Wagyu, don, unagi, tamago: These are all common words known to Japanese foodies. But how about gyutan, anago and junmai daiginjo? (Answer: beef tongue, seawater eel, a type of premium sake). If you aspire to sound like a Japanese food pro, these would be a few to add to the gourmet vocabulary.
Despite its overwhelming popularity, Japanese food is still largely unexplored. While conveyer belt sushi and ramen counters have become staples and comfort food in Singapore, many exciting ingredients and dishes are left undiscovered.
The good news is, you don’t have to jet to Japan to savour them. They’re all available for islandwide delivery in Singapore! We filter the delicious options and give you a list of 10 food and drink items to try when you next have Japanese food cravings.
Hoho is an under-utilised cut from the lower cheeks of pigs. Also kown as pork jowl, it bears some semblance to back bacon, but has a higher meat-to-fat ratio. Because pigs rarely use this muscle, it is tender and sweeter, and literally melts in your mouth when grilled.
“Gyu” means cow, and “tan” comes from the English word tongue. A local delicacy in Sendai, Japan, beef tongue is said to originate from a yakitori restaurant in 1948. This exotic organ has a rich beefy flavour and is typically thickly sliced and braised till tender, or thinly sliced, seasoned and grilled over a charcoal flame.
Wagyu, in the Japanese food vocabulary, needs no introduction. This perfectly marbled, umami-rich beef come from four top breeds of Japanese black or red cattle raised in stress-free, zen-like environments. The different types of wagyu, however, can be mind-boggling. Like wine, it differs between regions, with top restaurants sometimes offering a variety of cool options.
Miyazakiwagyu from the Miyachiku co-op belongs in the top tier, having won the last three consecutive awards at Japan’s “Olympics of Wagyu Beef”. This cherry red meat with snowflake-liked fat was served at the 90th Academy Awards party. Sagawagyu and Nagasaki wagyu come from the Saga Prefecture and Nagasaki Prefecture respectively. Both regions are known for their mild climate, clean water, and superb wagyu breeding and rearing techniques.
Seawater eel anago stands apart from its more popular cousin unagi (freshwater eel), which has been over-consumed to the extent that it has been deemed endangered by Seafood Watch, an international advisory on sustainable seafood practices. As a more sustainable option native to Tokyo Bay, anago is less fatty, and has a cleaner, softer, sweeter and more delicate flavour.
The bluefin tuna, one of Japan’s most prized sashimi fish, often fetches millions in Tokyo’s Toyosu Fish Market’s first auction of the New Year. Each part of this giant fish tastes different and comes with a different price tag.
Otoro comes from the inside of the fish belly and is the fattiest cut. Chutoro is moderately fatty and gives you more bite. Akami is the leanest cut from the fish’s body. In most Singapore restaurants, akami is simply referred to as maguro.
The poisonous puffer fish is a luxury ingredient in Japan that only specially licensed chefs may safely prepare. Besides sashimi, it is also cut into strips and grilled. In Japan, this is a very popular otsumami (snack) enjoyed with alcohol.
A refreshing alternative to ramen, these thick noodles are cooked, cooled to improve their texture and firmness, and served with a thick, rich dipping broth. After you are done with your noodles, add some dashi stock to dilute the delicious broth and slurp up every last drop.
Picking a celebratory sake? “Junmai” refers to sake brewed with pure rice and no additives. “Daiginjo” is a super premium sake made with rice milled to 50 per cent or less of its original size. Light, complex and aromatic, junmai daiginjo is the highest grade of sake worthy of a grand splurge.
Thirsting for a more rustic touch? “Nigori” literally means “cloudy”, and refers to coarsely filtered sake with rice particles. Chill this milky opaque sake, gently shake the bottle, and enjoy it paired with spicy Japanese food for a lovely contrast.