can even request for an all-salmon bowl.
New outlet: Daily 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-10pm. #03-332/333 Suntec City (Sky Garden, North Wing, Tower 2), 3 Temasek Boulevard. Tel: 6235 1816
SUSHI AIRWAYS SUSHIBAR <$17+> – “Most thematic”
Probably the only themed Japanese restaurant in Kampong Glam. Don’t forget to keep your eyes high for SushiAirways is located on the second storey–a fitting vantage point for diners to feel like they’re seated in an airplane parked on the tarmac. Our seasonal Airways bara chirashi sushi set came with shredded omelette and a small lime for added zest. Sprinkled with sesame seeds, it’s reminiscent of yusheng. Fish is flown in four or five times a week, and their soy sauce is prepared from an authentic recipe that’s less salty. Aviation fans will admire the nostalgic DC-3 aircraft references and looping cockpit videos (taken by the owner’s pilot friend) of coastal areas where salmon is sourced from, like Norway and Reykjavik.
Daily 12-2.30pm, 6-9.30pm. 20A Baghdad Street. Tel: 6291 1151
TANUKI RAW <$17.80++ (lunch)> – “Most democratic”
Howard Lo’s Orchard Central concept doesn’t discriminate: fickle/frequent diners pay the same for the chirashi don or the bara chirashi don. The former features salmon and tuna, as well as seasonal items like striped jack, and premium picks ikura and scallop. The latter offers the same amount of fish, but these are cubed and seasoned with the raw bar’s secret umami sauce for that oomph. Available daily 11.30am-3pm; dinner price $20 each.
Daily 11.30am-10.30pm. #02-03 Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road. Tel: 6636 5949
TEPPEI JAPANESE RESTAURANT <$17.60 nett (lunch)> – “Most famous”
When Teppei’s not full for its dinner omakase, it’s also crowded for lunch. The afternoon draw is its bara chirashi don, or kaisen don, as named in its four Teppei Syokudo outlets. The bowl chef Teppei prepares for us in his eponymous outlet is packed with generous cubes of marinated (similar to zuke style) fish: salmon, maguro, baby scallop, tsubugai (whelk), swordfish, ikura, an ample sprinkling of crisp tempura bits and garnished with cress daikon. For further indulgence you can choose to add dollops of negitoro ($8) and sea urchin ($8).
Flagship: Mon-Fri 11.45am-2.30pm, Sat 12-2.30pm, Mon-Sat 6.30-10.30pm. #01-18 Orchid Hotel, 1 Tras Link. Tel: 6222 7363
THE FLYING SQUIRREL <$25++ (lunch)> – “Confirm full”
After finishing their summer chirashi bento, surely any squirrel can’t fly. It’s a filling lunch offering of pickles, a salad, chicken karaage and fruits. The colours fit the season: kiku petals are scattered over green-red-orange-beige-yellow cuts of fresh seafood which include tako and hotate (scallop). TFS is in an Amoy Street laneway (we nearly missed the entrance) but its owners, music men Jack & Rai (plus Jack’s wife) are famous enough for their F&B venture to be known.
Mon-Thu 11am-11pm, Fri 11am-12am, Sat 3pm-12am. #01-02, 92 Amoy Street. Tel: 6226 2203
THE SUSHI BAR <$22.90++ (small)> – “Chunkiest cuts”
Enjoy your thick-cut sashimi at The Sushi Bar’s snazzy Ngee Ann City outlet, currently not as packed as its popular Far East Plaza shop. Stick with the small chirashi don (two slices of each), unless your appetite for raw fish is insatiable. Especially gratifying are the fatty cuts of salmon and swordfish; about twice the thickness of a typical slice of raw fish and just as much juicier. We also enjoyed the sweet tamago and the savoury bursts of ikura as we ate. Try also the outlet-only special: aburi kaisen chirashi don ($26.90).
New outlet: Daily 11.30am-9pm. #05-34/35 Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Road. Tel: 8818 3535 (SMS for reservations)
UOGASHI <$10.90 nett> – “Most fuss-free”
This modest takeaway joint with standing tables is helmed by chef Hiroki Saito, who’s been in Singapore for 22 years. The hands-on 73-year-old also dabbles in calligraphy (the
restaurant’s signs were written by him), water fountain arrangement and rides a Harley Davidson to work. Uogashi’s (which means “the fish mart” ) chirashi don is strictly traditional and ingredients include sakura denbu (pink sweetened and seasoned ground codfish), shiitake mushrooms, gari (ginger), shiso leaf, daikon and tamago. Each sashimi slice (salmon, maguro, yellowtail, swordfish, Japanese sea bass, marinated mackerel) is a precise 15g.
Tue-Sun 11am-8pm. 430 Joo Chiat Road. Tel: 6348 6698