Prose by Photography: The Song of the Sea

There we stood- in quiet anticipation, watching as the waves lapped against and over the smoothened boulders leaving trails of white foam, while Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) rose up with its formidable rock face, basking in the sun. The water was a rich shade of teal, washing over the rocks tauntingly, challenging us to come closer. It looked cold. Really cold. For a moment I imagined falling into the strangely blue water, and shuddered at the thought of sinking into the sea and the things that might greet me beneath. To my right, a rugged-looking american photographer rubbed his hands together and stuffed them into the pockets of his grey windbreaker.

A moment ago, Jeju’s Haenyeo (also known as “women divers”) having suited up in black wet suits, singing with fishing nets slung over their shoulders, vanished into the embrace of the sea. I shifted around on my feet, feeling around the rock with the toe of my boot, careful to stay away from the water spray, and wondered how in the world these women could be so strong, so brave, and why they would choose such a challenging occupation or if it was even a choice at all.

A sharp whistle pierced the air, jolting me from my thoughts. Everyone’s gaze was transfixed upon the waters now. Sure enough, the Haenyeo were resurfacing. They were making some sort of whistling exhalation; a sound of victory as they resurfaced, bringing harvest from the sea. Even before they came close, I could see that they were smiling. It was something about the way they moved, the way they approached the shore, or maybe it was the deep pink flush of their cheeks that showed a surprising youthfulness.

What originally started out due to a need to survive, was no longer just that- and it occurred to me that perhaps these seemingly simple women had a wisdom after all. A wisdom that a large number of people in the world didn’t have – people who I knew were at this moment sitting in office cubicles, staring blankly at computer screens and dying to get out, when they could be doing something else. Something better.

A Haenyeo came by the spot where I stood and she looked up from her basket, at me. She smiled, as if knowing that I now understood that the message was as simple as this. Don’t let fear stop you like it’s stopping others from doing what they love, and you will be the early bird which finds its rewards.

Seongsan Ilchulbong or “Sunrise Peak”, Jeju Island, South Korea, April 2015

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Early Bird.”

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Wakakoma, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese – Kaisen Wakakoma Don, Kaisen Chirashi Don

I added Wakakoma restaurant to our “Hitlist” for Sapporo because it’d been featured on No Reservations. I’d watched that episode on one of the weekday nights after work, was sold by Anthony Bourdain’s mouthwatering descriptions and enthusiasm for Wakakoma, and found my tummy grumbling about not getting some of that amazing sashimi heap that Bourdain was happily tucking into.

Sapporo Fish Jyogai Market, North 11 West 21, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, 060-0011 (〒060-0011 北海道札幌市中央区北11条西21 中央卸売市場 場外市場), Tel: 011-644-7722, Opens daily from 9AM – 9PM

We had a tough time trying to find the place, with the front and sides of the building plastered over in a dozen signs filled with loud Japanese characters and stalls selling fresh seafood on the ground floor, I thought I’d gotten it wrong. I was asking for directions when one of the stall owners finally caught wind of “Wakakoma“, and gleefully pointed us in the right direction and up a narrow flight of stairs that we would’ve otherwise totally missed.

Damage: $$ – $$$

Wakakoma was definitely one of the pricest restaurants. The Kaisen Wakakoma Don was 3,780JPY (~$44 SGD)- but was also covered in 13 kinds of seafood and so was totally justifiable in my opinion. Can’t get nothing of that sort in Singapore, no, so might as well go big or go home!

To Go: Yes, but don’t go out of your way and stick with the tried-and-tested

It was very good, no doubt. The seafood was fresh covered ever inch of the top of the bowl, and included king crab and botan shrimp. Travelling around Hokkaido, you’d realise that any don (rice dish) with kani (crab) in it never ever comes cheap, and so while it was a pretty costly meal, I thought it was well-priced compared with everywhere else. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to eat at Wakakoma because it was a little out of the way (there was nothing that interesting in the area) and I think you can get some pretty darn decent kaisen dons elsewhere. Sorry Bourdain, but Marutomi Shokudo in Monbetsu was still the best.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

We alighted at a nearby parking lot and following my GPS, we found ourselves at the foot of a small cluster of buildings, huge signboards plastered on all sides. I led the way down the pavement – a narrow cement path which separated the shelves of fresh produce and seafood to our left and the road to our right on which huge lorries and trucks drove by hurriedly, fetching the day’s catch from the market to, I supposed, restaurants all over Sapporo.

Wakakoma Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Food Review Blog Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Jyogai Market

I walked up and down that same stretch several times, looking for Wakakoma, and each time seeming to succeed in overshooting the little red dot anchored on the map. A kind middle-aged Japanese lady manning the fruit stall finally figured out what we were looking for and pointed down the row. We’d stopped at regular intervals and turned to her for approval, only to see her wave us farther and farther down the row, until we finally ended up by a small staircase where she nodded and pointed upwards.

The staircase opened out into a small restaurant which could seat about 30-40 people. The chef’s table was to the right of the dining area, and dozens of signatures of (I suppose) famous people lined the wall at its entrance which probably meant Wakakoma was a favourite of many.

Wakakoma Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Food Review Blog Sapporo Hokkaido Japan

I took no time with ordering at all, considering I already knew exactly what I was there for, and everyone took my cue. When I saw the Kaisen Wakakoma Don, I’m pretty sure my eyes lit up- I mean, anyone’s would! With a grandiose botan shrimp head triumphantly poking out of the sea of sashimi, I’ll admit I was really excited. While some of it was good – like the hotate (scallops) and kani, others like the ika (squid) and maguro (tuna) fell short; the ika was chewy and rubbery while the maguro was thin and slightly stringy. I’d tried uni (sea urchin) a few times around Hokkaido and had attributed my indifference to the fact that those weren’t the freshest, but even at Wakakoma I was let down in spite of all the uni-campaigning that Bourdain had done. It was only recently when I had the best uni of my entire life at Hashida Sushi, surprisingly or otherwise, back home in Singapore – and that, is a story I’ll share with you in time.

Wakakoma Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Food Review Blog Sapporo Hokkaido Japan

Otaru Market, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

We made a stop by Otaru’s wet market in the late morning to check out their range of fresh seafood. Being a seaside town, Otaru’s streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling seafood in various forms – from live to dried to fresh cuts served with don. Otaru’s wet market was smaller than Kushiro’s Washo market but better, with fresher seafood and great value. The stall owners are a lot kinder as well, perhaps due to lesser competition, and even took the time to explain the different catches and fantastic sea creatures.

I walked down the length of the market armed with my DSLR, trying my best to capture as much of the colour as possible. One of the shopkeepers saw me pointing and commenting on the giant crabs in my video, and without hesitation, lifted the entire crab out of the tank and said, “Yes it is hu-ge!” Haha! – often it’s really the locals that really make the place even more memorable. He gave me a pinch of uni to taste before we eventually sat down to enjoy a Major seafood meal.

Right- enough of my talking. I’m going to hit you with the pictures 😛

Otaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food DiaryOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary King CrabOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary BlogOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Ikura Don Travel Food DiaryOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary

Travel Diary: Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

I remember waking up to this scene in the morning- watching as yachts slowly sailed out of the marina to sea, V-shaped ripples trailing in their wake. Once I escaped the veil of slumber, I excitedly sat up and pulled out my now-crumpled sheet of itinerary to see which stops I’d planned out for the day.

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Seaview Sea

Otaru, about half an hour’s drive northwest from Sapporo, has a small town kind of feel – we would walk along its wide, clean pavements, and make stops every few steps or so along the rows of shops, full of the most tantalising displays of chirashi don and fresh sashimi one moment, to dried seafood shops and souvenir shops the next. I guess part of the charm of Otaru was derived from not really knowing what might be stumbled upon. Full of historical buildings and some of the most incredible dessert shops, the town was bound to be full of pleasant surprises.

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal Street

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal Seafood Dried Shops

A day isn’t long enough for Otaru, especially if you have an affinity with food like I do. We would walk into glorious clouds of mouthwatering smells and be seduced by stalls selling a dazzling array of- very good, might I add- food with samples generously being offered to you as you stroll down the street; there’s no way anyone could go hungry in Otaru.

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal street side stalls

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal seafood Ika stuffed squid

And through the centre of it all, lay the beautiful Otaru Canal (小樽運河, known locally as Otaru Unga; featured picture)- a quiet, gentle body of water, mirroring the façades of the low rise buildings standing alongside it, delicately covered in a vibrant green, and also the clear blue sky. In the late afternoon, after hours of walking about, I’d sat by the canal on a cold stone bench, fleeing the sun for a moment of rest, and thought about how perfect this town seemed to be.

JUMBO Seafood Restaurant, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Singaporean / Chinese – Seafood

JUMBO is one of my family’s all-time favourite seafood restaurants because it is convenient and serves very good quality food at a competitive price point. I’ve tried chilli crab at a variety of restaurants and still find myself returning to JUMBO because there is that special something about the delicious semi-sweet savoury eggy gravy. If you’re in Singapore and are looking to try our perennial favourite, JUMBO is a good bet.

11 Dempsey Road, Singapore 249673, Tel: +65 6479 3435

JUMBO is prominently located at the end of a row of restaurants right in the centre of Dempsey. There is usually ample parking and JUMBO  has its own smallish carpark, although it can get quite crowded on Friday and the weekends.

Damage: $$ – $$$

I was there during Chinese New Year and we ate up half the sea. The bill came up to about $60 per head, which is extremely good value in my opinion, and we came away completely satisfied and stuffed.

To go: Often, whenever there’s a seafood craving to be fixed!

JUMBO has not yet disappointed me – I’ve tried probably about 70% of the dishes on the menu and and all the dishes have always been really good. Service is usually quite quick, and I like that they employ some mature staff who are very personable and helpful.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

This review comprises a run-down of some of JUMBO’s best and most popular dishes.

#1 Chilli Crab

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Singapore Chilli Crab Man Tou fried buns Food Review BlogThe top-seller at JUMBO, without a shadow of a doubt, has got to be its Chilli Crab. Those of you who’ve been around for a bit will remember that Gordon Ramsay challenged JUMBO on its chilli crab and won by the public over a while back. I don’t know about you (and I wasn’t there to taste Ramsay’s take on the dish) but JUMBO‘s is still my go-to for chilli crab. The crab is usually fleshy and fresh, and the gravy is just the best – just the right consistency and sweetness, noticeable but non-jarring spiciness from the chilli, and lots of egg beaten into it. I especially love the taste of peanut, which gives it a unique light nutty flavour and sings counterpoint to the rest of the sauce, and yet complements it perfectly.

Drunken Prawns

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Singapore Chilli Crab Man Tou fried buns Food Review Blog drunken prawnsThe Drunken Prawns are incredible value for money – we had about 15 prawns (mostly large) swimming in a huge bowl of brandy-infused broth for $21. When we were served the dish, we thought perhaps they got our order wrong because it didn’t seem “small” at all, but the check proved otherwise. The taste of the brandy in the prawn itself isn’t as strong as the same dish at Long Beach Seafood Restaurant, where they would pour brandy into a bowl of live prawns and show you how they jump about in the bowl before your very eyes, but still a good dish especially with the amount of broth that comes with; it’s practically a soup.

Salted Egg Golden Prawns

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Singapore Chilli Crab Man Tou fried buns Food Review Blog Salted Egg Golden Prawns

Sorry JUMBO, I HAD to steal this picture from your corporate site. I just could not explain the awesomeness of the Salted Egg Golden Prawns without a picture to go with. Every time I visit, we try so hard not to order this dish in a bid to try something different but always end up caving. The prawns come de-shelled, which means you can have every bit of that delicious grainy creamy salted egg yolk sauce that they come dunked in. Unbelievable. Yes, please.

Sauteéd Cod Fish with Special Sauce

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Singapore Chilli Crab Man Tou fried buns Food Review Blog sauteed cod fish special sauce

With this dish, you can never have enough. The Sauteed Cod Fish with Special Sauce ($28) features large chunks of succulent cod fish lightly encrusted with a slightly crisp caramelised special sauce (which is indeed so special I can’t really figure out what went into it besides probably some dark soy sauce) – are you salivating yet?

Chinese Spinach with Salted Egg Yolk and Century Egg

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Singapore Chilli Crab Man Tou fried buns Food Review Blog chinese spinach salted century eggI love this vegetable dish – I’m not sure I’m talented at describing vegetables (soft? limp?) but the gravy is really tasty; you can taste the texture and creaminess of the salted egg yolk in it. I was so sad when they sold out on this dish at my previous visit. Do try it!

OMG – why did I do this to myself? I am so hungry now.

Pince & Pints, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Mixed – Lobster

We headed to Pince & Pints for Dinner on the recommendation of a friend who’d been there at least three times since it’s opening, and she joined us yet again for our initiation. Singapore doesn’t have many lobster-roll-serving places, the other being Platypus Kitchen which I’d tried and thought to be subpar, so it made sense that as one of the few, people are bound to hear of it.

32/33 Duxton Road, Singapore 089497

Situated along a row of shophouses, Pince & Pints occupies two adjacent units near the most popular open-air carpark in the area, which is flanked on the other side by Sabio Tapas Bar & Restaurant and Buyan Russian Restaurant.

Damage: $$$

I didn’t think it was worth the money. Their menu consists of three kinds of lobster dishes (whole lobster either steamed or grilled, lobster roll, chilli lobster) all going at $48++, and often, a seasonal special. When we went, they had an XO lobster with rice for Chinese New Year. While lobsters are expensive, I just didn’t feel very satisfied on the small portion of lobster meat and ordinary fries on the side.

To go: Not really – I think I’ll head to a seafood restaurant for a lobster fix

The food was pretty average in my opinion, and with a waiting time of about 45 minutes to an hour on most days, it just doesn’t make much sense to me. My friends who’ve tried the lobsters in Boston say it’s nothing but an echo of what they have over there, so I guess I’ll have to wait till I finally visit the States to get a truly legit lobster roll fix.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

Admittedly, the Grilled lobster looked a lot more spectacular than the lobster rolls. The lobster meat was fresh, moist, and well-seasoned but the lobster was rather small and so wasn’t very fleshy. The butter sauce was a bit too loose and oily-tasting for my liking and lacked the depth of flavour which I expected from something based on butter, which is often used in french cuisine to give sauces added dimension and creaminess. All the dishes were accompanied by a cup of ordinary thick fries plainly seasoned with salt. The salad went unnoticed – some of the leaves were wilted, and the sauce was a thin, bare basic.

Pince & Pints Singapore Food Review Blog Grilled Lobster

The lobster roll was almost tiny – which I guess was to be expected since the lobsters didn’t have much meat to begin with. When we were served the rolls though, I could see the disappointment in the faces of my dining companions; one of whom promptly announced damn, I should’ve totally gone for the whole lobster instead. 

I’ve found that most of us receive lobster rolls expecting them to be served hot. On the contrary, at both Pince & Pints as well as Platypus Kitchen, they’re served out-of-the-fridge cold. I’m not sure if that’s how it’s done elsewhere, but that’s how it seems to be done here possibly because a steaming mayonnaise just wouldn’t make sense, and just a heads-up that this should be avoided if you’re in the mood for a hot dish instead.

Pince & Pints Lobster Roll Food Review Singapore Food BlogI guess it’s worth trying once, but I don’t think I’d return again. With the added service and GST, it comes up to about $57 for a bistro-kind of meal, and I think I’d prefer to be spending it elsewhere – like maybe at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant digging into a wok of chilli crab and going at the sauce with a little man tou (fried bun).

Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese

I have a feeling that one day I’m really going to regret having posted this. Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya has been around for a while but I don’t think many people have discovered it yet – which is why I have feelings of both fear and excitement (which, I know, sounds a little extreme for feelings towards a restaurant but legit nonetheless); fear for when it gets popular, I’m not going to be able to get a seat for a long time to come, and yet, excitement, at how much potential Sumiya has.

181 Orchard Road, #12-02 Orchard Central, Singapore 238896, opens daily 12-3pm and 6.30-10.30pm

Sumiya is located right at the top most floor of Orchard Central – the rooftop, to be exact. I’m not even sure many people are aware that there’s this top floor because the lifts only go up to level 11, where Tung Lok Seafood Restaurant is situated, and from there you’d have to turn left and walk all the way to the end. Go around the corner and you’ll find a set of escalators that are otherwise pretty obscure, and that will lead you right to Sumiya‘s doorstep.

Damage: $$-$$$

I think Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya possibly has one of the most ridiculous (in a good way) lunch sets in Singapore. The lunch sets are served daily (including weekends), and range from $15.80 for a Chicken Teriyaki Don to $58 for a King Kaisen Don which has a ridiculous amount of sashimi. The sets we had were about the $20 price range, and were of fantastic value, and just thinking about it is making me salivate. The grilled items, which are served based on a skewer count, are very popular and will spike your bill a little but are still competitively priced when compared with other charcoal grill places such as the ones at Cuppage Plaza.

To go: YES!!! (And soon…)

The food is incredible – sashimi slices were thick and fabulously fresh (just read on for the detailed review below), the tempura was also delicious, and everything was just- fantastic. Service was impeccable as well – they were friendly, attentive, and polite. Plus, there’s the great birds-eye view of Orchard and Somerset if you take a stroll on the balcony. Note to self: Go back ASAP.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya Singapore Food Review

Sumiya has the feel of a laidback slight old-world market-style charm with wooden tables on unfinished metal legs and high chairs, which were surprisingly comfortable. The charcoal grill was being worked to our right as we came in through the entrance, and the staff nodded politely in welcome.

The Fish of the day Charcoal Grill Set ($16.80) was made from mackerel, and was fresh, coming off in flakes. The outside was grilled to a golden brown with the lightest crisp, and was cleanly seasoned with sea salt which supported the natural flavours through.

Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya Singapore Food Review Blog

Assorted Tempura at Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya Singapore Food Review Blog

The Assorted Tempura set ($17.80) was a generous serving of five prawns and vegetable tempura in the loveliest batter. It was served piping hot and held it’s crisp to the end of the meal, and was well complemented by the light but flavourful dipping sauce and a generous serving of freshly grated radish. They definitely didn’t stinge on the ingredients – the vegetable tempura was made from asparagus.

My dish was the Mix Bara Kaisen Don ($18.80) and when I saw it, I went wow, and the waitress couldn’t help but break into a smile at my enthusiasm for the dish. I mean, seriously, look at it-

Sumiya Charcoal Grill Izakaya Singapore Food Review Blog Mix Bara Kaisen Don

BAM! Heaps and heaps of thick juicy sashimi which were so fresh, with generous bits of avocado (!) and a mountain of ikura and roe. It tasted absolutely divine! Each set came with a salad, an appetiser, chawanmushi, japanese pickles, soup, and a green tea mochi (which I totally fell in love with). OMG is all I can say, my tastebuds were absolutely singing afterwards – to the top of my list!