Change – the only constant

Over the last few years, it seems like so much has happened since when I started working. Although it’s been more than 10 years, in the whole scheme of things, comparing it against the number of years that I would be in the workforce it isn’t such a long time. Yet, everything feels surreal and like in a drift.

When we were in school, there were always milestones to reach and goals to achieve. These were set for us by the academic system, to enter primary school, pass the PSLE and go on to secondary school, clear GCE ‘O’ Levels and either go to a JC or Polytechnic. From there, it could be onward to University or for some, they decide to enter the workforce. For most part of that schooling journey, exams are sort of the climax of each phase, and there is a fairly fixed time frame to work with. But the game changes entirely when we enter the working world. There are people I know who have set goals to retire early, as in reaching the stage where they choose to work, and not work because they need to. Then they work tirelessly towards that. I am not so ambitious, because simply put, I don’t know how I can work towards that, and I don’t know what would be a realistic age to set. As it is, I am not exactly young but yet not that old to look forward to retirement.

Sure, given a choice, I would rather not be working in a job where the only thing worth looking forward to is the monthly pay-check, and sometimes the bonus, or lack thereof. I would also want to arrive at the self-actualisation stage defined in Maslow’s hierarchy where work no longer feels like work, and that I actually enjoy what I do day-to-day. Then again, the lack of spirit just makes me think that is myth. Or it boils down to the fact that I don’t really know what I like to do. And if what I sort of enjoy doing can become something that could earn me a livelihood, or if I could even motivate myself to work so hard to be so good at it to make it a revenue-generating activity.

Some people have set other kinds of goals outside of the corporate life. To them, they accept that work can only be something that pays them to do what they like to do beyond it, so their goals are defined in their personal lives, such as getting married, owning a property (and more thereafter maybe), having children, and so on. The moment the kids come along, the milestones also change to revolve around their growth and development, and finally their own retirement. This is not something that I have considered or thought of at this point.

I don’t know where I am heading with this entry. It was just motivated from my internal rumination as I went through some photos and thoughts that surfaced when I considered the people around. Sometimes, life feels like a tiring and tiresome journey. We try so hard to keep things going yet it always feels so one-sided and pointless. At some point, it almost becomes that things I used to enjoy, I don’t really do and I don’t know what is it that I enjoy anymore and what is it I would enjoy at all. Everything just feels meaningless – life, people, things. Even travelling doesn’t seem appealing anymore because there just is no point in it.

Collated a set of food pictures from more than 3 years ago when I went to Tokyo, and as I looked at them, I realise that I no longer enjoy some of them, and don’t eat most of them anymore. Have my taste buds changed or do I just don’t get enjoyment from eating anymore?

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Japanese Curry rice

Perhaps like a lifetime ago, I had the idea that Japanese food consisted of sushi and sashimi. In fact, I wasn’t exposed much to all things Japanese as a kid, until when I started working maybe, when somehow Japan became popular. Before that, Japanese anime, manga and even their dramas were popular here but that never really caught on for me. I don’t even know when I started latching on to the “Japan wave”, if I even did anyway.

I think it was when I started working when I started having sushi pretty regularly, visiting the then-hugely popular Sakae Sushi with their innovative conveyor-belt sushi chain stores. It was fun to sit and watch colourful plates of sushi moving past, with the excitement coming in grabbing something we liked and wanted to have when the restaurant is busy and we have been waiting for it for a while. It wasn’t a few years after that when I first stepped foot into Japan (yes call me a mountain tortoise or whatever but I went to Japan the very first time in 2006 I believe). By then I think I had already been acquainted with Japanese curry, through this restaurant called Curry Favour that used to be Stamford Building in City Hall. I like their curry, which could be customised according to your preference of spicyness, and you could order half or full portions, the former of which was already rather substantial, especially with the rice and pork cutlet that was served up as part of the curry offering.

So in the last Tokyo trip, we also had Japanese curry one evening as my friend was craving for it, especially on a cold, rainy and extremely windy night. We popped in to this restaurant on the upper floor of Takashimaya in Shinjuku and I ordered a Seafood curry rice and this was what came.    The curry was served in the same contraption as what I recalled from Curry Favour, but I can’t say the same about size. I wonder if my appetite has increased from then, which I highly doubt so, but this one seemed quite small and the curry contained within was also quite little in terms of amount. The pieces of seafood inside was a little sad, maybe one prawn, one scallop, and I don’t know what else now, plus there was a stalk of cauliflower. Hmm. The taste was alright, but for the price that we paid I don’t think it was value for money. I suppose it being Takashimaya with a proper place to dine in, with ample space and ambience, that had all been factored into the price, as compared to say, if we were to have our curry rice at the hole-in-a-wall shops located along the streets or at the train stations, such as Coco Ichibanya (which in Singapore is a proper restaurant but in Japan it’s more of like a fuss-and-frills-free eatery). Besides, the funny thing was also that the rice, served on a plate, was flattened to cover the surface of the plate so for people who need the rice to fill up their tummies would probably be left needing a second helping somewhere else, supper perhaps.  We couldn’t complain much since we were rather tired that day from the whole day of rain and wind, and it was comforting to be sitting in a sheltered place away from the strong gusty winds that were howling outside. It was so windy that lots of people had their umbrellas blown upside down and as I walked across the long wide bridge over the numerous train tracks of JR Shinjuku station, I had to consciously walk along the side near one wall to prevent myself from being blown away! 

eating my way through Tokyo

Despite having been to Tokyo countless number of times and obviously loving the place, I can’t say that I know the place well because Tokyo, whether we are talking about the city in itself or the various precincts, is so huge as compared to Singapore (which I also can’t say I know well). The other reason also would be that these days I don’t have a planned itinerary when I visit, but rather go with my mood which more often than not takes me back to places that I am familiar with, unless the adventurous and energetic streaks spring forth that takes me on an exploratory trail around. There is a lot of walking involved even if we are talking about the usual places and therefore it is easy to grow weary.

Where food is concerned, it is seldom a miss, even if it is a very non-descript tiny hole-in-the-wall shop or those convenient booths that you find crammed in a corner of the busy train stations. One afternoon, before meeting my friends for coffee, I popped into this shop somewhere near JR Shinjuku. It is in the basement of Odakyu department store but not part of the mall’s food hall, more of a small collection of eateries interpersed between the floors of the mall and the train station. I used to ‘frequent’ the tempura joint in that stretch but I wasn’t feeling the mood for tempura that day so I thought that I would go for chirashi, a serving of sashimi atop a bowl of rice. I really love this bowl! Even if I am not a big fan of rice these days and only ate the bed of white, chewy Japanese rice beneath as a sign of respect for the chef since I was sitting at the counter, the generous serving of fresh and delicious sashimi made this 850yen pre-tax (iirc) totally worth it, especially now that the exchange rate is relatively favourable for us!

On another day, while I was at the Roppongi Hills area, I was again checking out food options near the metro station. Near the exit to Roppongi Hills, I had tried a couple of shops before which sold ramen, both the soup and dry versions but again ramen wasn’t ranking so high on my list of cravings then, so after a long process of walking back and forth I finally settled into this shop that sells very yummy-looking set lunches (based on the displays outside the shop). I chose this grilled fish set, which my goldfish memory has caused the type of fish to elude me, and it comes with healthy brown rice, some pickled vegetables and sald and a bowl of miso soup. The fish was a little oily, not so much from the grilling but I think more from the natural fish oil that was found on the underside of the skin. Well, perhaps I am in  self-denial in saying this but at least it wasn’t deep-fried and I really enjoyed it to the last morsel of fish!  Here is a closer take on the fish, which is a litte charred on some parts but overall, it’s all good!  I had an earlier post on the food halls that I was checking out on a daily basis (hoping I don’t get recognised by the obasans manning them) and they are really amazing even if prices are not what I would consider as economical, at least not from a Singaporean point of view. Perhaps it is also not that cheap from a local perspective because comparatively, we are able to get cheaper options elsewhere, such as those shops that operate with the vending machines where you buy your meal ticket and present it at the counter in exchange for food. One of those nights after a Bikram class, I decided to give myself a treat, not that I wasn’t already indulging and treating myself in Tokyo every single day….

But this bento box that I got from Takashimaya really made me happy just by looking at it. After I finished it, I discovered to my horror that this was meant as a 2-person portion! Again, I tried to make myself feel better by getting friends to agree with me via a post on Instagram that this can’t be for 2 persons, right? Either that, or the Japanese people have really small appetites. Haha, as you can tell I am still in self-denial mode. All nine items in this tic-tac-toe box tasted great for post-workout me in that cold weather which called for a sumptuous meal! It included breaded and deep-fried chicken and fish, salads, sauteed squid and prawns, etc. It was probably the best bento box I ever had so far. 😀    And the last item here is something I didn’t eat, but my friends ordered from a Food Court at Diver City, when we visited to check out the life-size Gundam figurine. The food court is so atypical of Japan but I guess this area catered more for tourists and visitors and a collection of food stalls in an enclosed free-seating area makes sense. It felt very un-Japan though, but the food quality I would reckon is far above the general food court fare that we get (in most Singapore food courts anyway), as commented by my friends who loved the dollop of eggy mash on top too. 

Yakitori goodness

I can’t remember the name of this restaurant, but it’s an eatery located at one of the upper floors of Tobu Department store in Ikebukuro. It resembles an izakaya of sorts but then in a very different setting, as it doesn’t have your usual “salary man” drinking and smoking, it being a department store where I suppose smoking isn’t allowed indoors. It feels more like the typical Japanese restaurants that we might expect to see in Singapore, with spacious seating arrangements and the use of wooden furniture.

There was some misunderstanding in the reading of the menu that led us to ordering more than what we could finish. It just goes to show that my level of Japanese proficiency isn’t too fantastic.

So these are the grilled vegetables that we ordered – leek, cucumber, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.These were the minced chicken balls (tsukune) that we ordered, coated with different choice of sauces. Among yakitori, this is one of my favourites, aside from the veggies. I can’t appreciate most other yakitori such as chicken skin, innards or what-have-you.  The whole lot of yakitori sticks we had. The plate on the left-hand side were the mis-ordered ones. They were also minced chicken balls but coated with a pre-determined set of 3 different sauces. We couldn’t finish all of them eventually because it was just too much food.Reason why we couldn’t finish… because we ordered other things too. My friend and I shared the Oyako-don, which was really yummy as the egg was so smooth and fragrant, it’s almost like extremely creamy scrambled eggs.  Another of my friend ordered this dish, which I don’t really know what it was. There was breaded chicken slices on top of some rice, but I have no idea what the yellow bits were. He didn’t seem to enjoy this as a sizable portion was left behind, or maybe it was just the rice and carbs that he didn’t want to have. The 2 mains were part of a set that came with dessert, a very interesting type of mochi coated with soy bean powder, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a syrup of sorts, probably honey or maple syrup?  On the whole, the dinner was pretty ok I guess, as yakitori is a type of Japanese food I enjoy, though I hardly have them these days and the variety I consume is rather limited. Nevertheless, most of the food in Japan are good; it is hard to go wrong regardless of the type of establishment and the corresponding price of the dish. Perhaps unless there is some preconceived expectation that isn’t met, but for me so far, I don’t think I have been much disappointed by food that I have in Japan. 🙂

Menya Sanji, Orchid Hotel

There is this other ramen stall at Orchid Hotel with ridiculous queues each time I walk past, and I think it’s the Keisuke Tonkotsu ramen. I haven’t tried it before so I can’t comment if it is good or not, and it has been a while since I last had any ramen I think, but I hate queueing in general, so I never really considered having lunch there. There are a couple of times when I walked past and it was not crowded, but I wondered if perhaps they had already closed for lunch, or maybe they were sold out. Another shop that sells gyoza also sees quite turn-offish queues so again that isn’t a shop that have entered within my realm of consideration. In fact, I was not that keen on checking out this shop too, Menya Sanji, because we had to wait. But since we were the first in the line, and my colleagues were ok with the supposed short wait, I went along. The shop is really tiny, which explains the formation of queues during meal times I gather, but we were a little late for lunch that day so maybe that is the reason why we didn’t have to put up with longer queues.

Menya Sanji sells a variety of ramen, and some of them, from the pictures, look really sinful with fatty pork slices that I am not a fan of. I just don’t like the texture of fatty meat, even if they are supposed to be really good, and it isn’t because I am some health freak who cannot touch fatty stuff (think of all the roast pork, aka bak kwa that I have been having on an almost nightly basis for supper).

20140220-133015.jpgSo I decided to order the bukkake ramen, which is a version of dry ramen that comes with a sauce, three types for you to choose from, that you have to pour over the noodles, mix them up before eating. It reminded me of Tetsu, but the sauce is different and for Tetsu I think it’s eaten by dipping the noodles into the sauce like for Cha Soba.

Let’s take a closer look.

20140220-133022.jpgI actually quite enjoy this type of ramen, because maybe the fried spring onions gave it a nice flavour and in general there were several types of ingredients included. I won’t mention too much about the egg, as though the white was delicious, the yolk was unfortunately already in a near-solidified state, i.e. fail. I love the noodles though, which I was a tad surprised that they were cold (thought they’d be hot), but they were very Q and springy. The fact that they didn’t stick together in clumps made eating really easy and a breeze, even though I had not used much of the sauce provided. This comes in 2 sizes, a standard at S$9.90 and a large (costs S$2 more I think). It looks deceivingly small but the standard was more than enough for me, even though there was no soup/broth to bloat me up. My colleague thought they’d be insufficient noodles so she ordered the large and ended up with a lot of noodles left over. But I think she didn’t really like that it’s cold so maybe that’s why she didn’t finish it eventually.

It’s worth a try, and service is courteous and more or less prompt, at least it seemed like they try to be very prompt. And there is complimentary free-flow of water if you need!

Shiok!

Met up with a friend who is back in Singapore from the land of smiles, and after a late coffee she suggested that we head to Koh Grill & Sushi Bar for the Shiok! maki. Well, I have heard of this many times over but never got the chance to try it or never had the inkling to want to try it. But we went anyhow and there was a queue, at about 845pm on a Sunday evening. But at that time, the queue cleared fairly quickly, possibly because most of the dinner crowd was finishing up their meals and the second batch of the late dinner folks could take over.

This was the only picture taken.

20140109-231117.jpgI’m not sure how this name came about but the maki do taste quite good. It’s their signature dish and it’s evident because there was a dedicated staff standing at the counter the whole time we were there just making this. Until the queue stopped of course, and she also started to clean up the place and stopped making the maki. Probably the copious amount of mayonnaise drizzled on top of the maki made it so good, but I think the ingredients that went into it helped too, and then using a naked flame to torch the maki lightly, giving it a slight grilled texture perhaps? I’m a complete novice where cooking is concerned so I should be the last person talking about cooking methods. This version that we ordered was supposedly the original version, stuffed with eel. There is a new version of the shiok maki, comprising of prawns if I recall, so I guess that will have to wait till the next time I visit, if I want to brave the queue once more, or go when the queues are expected to move fast.

We ordered some other food too, grilled salmon and also hand rolls, but since those aren’t the special items of this sushi bar, and they don’t look all that different or special even though they were good, we thought it best to savour them warm instead of snapping photos of them.

Sugisawa, Robertson Quay

I was trying to look for any homepage online of Sugisawa at Robertson Quay but they only have a FB page it seems, although there have been various reviews by local food bloggers since years back for this Japanese restaurant. Well I didn’t actually read the reviews but a quick scan shows that the reviews seemed generally good and positive, and it is also proof that this eatery has been around for a good many years. For good reason too! It is actually the first time I’m trying it, because there are just too many F&B outlets in that area to check out and I don’t usually go there because it is kind of like some “atas” area that is not within close proximity of MRT stations. I love Japanese food, and have tried a different Jap restaurant just next to it (if I’m not wrong it’s called Shunjuu) which was really good too!

Anyway, back to Sugisawa. Their menu doesn’t contain many pictures, especially of the a la carte items but the bento boxes are mostly pictured, to give you an idea of what you are paying for and also to perhaps help with the decision-making. Prices are pretty reasonable, for each bento box you pay about S$20 (before taxes) depending on what goes into the box.

My friend ordered an assortment of tempura, cold soba and sushi, priced at S$24. Imagine all this food for just S$24!

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I might have considered this too because tempura is something I really enjoy but it felt like a substantial amount of carbohydrates and I had quite a big sandwich at lunch so I passed on it.20130813-101419.jpg

And opted for this instead, which had a very generous fillet of grilled teriyaki cod, salmon and tuna sashimi and some other assortment of items that included a prawn, sweet egg, carrot, fishcake, etc. There was rice too, of course, sprinkled with a dusting of plum powder which I liked but I didn’t take the rice since the rest of the items in the box already left me extremely full by the end of it. 20130813-101426.jpg

Here’s a closer look, and oh man, just looking at the cod makes me feel like eating it again.20130813-101433.jpg

What I liked about them was that the food was really good, of course that’s one of the things we look for in restaurants/eateries, and they are generous with the serving too. The sushi is more fish than rice and the ingredients were fresh and tasty. It was an enjoyable dinner that did not burn a hole in our pockets, and it was also a rather cool evening so sitting outside did not make us start perspiring over our food. I’m not sure how spacious the inside of the restaurant would be but on weekends if you would like to sit indoors perhaps you want to try calling for reservations. Service was generally ok but when the customers started filing in around dinner-time, they seemed pretty short-handed and requests for top-up of our green tea took a while, three times to three different waitresses before our cups were re-filled. Other than that, it’s a good place that I will return again for their food.