命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya


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Got ice?

I love the way you can still get hand crafted ice balls in many Japanese bars apart from the quality of the ice and the slow melting times (low drink dilution scale), if you plant yourself in a good spot you are in for a great show. Fortunately the bartenders tend to drink less than you do and I am yet to see any real injuries.

This one comes from my most recent trip to Japan (Feb 2013) as I sat for a quiet meal up at the bar of an Izakaya in Yoyogi-Hachiman near Shibuya.


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Champon – ちゃんぽん

Champon (ちゃんぽん) is one of my favourite noodle dishes of all time and part of a long term search to reproduce at home. I first encounterd this dish at Narukyo (なるきよ) as a “finisher”; a final dish at the end of a great night of food and shochu (is there eanything else to drink at an isakaya?). The combination of ingredients and the stock made me stand up and take notice, much more than any ramen, laksa or miscellaneous soup noodle combination.

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It appears that the dish is a Chinese / Japanese fusion concoction that first came to life in Japan in the city of Nagasaki. The combination of pork, seafood and vegetables when well picked is quite a balanced dish and adding seasonal produce makes almost every Champon a new experience. At Narukyo (なるきよ) I have experienced a deluxe version made for a friend of mine. Well, several deluxed versions, usually with Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) for him but I have had additions of soft roe of cod or even ikura (salmon roe) to build up the luxurious content.

After my first Champon experience I tried to have a crack at making it on my return home and ended up with a reasonable noodle soup, but not Champon. Some of the key (well regular) ingredients are hard to get in Australia (mostly the particular type of fish cake) and my first few attempts probably did not have the balance of noodle / vegatable / pork & seafood. Over time my recipe is getting closer based on constrant laboratory and field research.

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Ingredients
OK, this is not going to be measured to the microgram kind of recipe, it is still a work in progress and it is more fun to play with the variations.

  • Stock 500ml to make two servings
  • Lard
  • Standard Meat  /Seafood – sliced pork fillet, slices of fish cake, squid or calamari slices, soft roe of cod
  • Vegetables – cabbage, carrots, beanshoots
  • Additives (Deluxe) – sliced abalone, prawns
  • Toppings (Super-Deluxe) – salmon roe (ikura) or sea urchin roe (uni)
  • Champon (or ramen) noodles

The best ratio I have found is to have an equal volume of noodles / seafood & meat / vegetables with stock to fill the bowl.

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Cooking Instructions

  • Fire up the wok, and I do mean fire. Should be smoking hot
  • Add the lard and swish around to melt, making sure the smoking hot theory is still in place
  • Add the seafood / meat pieces (pork and fish cake at a minimum) and toss in wok for around 2 minutes
  • Add the vegetables and any of the deluxe additives that need less cooking than the meat, continue to toss wok like a madman
  • Scoop in the stock from your secret sauce bucket, throw on the noodles tossing everything through
  • Cover with a lid and let cook for around 2 mins
  • Serve into bowls by placing noodles and items neatly with chopsticks. Scoop in broth with other contents
  • For Super-Deluxe version add a “garnish” of salmon roe (ikura) or sea urchin roe (uni). Some ground sesami seeds may also be used.
  • Consume. Go to the top and start again 😉

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A Note on the Stock

So far my best efforts have been based on trail and error with a handful of suggestions obtained at the end of a long line of spent shochu. I start with a good chicken stock and for this I actually use a recipe from How to cook like Heston. This makes a fantastic chicken broth keeps well frozen (ideal for when you come home and decide you need champon). To this I would add some pork bones from the butcher, even some pork belly if nothing else comes to hand. You should end up with a milky appearance to the stock and a tonne of body added by the pork.

This recipe I am sure will be a work in progress and upgraded on every trip. Look for updates! Comments welcome!


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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The first I had heard of Jiro Ono (surprisingly to me) was a few months back when I went into Chef’s Armoury to grab some bits and pieces. While there I was forced at gun point to buy one of their 5th Anniversary Yanagiba’s (thin knife used to slice fish and seafood). My wife’s interpretation of this event was a fat old guy with a sorry look on his face begging to buy a new toy. Either way, I came home with a sensational new knife.

Along with a lovely certificate of authenticity from the factory, included was a signed menu book from the 3 Michelin Star rated sushi restaurant owned and run by Jiro Ono. Although completely in Japanese it is an exquisite little tome outlining the menu items and ingredients utilised in his establishment.

Straight away I hunted for the DVD and I must say it is a gem. For anyone with a penchant for Japanese cooking and want to see extreme sushi at it’s best you must watch this film.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”


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Narukyo – なるきよ

Narukyo has long been one of my favourite Isakaya’s in Japan. I was first taken here by a work colleague in around 2007 during a business trip to Tokyo and have been in love with it ever since. My attraction to it sprung to me on the first night I visited when we saddled up to the bar stools to the left and back and started with a glass of imo shochu and the rest just seemed to happen. Maybe it is because I always go with a regular, but I have never seen a menu (although I am assured they have one) and with just a hint of “what do you feel like” you wander through some courses until you are full.

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I have to admit also that I have never set foot in their dining room, a more traditional Japanese / sit uncomforatbly on the floor type arrangement from what I have heard. Oversized western man no fit so the counter near the bar is right on for me. This is the perfect spot for me as I like watching the food being prepared almost as much as I enjoy eating it (ok, maybe not that much). From our facourite vantage point you can see right across the bar / kitchen area, seeing all the preparation for the food. While we have never been short of good food suggested by the staff, sometimes that dish the crosses your sight is what you want next ;).

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As for style it is very Japanese and very seasonal. I have been there through many seasons and whether it is an appetiser of Oden from the bubbling pot at the front of the kitchen to the seasonal vegetables and seafood. Narukyo himself is a frequent visitor to the Tsukiji fish market for fresh produce and there are always fresh vegetables and fruit procured that day balanced on mounds of ice ready at hand to be crafted into something special.

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There are always an array of grilled items available including sensationally marbled Japanese beef, tataki of tuna or bonito, and I am quite surprised at how many different ways I have been served what began as a chicken thigh.

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The standard issue ending dish for me has always been Champon – a noodle dish quite unlike any other I have tried. If you search the internet you will be bombarded with simple explanations of this former peasant dish but no comments or photos will do justice to the flavour. This beast is part ramen, part yakisoba with an interesting array of fish cake, seafood, pork and other items included from time to time. The stock is vaguley ramen-esque but when quized the only answer I could get roughly translates to “secret sauce”. When in for a real treat, close your eyes and open your wallet and ask for the “deluxe” champon which with include oftern uni (sea urchin roe) or ikura (salmon roe) or sometimes even a giant hard shell prawn.

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The owner, head chef, master of ceremonies and stand up comedian Narukyo of the restaurant of the same name ;). He is a colourful character as anyone who remembered what adorned the walls four years or so back but has a great eye for food and always keeps you entertained. I only wish my Japanese was better to understand the complete entertainment package.

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So when you have a few hours of hunger to kill and Omatesando is nearby, find the nearest Japanese speaker and head down for a great meal and entertainment all round. Contact details can be found on their facebook page.


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Santaro – Sushi in Singapore

After a week in Melaka (Malaysia) for a business meeting I have a couple of days to myself before spending next week in our Singapore office. Many people had given me a recommendation for a Thai restaurant in the hotel I was staying in; but I didnt feel like Thai. So on the second floor of the Amara hotel on Tanjong Pagar Road I tripped over Santaro Japanese Restaurant.

In one corner of the second floor is a simple looking doorway with a neat blue noren monogrammed with the restaurant name in Japanese and English. As I ducked my head and walked in I was greeted with the traditional Japanese screaming that brings you into any restuarant. At the time there were only a couple of tables taken and I sat at the counter. (many more patrons came in over the coming hour, it just appears 7pm is too early for dinner in Singapore 😉 )

Sitting down at the counter I was greeted further by a chef who I was later to find out was the owner. My favourite position was unoccupied which was great; I love to sit right near the display of ingredients with a view of the preparation surface so I can get a look at the knife work. Ordering a small bottle of a semi-dry cold sake I continued my discusssion with the owner as a couple of appetizers were delivered for me to enjoy with my sake.

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I seemed to make his evening by asking for a mix of sashimi. Not so much by the order, but by requesting his choice of the best selection. I can only assume that he gets a few patrons come in and point to salmon and tuna and take a very safe but unadventurous journey for their meal.

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The selection was delicious; salmon and tuna of course but the salmon was from the belly and two types of tuna were there (two sweet pieces of the fatty tuna hide behind the shiso leaf to the right of the photo).

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I followed this up with a few recommended pieces of sushi with the favourite of mine being the ikura sushi above. The ikura had been well prepared and it was finished off by some small flecks of yuzu zest which was quite a surprise.

Others in the restaurant enjoyed more of the dishes but I was only in the mood for some casual sushi. The restaurant has quite an impressive set of kaiseki menus and an affordable range of luch sets. Price is quite fair for the quality of ingredients, preparation and service but it is not your local sushi train; this is the kind of quality sushi restaurant I have experienced in Japan. Also, considering it is located inside a hotel I suggest the pricing quite fair. Head chef Santaro-san is a lively and talkative fellow with a passion for japanese cuisine that you can see in his eyes and knife work. Having a few of my sashimi pieces served from his other chefs he is certainly the craftsmen so I would try where possible to have him serve you.

So, when you are in Singapore but want to have dinner in Japan, try Santaro.

Santaro Japanese Restaurant
165 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088539
Amara Hotel
+65 6324 8388