Spring Kyushu Fair

These are pictures from the Spring Kyushu Fair held in late March to early April of this year in Singapore.  This is what I meant about being agitated about not having a Japan blog, because I should have posted them then.  This is a bit dated, but I thought it was worth sharing anyway!

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The fair’s banner was hanging in the center section of the Tampines Mall.  Tampines Mall is set up as round levels with an open center.

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This is the view from above, from I think the third floor.  The fair was set up in the middle of the mall and was jam packed with people every single day.

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I was shocked at how expensive these arus melons from Miyazaki were.  If you look at the blue text on the sign you can see that 49 SGD was already the marked down price from their usual 60 SGD.  I think we went on the last day of the fair.  I tried to do a little research on the melon but there’s little available, through Google anyway.  What I did find says that the arus melon is considered “The King of Japanese Fruits” and is highly sought after as a gift for its fragrance, beautifully netted skin and great taste.

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There was a booth selling selections of fine tea.  I kinda wish I’d bought some now that I look at the photo.

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Photos of the crowds and some of the booths.

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A lot of the booths were doing cooking on the spot, like this booth, where a girl was preparing takoyaki balls.

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And what Japan fair would be complete without a booth selling sake?  The sake he was holding was actually really, really good and I wanted a bottle of it but he had already sold out.  He didn’t mind letting me have a few shots from the sample bottle though, which was pretty cool of him.  We wound up getting a sparkling rose sake for my wife, but got so busy with getting ready for our trip to the Philippines at the beginning of May that we we gave it away as a gift instead.

I’m looking forward to visiting another Japan-related Fair.  Hopefully there’ll be one in Manila sometime soon!

Japanese Sesson Grill at Manpuku, Tampines 1

We’ve gone to Manpuku quite a few times, but we still haven’t tried everything the place has to offer.  That’s not so much for lack of opportunity, but lack of desire.  You see, Manpuku as an establishment has slowly been going downhill.

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When Manpuku first opened, the place was packed all the time.  It was fresh, it was clean, the decor was awesome and the food was a novelty.  Unfortunately, most of the choices weren’t anything to get excited about, especially for the prices they were charging.  Most of it is little better than hawker food.

A few months ago, I’m not sure exactly when, Manpuku’s customer base shrunk to the point that they did away with the charge card system.  It used to be that when you arrived you would queue up to wait for seating and to get a charge card.  You would use the card to pay for the items you wanted from the various booths inside.  Then, before leaving you went through a register check-out lane, kinda like in a grocery store.  That’s where you settled your bill.  Now, you just walk in and pay at the specific booth you want to eat from, either cash or NETS.  If you want to use a credit card you still use the original charge card system.  I suppose that system became more of a hassle than it was worth in regards to having extra employees just to ring up the bills and the owner realized it would be more cost effective to have individual booth workers handle their own cash payments.

With the lower patronage comes lower standards it seems.  The trays are usually covered in a white grime and the eating utensils still have residue on them when you pick them up.  It makes me wonder if they even use washing soap or if they just rinse them with water.  I’ve also had trouble communicating with some of the employees lately.

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Despite these issues, there are still a few gems to be found there.  The ramen from Aoba Hokkaido Ramen is pretty good but we wanted to try something different, so we went to Japanese Sesson Grill, which is in the corner near the MRT tracks.

The food is a bit pricey.  Individual kabobs were between 2.50 and 3 bucks apiece, which seems expensive given their size.  We settled on having a set meal that came with five skewers, rice and miso soup for 13 SGD.  It seemed a fair enough price to pay for what we were getting.

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One good thing about Manpuku falling out of public favor is that it’s less crowded and you can actually have a quiet sort of meal there.  We went to the very corner, overlooking the MRT station area.  It was even a bit cozy feeling there.

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The food itself was better than I hoped it would be.  It’s nothing to get too excited about but I definitely felt that I’d gotten what I paid for and left satisfied.

Kim Garry: Hong Kong Restaurant

The booths looked really comfortable but they were all full. The booths on the other side of the restaurant were roped off, since the restaurant wasn’t that full.

On Wednesday I went to meet my wife for a late lunch and she recommended we try out the Kim Garry restaurant that’s on the basement level of Tampines 1. I’d never had Hong Kong style food before, at least that I know of, so I was willing to give it a shot.

When we were seated by the hostess, she tried to squeeze us into a cramped area along the wall that was already packed with customers, so we went ahead and re-seated ourselves at a stand-alone table where we’d have more room.  If I’m going to pay for food at a restaurant I’d rather be comfortable, otherwise I’d just go pay 3 bucks for food at a hawker and squeeze in there.

This is the back of the restaurant. If I remember right, there was a window in that back wall that opened on the kitchen.

A little Engrish to liven things up.

The decor of the restaurant is really nice.  It had a stylish, modern look to it, but it felt a little incongruous given the types of food.

The borscht soup and the silverware, which was packed in a sealed container.

The food itself was good.  We started out with the borsch, which is a traditionally Russian or Polish soup that has a beet and tomato juice base.  The borsch we were served had chunks of tomato and cabbage in it as well.  I’d never had borsch before, so I have no basis for comparison but it seemed pretty good to me.

Before moving on, one more thing I’d like to point out is how they serve their silverware.  You can see it in the picture above.  It comes in a sealed container and the utensils were spotless, which is just how I like it.

The sauce was delicious and the serving was generous!

My wife had a dish that I forget the name of, but it had pork chops in garlic sauce over spaghetti noodles.  She let me have a bite of the pork chop and it tasted great!

A few pieces of the beef were chewy, and I think I screwed up picking the red wine sauce that’s under the cheese, on the rice, but it was still a good dish.

I went with the beef baked rice with cheese.  There was a choice between a white cream sauce with sweet corn and a red wine sauce.  I went with the red wine sauce, which I think may have been a mistake.  It’s sweetness threw off the whole dish.  If I go there again before departing Singapore, I’ll definitely try a baked rice dish with corn next time.

When it came time to pay the bill, we were happy with the cost.  The food seemed to be reasonably priced.

Overall, the dining experience was moderate.  It’s hard to judge a whole restaurant off of one trip and one dish, but I think this is a restaurant that’s worth going back to at least a few more times to further explore the menu, if only I had the opportunity.

Ajisen Ramen @ Tampines Mall

Yesterday afternoon was a little cool out, surprisingly considering Singapore’s typical weather this time of year, so my wife and I were both in the mood for something soupy.  Typically, that means a trip to Manpuku for their Aoba Hokkaido Ramen, but our last visit was a little less than appealing, so we decided to try something new.  There’s a restaurant on the top floor of Tampines Mall called Ajisen that serves ramen.  We’d been by there quite a few times because we typically go to the outlet of Pastamania! that’s right next to it, or passed by it to go to the movies when we lived in Tampines. We’d glanced over the menu a few times but never given it a try, so we figured it was the perfect opportunity to give a new (to us) restaurant a chance.

My wife ordered the cha shu ramen, to compare it with what we normally get at Manpuku.  I decided to be a little adventurous and went with the scallop ramen.  The ramen came as a set, so for our set items we ordered the cuttlefish and California maki.  We also ordered a side of dumplings, again for comparison with what we usually got at Manpuku.

The meal as a whole wasn’t that bad at all.  The taste was good and it was well worth what we paid for it, which totalled 37 SGD for the two of us.  We got quite a bit of food for that amount.  It wasn’t a meal that wowed us, and I doubt I’ll be pressuring my wife to go back anytime soon, but it’s a decent meal and a suitable lunch destination.

What really appealed to me about the place was the pleasant appearance of the restaurant and the good service the staff provided.  When we initially entered the restaurant we were immediately greeted and seated.  When we asked to be moved to a booth, which was more comfortable than where we were initially placed, the staff was more than happy to oblige us.  Our servers were very polite, casual and friendly and they always had a smile on their faces.  It was a very pleasant experience.

Later, when we got home, I checked HungryGoWhere, a review site for Singapore’s restaurants, and saw that quite a few people had complained about bad service on the part of the staff.  I didn’t see it, at all.  Perhaps the manager had been reading the reviews there and gave the staff some training, because they did a great job for us.  That, more than anything else, would encourage me to want to go back.  Nothing makes a meal more enjoyable than proper service from the staff.

So, if you’re in Tampines Mall and you’re looking for a nice ramen meal, Ajisen is a decent place to go.

Singaporean Funeral Procession

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at the kopitiam near where I live and I heard music, so I turned and looked up the road.  I saw what I thought was a parade and, being curious, I started taking photos.  I quickly finished my coffee and then moved down to the road where I could have a better view.

The decorations were very interesting and I thought the two guys wearing the costumes were very cool.

As another set of vehicles approached I noticed the music playing was more somber and mournful.  The music playing from the lead vehicle had been cheerful and lively sounding by comparison.  I then realized that the group of people following the vehicle were carrying an ornate wooden coffin above them, draped with flowers.  I didn’t take a photo of them, or the coffin, out of respect for the recently deceased.

The smile quickly faded from my face and I waited respectfully as the funeral procession passed before walking back home.  I guess not everything coming down the road playing music in Singapore marks a happy occasion.

The procession was similar to funeral processions in the US, but only vaguely.  In the US a procession is usually led by two police on motorcycles, followed by a cavalcade of vehicles with the hearse at the tail end followed by two more police on motorcycles.  It’s common courtesy and tradition (if not illegal to not do so) to pull over to the side of the road and wait for the procession to pass completely, before continuing down the road.  By comparison, traffic on the road around the procession here in Singapore couldn’t have cared less from what I saw.  One vehicle almost ran over some of the people walking while quickly turning onto a side road.

Different places, different customs.