3 Hours in Tokyo
I had lunch in Chako, a Japanese restaurant tucked away in an area in Singapore I don’t venture to unless absolutely necessary. Getting to the restaurant was slightly cumbersome. Finding it was much, much easier. In an old mall littered with used car rental offices and dentists, it didn’t take long to find Chako. Just a white wash of walls and a small sign that bore its name – so achingly minimal but such is the way of the Japanese. And when you step past its faux rice paper sliding door and into the restaurant, you’d first notice how startlingly small – no, crazy tiny it is.
The entire restaurant is decorated in typical Japanese fashion: creepy lucky nekocat with extra long whiskers stares at you from the entrance, old paintings line the walls and a 2012 Mount Fuji calender is a visual tease to anyone hapless enough to have never gone (ME!). Sitting at the back of the cashier is a small Yakult fridge – the ones you can still find at old provision stores – with not one bottle of the colourful fermented milk that reigned in my adolescence. Instead, Fridge-san is filled with old bottles of sake. Old Japanese tunes are playing in the background, distracting us from the cacophony in the adjoining kitchen. I thought it was unfortunate a restaurant like this would be so inaccessible but having dined there now I realised it all made sense. For three hours, I was in Japan – where else would I be?
Let’s talk about the food. Chako is family-owned so they specialise in homecooked Japanese food. The head cook is a Japanese aunty who married a Malay sailor back in the day so Muslims, everything from the sauces to the softbroiled unagi served in Chako is made from scratch and is halal. The only thing is they serve sake to cater to the many Japanese expats who live in the area. It’s recommended that you shoot them an email regarding reservations and preordering your food before coming down because the restaurant can only take about 15+ people and that’s it. Here’s another catch: be prepared to wait for your food for this no-nonsense obasan only cooks the minute you arrive. How long did I have to wait for my preordered meal set? 2 hours. Not even kidding.
I didn’t mind the wait because I knew about it prior to my lunch and I was there with a bunch of great friends so we were entertaining ourselves with small talk in between sips of Chako’s homemade roasted barley tea. Diana ordered the Beef Sukiyaki, layers upon layers of enoki + shitake mushrooms, vegetables, thinly-sliced beef in this heavenly broth that all of us kept stealing to eat with our rice. I had the Unatamaju set – softbroiled unagi on the fluffiest bed of egg and rice. It’s $23, definitely not the cheapest unagi bowl in the country but damn, expensive unagi tastes extraordinary. So extraordinary, 4 of us ordered the same thing lol. My cousin, Nadz, hates unagi but after forcing a spoon down her throat, I think she might just like it a lil bit more now ;p Nadz had the Gyutamaju, sliced beef and egg in soy over rice which she loved. I had a bite of hers and the beef was so tender – I’d liken it to a truncated beef sukiyaki in a bowl actually – I’m ordering this next time! We also shared the Ikabata Yaki, stir-fried squid in butter and garlic, holy batman amazing. Every set comes with a small bowl of soft cold tofu, clam miso soup and pickles too.
Chako is so good at what it does, it’s put me in this permanent Japanese food mood; I am endlessly thinking about everything I ate since Sunday and I’d go there more often if I wasn’t living off a student allowance D: The food there is definitely not everyday cheap but where else can you take a 3 hour trip to Tokyo for under $30?
I’d like to wish all my Chinese readers across the globe a very stellar Lunar New Year! GET THOSE ANGBAOS, PEOPLE! x
Tel: 6776 3919
134 West Coast Way
Hong Leong Garden Shopping Centre
Mon – Fri: 12:15pm – 2:30pm, 6:30pm – 10:30pm
Sat – Sun: 6:30pm – 10:30pm
P.S: They have excellent customer service btw, they don’t open during lunch hours on Sunday but Diana did her superwoman thing and got them to open for us. A+, ‘mainstream’ sushi joints you could never.