If you don't know what kushiage is, then take a seat, loosen your belt and let me explain. It's all about bite-sized nibbles of meat, vegetables and seafood, jammed on a skewer, dipped in batter and panko breadcrumbs and then deep-fried until all your dreams come true.
Kushiage is one of the major drawcards at Menya Oiden, a new opening in Skyview Plaza next door to its sister outlet Menya Mappen.
The menu here is a direct complement to Menya Mappen. Where Menya Mappen primarily offers noodles and tempura, Menya Oiden is all about rice dishes, with a self-serve kushiage counter providing a bread-crumb coated crunch.
The process of ordering is just the same: patrons join the queue -- cafeteria-style -- and place their order with the first server who ladles out your dish on the spot. There's a selection of curries on rice (including a bewildering sounding cheese curry rice) but the most popular dishes are probably sukiyaki beef, thin sliced of beef and onion simmered in soup, and tuna tataki, a disc of minced tuna belly served on rice. Other options include kimchi beef, grilled chicken yakitori and deep-fried prawns.
Presenting the ontama tuna tataki bowl
Half the fun is in the side dishes, from the ontama egg option -- a soft boiled egg cooked slowly so the yolk is thick and gooey -- to a huge selection of nibbles that you slowly pass as you shuffle forward in the queue.
Self-serve kushiage - fried food on sticks:
Chicken karaage $2 and Ebi-Fry prawn skewers $2.80
The self-serve kushiage station has several distractions, but admittedly I'd expected a greater range of things to choose from. Current offerings include deep-fried prawn, pork, chicken, pork sausage, eggplant and asparagus spears.
Asparagus fry $1.90 and pork sausage fry $2.20
Pork tonkatsu $2.50
Deep-fried eggplant $1.50
Potato salad $1.90; kuromane and chocolate daifuku sticky rice cake desserts $1.50;
natto fermented soy beans $1.50 and chilli menma bamboo shoots $1.30
There are saucers of simmered vegetables, like bamboo shoots and eggplant at the start of the queue. Toward the end of the line is the chiller cabinet, filled with temptations like creamy potato salad, pickled bamboo shoots, kimchee, natto fermented soy beans and boxes of soft and chewy daifuku dessert dumplings.
Tallying selections at the register
The assistant at the register will tally up everything on your tray so you can pay (cash only). A chilled water tap with plastic cups is an authentic Japanese touch, allowing customers to spend their drinks money on more important things - like anything deep-fried.
Menya Oiden is all about eating quickly, so by the time you've exited the queue with your tray, there's usually a spot to sit at one of the communal tables.
Ontama beef bowl $5.90
Sukiyaki beef and ontama onsen egg with rice
The ontama beef bowl provides a reasonable serving of sukiyaki beef, the thin shavings of simmered beef revived by curls of sweet caramelised onion.
Ontama tuna tataki bowl $7.50
Minced tuna belly and ontama onsen egg on rice
The ontama tuna tataki bowl doesn't quite look like the photo on the menu, which promises a tumble of freshly diced tuna. Instead you'll be presented with a puck of pre-minced tuna belly, removed from its sheath of cling film, and placed gently into your bowl.
Once you get past the disconcerting shade of pale pink and break apart the tuna with your chopsticks, the tuna offers a satisfying meal - its fatty smoothness oddly comforting.
Ontama tuna tataki bowl $7.50 with
chikuzen stew vegetables $2.50; cooked eggplant $2.50;
chicken karaage $2.00; ebi prawn fry $2.80 and pork sausage fry $2.20
The rice bowls are fairly cheap but it's easy to run up a significant bill once you start adding side dishes, and reaching for just one more kushiage skewer.
Ontama tuna tataki bowl $7.50 with
fried eggplant $1.50; and pork tonkatsu $2.50
I chose the fried eggplant and the pork tonkatsu, impressed by the creamy sweetness of the eggplant and the succulency of the pork.
Ontama soft boiled egg
The ontama soft boiled egg was the only disappointment - a little less runny than I prefer, but that just gives me a good excuse to return and check the next batch of ontama eggs.
Diner inside Menya Oiden
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Menya Noodle Bar, Haymarket
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9/19/2011 02:25:00 a.m.