Okinawan Diner Nirai-Kanai, formerly at Liang Court, have now shifted to Great World City (oh wait, I have just learned that Great World City has amended its name to ‘Great World’ as I am penning this review).
Many thanks to JPassport on the food tasting invitation for this opportunity to re-visit Nirai-Kanai at their new site, and even though I have personally visited them twice at their former premise, this time I brought along a dining partner new to Okinawan cuisines. I thought since I have reviewed them previously, let’s also hear what someone new to Okinawa cuisines has to say, along with my personal take on items that I have not tried previously.
The name Nirai-Kanai actually means the god’s world in the distance of the sea, that’s got to be a reminiscence to the location of Okinawa, which is situated in the middle of East China Sea. Despite being a part of Japan, Okinawa is very unique, even in the eyes of Japanese, not just in terms of climate, but culture and culinary too! In fact, when my friend took a look at their menu, her first comment was, “I thought this looks like a Chinese cuisine menu!”
Well, she ain’t wrong, because in history, Okinawa, or rather the former Ryukyu kingdom, had Chinese heritage. And since the WWII, even American culture has integrated into their lives. Thus, making Okinawa looks like a foreign land even to the Japanese. As such, don’t expect Okinawa cuisine to possess that meticulous presentation usually associated with Japanese cuisines, they taste significantly different too!
Alright, let’s get into the food! 🙂
Soon as we were seated, we were immediately served Umibudo, which literally translates into sea grapes. Sea grapes, otherwise also known as Green Caviar for its look and taste, is in fact a unique kind of seaweed with a soft and succulent texture. It is served raw and has a mild savoury taste on its own, every bite seems to release the favour of the sea! It is not unique to Okinawa though, but having it raw means that you will appreciate it coming from cleaner water, and Okinawa is known to have pristine sea. As such, Okinawa’s sea grapes are overwhelmingly regarded as the premium grade. Those who desire a more intense flavour can also dip them in the accompanied Ponzu sauce. In addition, having these here also offers us a perfect opportunity to sharpen our pathetic chopstick skills! LOL!
Disregard the name ‘soba’ here, this is Okinawan-styled ramen! Japan occasionally use the term soba even for ramen, and Nirai-Kanai uses thick, flat, egg-noodle here, in fact the unevenness of the noodle suggests it’s probably handmade, and Nirai-Kanai imports them directly from Okinawa! Their noodle has a firm but chewy texture, and because of its unevenness, it makes the noodle easier to retain the light broth. As you can see, in contrast to conventional Japanese ramen, in place of the charshu is their simmered pork rib, and this is a very different flavour from conventional ramen, if I may say, it’s resembling more towards Chinese noodle with a humbling but hearty taste.
I’m sure my dining partner must be kidding when she asked, “Where’s the Kong-Bak Pau?”
While general Japanese would probably preferred having pork belly grilled, Okinawan had them simmered. And unlike our Kong-Bak Pau, the light soy sauce is less sinful and complicated than our local’s black sauce version. But let’s not be disillusioned by its presentation, the pork belly are said to have been slow-cooked in three Okinawan seasonings, namely Awamori (Okinawa distilled liquor), Okinawan brown sugar, and soy sauce, the end result is a very sophisticated flavour that massively brings out the taste of the pork belly. It is said that this was also a royal cuisine from the former Ryukyu kingdom, a must try for anyone new to Okinawan cuisine!
The last item in our tasting menu is my overwhelming favourite, Okinawan Brown Sugar Pancakes. Brown sugar from Okinawa is very famous for its deep, rich flavour, made from sugar canes grown in fields blessed with rich minerals. It has a wide range of health benefits, and presents widely in Okinawan cuisines, possibly one reason why Okinawan tend to live a long life expectancy.
The Brown Sugar Pancakes here comes with whipped cream, but it’s sweet enough on its own, and serves as a delightful dessert after meals.
That’s all for the tasting menu, but we have also ordered Okinawan Pancake with Leek and Red Ginger, as we don’t feel like walking away without paying anything.
This is another of my favourites which I was eager to introduce to my dining partner. I love bonito, and thought she likes it too. But I forgot she dislikes leek, which ended up, she only took a few slices here. Nonetheless, I love to see the bonito flakes ‘dancing’ when it was served, and it goes well with or without the supplied sauce. Taste wise, it’s completely different from the Brown Sugar Pancake, the latter is sweet, while this is savoury. To me, it’s like flavour of the sea in a pancake!
Alright, I have come to the end of this review. Once again, I would like to express my thanks to J Passport and Okinawan Diner Nirai-Kanai for the invitation. You know what, after trying Okinawan cuisines at Nirai-Kanai, if you are lucky enough, you may get to try them in Okinawa too! In collaboration with Okinawa Prefectural Government Singapore office, Okinawan Diner Nirai-Kanai is having a “Dine and GO Okinanawa” campaign, offering a chance to visit Okinawa for free, with return direct flights, along with 20kg baggage pax to every diner visiting between 15 Feb – 15 Mar 2020.
Okinawan Diner Nirai-Kanai
1 Kim Seng Promenade #01-107/108
Great World (City)
Tel: +65 63394811
Opening Hours: 11:30 – 15:00, 18:00 – 22:00