Japanese chirashi craze catches on in Singapore

One-bowl wonder created to use up odd bits of raw fish goes luxe

Do not underestimate the draw of raw seafood on rice, commonly known as chirashi don or kaisen don.

From being an overlooked rice option on restaurant menus, it has become one of the most popular items for sushi lovers. After all, the one-bowl wonder marries both sushi and sashimi in a healthy, satisfying meal and makes for a convenient takeaway option too.

What started out as a quick way for sushi chefs to minimise wastage - by placing the pieces of fish left over from making nigiri sushi over rice - has now gone luxe with thick slices or marinated chunks of raw fish, along with ingredients such as uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe).

And chefs are trying to edge out the competition with variations featuring premium fish depending on the season as well as flavoured rice.

Mr Teppei Yamashita, chef-owner of the Teppei chain of restaurants, says he sells up to 600 bowls of kaisen don a day across his five outlets.

He says: "The kaisen don can be a surprise bowl. There are no fixed kinds of raw fish that we add. We cube our fish so it doesn't absorb too much sauce and become too salty."

Over at Sushi Jin, head chef Raymond Tan flavours his rice with shiitake mushrooms. The three-month-old restaurant at One Farrer Hotel & Spa sells up to 70 bowls a week at lunchtime.

Sushi Jin is owned by the Les Amis Group, which also runs Japanese restaurant Aoki at Shaw Centre, popular for its mazechirashi lunch set, priced at $40++.

At Sushi Mitsuya in Tras Street, the Japanese rice is flavoured with mushrooms, kanpyo (a type of gourd) and sesame seeds.

Its head chef Ryosuke Harada, 34, says: "Like sushi, both the fish and sushi rice are equally important in the final presentation. The bara chirashi also gives diners a good preview of the fish we serve in the restaurant."

Other restaurateurs are putting a modern spin on the dish.

At Shinkansen salad bar, instead of the usual salad leaves and meats, salad-base options include sushi rice, while toppings include salmon, tuna, yellowtail and swordfish sashimi.

Owner Howard Lo, 38, says: "There are plenty of salad bars in Singapore, but with our experience in Japanese food, we offer many Japanese ingredients."

He also owns Japanese eateries such as Standing Sushi Bar and Tanuki Raw, which has a new lunch menu featuring rice bowls from $12.

And at a time when many diners post droolworthy photos of their meals on social media, Mr Lo says there are "few food selections prettier than chirashi don".

He says: "With different cuts of fish and toppings, the colours are striking against the sushi rice. Chirashi don is a beautiful item for Instagram."

Chirashi fan Seah Chee Wei, 30, who runs a petrol chemical business, frequents Teppei twice a month. Previously, he would get his chirashi fix from restaurants such as Sushi Tei and Sushi Airways.

He says: "At Teppei, I normally get an upsized bowl of chirashi and ask for extra tempura bits.

"Other restaurants that I've dined at just serve raw fish on rice. They don't marinate their fish like Teppei does."

euniceq@sph.com.sg


WHERE TO EAT

KOJI SUSHI BAR

Koji's chirashi don ($17++ with soup and salad) includes Hokkaido rice topped with marinated cubes of scallop, amberjack, tuna, chopped tuna belly, whelk and salmon. Mixed-grain rice is available for an extra $1. Add $9 for uni.

Where: Nankin Row, 3 Pickering Street, 01-42

Open: 11.30am to 3pm, 5 to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday. Closed for Chinese New Year from Wednesday to Feb 22.

Info: Call 6225-6125

SHINKANSEN

Those who love salad and sashimi can have the best of both worlds at Japaneseinspired salad bar Shinkansen. Choose from sushi rice, brown rice, soba noodles and quinoa for your salad base. Besides the usual toppings of meat and vegetables, you can also choose from salmon, tuna and yellowtail sashimi. Prices start at $7.50 for one base, five toppings and sauce. There are also combination bowls such as the Omega Don ($8.80), with sushi or brown rice, salmon sashimi, tamago, cucumber, ebiko and miso soup; and All Aboard! ($9.80), with sushi rice, cherry tomatoes, sliced raw fish and wafu dressing.

Where: Three outlets at Ocean Financial Centre, 10 Collyer Quay, B1-08; United Square, 101 Thomson Road, B1-60A; and 100AM, 100 Tras Street, 03-22

Open: 10.30am to 7pm (Ocean Financial Centre, weekdays only),

11am to 8pm daily (United Square and 100AM). All outlets closed for Chinese New Year from Wednesday to Saturday

Info: www.shinkansen.co

SUMIYA CHARCOAL GRILL IZAKAYA

Sumiya offers a Mix Bara Kaisen Don (set lunch with salad, appetiser, chawanmushi, miso soup and dessert at $18.80) with cubed fish such as maguro akami (lean tuna), chutoro, toro, amberjack, salmon and avocado. Tuna fans can opt for the Nama Hon Maguro Mixed Don ($30.80) with various parts of bluefin tuna, topped with ikura.

Where: Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road, 12-02

Open: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily. Closed for Chinese New Year on Wednesday and Thursday

Info: Call 6509-9618

SUSHI JIN

The three-month-old Japanese restaurant by the Les Amis Group features a variety of rice sets for lunch that come with salad, miso soup and dessert.

Its kaisen don ($36) includes slices of tuna, salmon, kajiki (blue marlin), hamachi (yellowtail tuna), amaebi (sweet shrimp), ikura and tobiko; and the bara chirashi ($32) has cubed fish such as tuna, salmon and white fish with ikura (salmon roe) and tobiko (flying fish roe). Both sets come with pickles and sushi tamago.

Where: One Farrer Hotel & Spa, 1 Farrer Park Station Road, Owen Link, 01-11/12 Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday. Closed for Chinese New Year from Wednesday dinner to Feb 22

Info: Call 6443-3378 or go to www.sushijin.com.sg

SUSHI MITSUYA

Sushi Mitsuya's signature bara chirashi ($50++ lunch set with two appetisers, soup and dessert) features ingredients such as hotate (scallop), anago (sea eel), akami (lean tuna) and boiled ebi (prawn). Head chef Ryosuke Harada adds seasonal offerings depending on availability, such as boiled ika geso (squid tentacles), sawara (Spanish mackerel)and kohada (gizzard shad).

Where: 60 Tras Street, 01-01

Open: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 11pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday. Closed for Chinese New Year from Wednesday dinner to Friday

Info: Call 6438-2608

TEPPEI JAPANESE RESTAURANT

Besides trying to get a coveted spot for its omakase meals, diners have been flocking to Teppei for kaisen don, rice topped with generous chunks of marinated fish and tempura crumbs for crunch.

The lunch set comes with side dishes and costs $17.60 at Teppei, while the other outlets (Teppei Syokudo at Millenia Walk and Takashimaya, closed from Wednesday to Friday for Chinese New Year) sell the bowl for takeaway at $16. Add $8 for uni and negitoro.

Other options include a mixed fish and sashimi squid don ($17.80). For an upsized version, order the sashimi cake. Prices start at $40 for a 20cm-wide cake, order a day in advance.

Where: Orchid Hotel, 1 Tras Link

Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday. Closed for Chinese New Year till Feb 25

Info: Call 6222-7363

THE SUSHI BAR

Thick slices of raw fish such as salmon, tuna, hamachi and swordfish adorn a bowl of rice topped with a slice of blowtorched salmon belly for extra oomph. A normal chirashi don costs $24.90, while the premium chirashi don costs $46.90.

Where: Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Road, 04-28

Open: 12.30 to 3pm, 5.30 to 9pm (weekday), 12.30 to 9pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday. Closed for Chinese New Year from Thursday to Feb 22

Info: Call 9653-6464