Nirai Kanai Hot
The predominantly Japanese clientele is proof enough that this Okinawan joint is the real deal. The menu is flush with options, from grilled meats to gently braised stews. Don’t miss out on the paper spring rolls, packed with the contrasting flavours of tuna and salmon sashimi and the green tang of bitter gourd shards. Other must-have standards: the pork belly, large slices of sweet tender meat braised in soy sauce till the layer of fat melts on the tongue; and grilled beef cubes blanketed with a cloud of grated white radish and a hint of ponzu.
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Something different, but great nonetheless.
Nirai Kanai is a Japanese restaurant, but do not come in expecting to be served sushi and sashimi and the like. The menu is apparently limited to only dishes from Okinawa, some of which may not sit well with aficionados of traditional Japanese cuisine. However, every dish we ordered, I found absolutely delightful, and I am eagerly looking forward to my second visit.
We had what seems like an ordinary dish of stir-fried bitter gourd (ごーやチャンプル), much like Chinese cooking at home, Rafute (ラフテー), a dish of soy-glazed pork belly that is supposedly the epitome of Okinawan cuisine, and some rice balls, or onigiri (おにぎり).
The bitter gourd dish seems--and to some, might even taste--like an ordinary Chinese stir-fry, but it was much "lighter" than is usually prepared the Chinese way. The bitter gourd seemed to be of some baby variety, the curve of each "petal" being smaller compared to the massive ones that we tend to find in our local markets. The taste is slightly bitterer but not overwhelmingly so, and texture-wise it had more of a crunch to it than the ones we are used to eating back home. The bitter gourd was stir-fried with cubes of tofu, egg, and slices of pork and sat in a tasty broth -- just the dish to have, if you're looking to order something light.
The Rafute is something pork lovers ought to have. It came in four fat slabs of pork belly, two or three chunks of carrots, and a mound of greens that soaked up the soy broth. Each meaty slab was moist and tender and flavourful, tasting as though it had been sitting in the broth for hours.
Our last order of onigiri was less impressive, though good nonetheless. It was well-salted so that we didn't find ourself munching on plain rice, and there were bits of carrot and pork in it which added to the overall texture.