Japanese cuisine has really taken off in Singapore in a very big way and that means that you can find Japanese food almost everywhere nowadays. That is the good thing. The bad thing is that a lot of the Japanese food that we eat really comes out of a packet. There are of course the high class Japanese restaurants which employ Japanese Chefs who actually prepare the sauces and cook the food, but there are others who employ people who know very little of Japanese cuisine, give them a pan, some chicken and a bottle of teriyaki sauce and get them to produce some Japanese like food.
Hey, I am one of those fellas who has a couple of kids who simply adore Japanese food, so I do subject myself to the “out of a bottle” Teriyaki Chicken quite often. Heck, I sometimes cook it myself at home and I do think that the “out of a bottle Teriyaki Chicken is still pretty tasty. But what eating all these quasi Japanese food has done for me was to arouse curiosity over what real Japanese food should taste like. What I would really like is to be able to experience eating a homecooked meal at a Japanese home.
Since I don’t know any Japanese well enough to invite myself over to their home, I found the next best thing, which is to make a reservation at the Chako restaurant. The delightful Obasan (Japanese for aunty) at Chako has been operating a tiny little Japanese Restaurant in Hong Leong Gardens and has been cooking authentic Japanese homestyle food since 1978. How authentic is it? Well, in the Japanese household, it is the lady who does all the cooking. Now, how many Japanese restaurants in Singapore do you know has a Japanese lady with is the head chef?
Obasan still does everything herself, with a little help from her daughter (who speaks perfect Singlish). So one of the things she specificially asked me to mention in the blog is that if you want to come here to eat, you should not be in a rush to, say, go to the hospital to be with your wife as she delivers her baby. No, when you come to Chako, please be prepared to wait for meal. That is because, Obasan will start preparing your meal only when you get there and also because she doesn’t use anything out of a bottle. Everything has to be made from scratch, the traditional way.
So if you want to try some Oden, which is the Japanese equivalent of our Yong Tau Foo, do be prepared to wait in the little restaurant while you reminise about the 70’s and gaze upon the family photo with President Nathan which was taken when he visited the restaurant. Yes, this is another President’s Pick. (presidential fanfare in the background). You will then be rewarded with a nice hot bowl of Oden which consists of konnyaku, tofu, boiled egg, fish cake and the stewed Daikon. Point to note, the soup has all been done from scratch and has to be brewed for 6 hours, BUT Obasan said that you are not supposed to drink the soup. No it is just for the sole purpose of flavouring the other stuff. That is why she doesn’t give you a spoon. I thought it was nice, but I have yet to become a big fan of Oden. However, if you have never tried Oden before, I reckon that this is one place where you can get a pretty authentic one! And it definitely tasted better even than the one I had in Tokyo. 4.25/5
My favourite dish that day was the Tempura Moriawase. Now, the batter here is made from scratch and not from premix and it was very good. The set costs $21 but the two prawns which I got were large, succulent and juicy and the proportion of crispy tempura batter to the prawn was just right, unlike the prawns which you often find in other places which are really thumb sized tiger prawns which have been stretched and heavily coated with tempura batter so that it becomes the size of a banana. The dipping sauce was, again, brewed by Obasan and complemented the tempura perfectly. It was certainly one of the most satisfying tempuras I have eaten in Singapore. 4.5/5
For those who like Saba fish, their Saba braised in miso sauce is quite good. I am not big on Saba as I find it too fishy, but with this one, the miso sauce really took away quite a bit of the fishiness. I loved the sauce, but as a dish overall, it didn’t quite resonate with me. 4/5
Definitely a place I would recommend anyone who loves Japanese food. They don’t serve Wagyu or any of the expensive stuff here, just simple homecooked Japanese cuisine prepared with lots of care and passion. Again, please be prepared to wait because Obasan will not let anyone else other than her daughters, into her kitchen. You can be assured of a unique and authentic Japanese food experience.
Note: It does help to order before you go but you will still have to wait.