Okinawan Cuisine at Nirai-Kanai

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Out of the 3 main islands of Japan, Okinawa is the only island that I have not visited yet. So, if I can’t visit it right now, I can try out their cuisine from the restaurant Nirai-Kanai, located at the basement of Liang Court.

I like the decor of the place but I was too focused on getting food that I forgot to take photos of the place. Nevertheless, let me attempt to describe it to you. It has a lot of wooden boards placed to divide the booths and there are a lot of license plates and bottle caps decorating the walls, giving you a rustic countryside feel. You are also greeted by the many bottles of shochu that regulars keep and it just made you feel really cosy and relaxed. The music played is also typical Okinawan and their distinct way of playing the shamisen.

My friend, Eddie, had worked part time in this restaurant when he was completing his final year in University. As such, I asked him for his recommendation and one of them was the Nishibi-nbushi (S$15.30++ for set), which is eggplant cooked with minced pork and tofu in a sweet miso gravy. The set came with soup, pickles and peanut tofu for dessert. Other recommendations are:

  • pork belly soba
  • goya champuru (don’t order this if you don’t like bittergourd)
  • pork knuckle set

I have to describe each bowl/ plate of item in my set in order to give it justice as well as to explain how different Okinawan cuisine is from mainstream Japan. This is not your typical fare that you’re used to from the various restaurants popping up all over Singapore.

They use actual Japanese rice from Japan. I can’t remember the brand of the rice but it’s from the Hiroshima Prefecture and the Japanese description labelled it as ‘premium’. So, off the bat, you know that you’re paying good money for good quality rice. Honestly, it’s not the same quality as the pearl rice that I’ve eaten in Japan but that’s another grade higher but this will do. It’s already MUCH better than the Californian/ Australian short grain rice that most other restaurants in Singapore serve.

It’s not miso although it has a slight flavour of it. It’s heavier in bonito and the seaweed that they serve in this soup is not the smooth kelp but the more feathery type. I really don’t know all the types of seaweed out there, so please bear with my description. What I like about the soup is that it’s not salty and heavy (unlike miso soup), so it washes down the salt and sugar from the main dish.

Pickled Daikon
As you can see from the photo, the radish is not yellow and is sliced really thinly. It’s vinegared but does not have a sharp taste to it. It’s so light and refreshing that I could just eat it plain or as a side with alcohol.

I love eggplant and cooking it with minced pork and tofu is just my kind of dish. The sauce is slightly sweet and you could tell that it’s from the sweetness of the miso. I think I now know what the concierge in Osaka was saying – white miso is sweet, unlike red miso. Interestingly enough, I picked up a slight fermented wine taste in the sauce. This is simple but with the high quality ingredients, it just tastes great together.

Peanut tofu
This innocent looking tofu sitting in a small pool of black sugar syrup with a dollop of grated ginger did not scream ‘eat me’. However, you must try it just for the sake of admiring the chef’s ability to incorporate the distinct peanut taste into the tofu, without you munching on any peanut bits! Was the peanut ground into a fine powder first? Was it creamed? Peanut butter? The possibilities! The tofu was very smooth and the peanut taste was not overpowering but neither was it weak. I’m not a fan of ginger but surprisingly, the ginger went well with the whole peanut tofu with syrup. 

I’m so intrigued by each element in my set because everything seems so homemade and simple but you know that there’s a lot of effort in making it effortless. To add, it’s not your typical sushi/sashimi/udon/ramen and it is so much fun in exploring this other culture that is typical Okinawan! This is a MUST TRY!

Okinawa Nirai- Kanai
177 River Valley Road
#B1-01/02 Liang Court

Phone +65 63394811

Mon – Fri: 12:00 – 15:00 (last order 14:30)
Mon – Fri: 18:00 – 23:00
Sat & Sun: 12:00 – 15:30 (last order 15:00)
Sat & Sun: 18:00 – 23:00

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