Visiting Japanese supermarkets is a beloved pastime of mine. I could easily while the time away browsing through aisles of exquisitely packaged sweets and snacks. It’s my kind of window shopping.
However, as I approach the ready-to-eat meal section, I can feel my resolve wavering. “Buy them all,” my inner voice says.
Those sections are dangerous; they flaunt irresistible platters of affordable sushi, donburi, and even fully-loaded bento sets. We seek refuge in them, excited at the prospect of a quick meal or an indulgent post-work treat.
But where can you find the greatest variety? What about pricing and convenience?
Let’s take a look at these three speciality Japanese supermarkets to find some answers.
1. Isetan Scotts
When in Orchard, pop by Isetan Scotts.
Ever since its inception in 1999, Isetan Scotts’ supermarket has been committed to delivering an authentic Japanese shopping experience.
Fresh produce, meat, and seafood are imported from Japan daily, including the likes of premium products like Shine Muscat Green Grapes, Crown Melon, and Japanese Wagyu Prime Steak.
Also, seasonal fairs from different prefectures are held every two weeks.
Upon entering the Food Hall, your senses will be titillated by the presence of deep-fried delights and Japanese tidbits (think warabimochi, croquettes and bottled yuzu drinks).
Make a beeline for Nagomi Deli, which harbours freshly prepared foodstuff and bentos.
Take your pick from the selection of wholesome-looking bentos. Do you prefer fish, beef, or chicken?
Singaporeans may not be accustomed to salt-grilled Yakitori (S$3/pc).
There’s always the familiar glazed version, available for S$1.50 per skewer. It is joined by a dazzling pick-and-choose display of treats, from Ohagi (red bean dessert) to Potato Salad.
Why hello there, Salmon Teriyaki (S$9.80).
After payment, head back to Nagomi Deli and request for your bentos to be heated up in the microwave. Cutlery will be provided by the lovely staff on duty.
With that, it was time to visit the raw seafood section.
There were the usual suspects of mentaiko, ikura, and pre-cut sashimi-grade fish, ideal for budding Japanese home cooks…or mukbangers who devour entire slabs of salmon on camera.
I was impressed by the stellar sashimi selection. Everything looked fresh and glorious.
Why not step out of your comfort zone and try something new? There’s more to sashimi than salmon and maguro (tuna).
Sushi, sushi, and MORE sushi.
There are donburi bowls and onigiri for the carb-lovers too.
You’d be delighted to know that items go on sale past 6pm — that’s when you can snag a platter of sushi at a 20%, 30% or even 50% discount. It depends on customer demand and how often the stock is replenished, of course.
Feel free to feast on your supermarket haul at the neighbouring Food Republic.
We started off with the Sushi Set 12pcs (S$12.90), consisting of several nigiri (salmon, shrimp, scallop, squid, tuna, sea eel, tamago, negitoro, tobiko), and maki (pickled radish and cucumber).
This was decent and value-for-money, and I especially enjoyed the negitoro and scallop nigiri.
Quality and freshness-wise, the Sashimi Moriawase (S$23.90) was outstanding. Paired with some potent wasabi, the salmon slices were fatty and creamy.
Could they have been salmon belly? I wish each platter was labelled.
Although the full-bodied flavour of the perfectly pink tuna lingered in my mouth, I couldn’t stop going for the steamed abalone, which was chewy with a natural sweetness.
Lunch on-the-go awaits in the form of this cute and compact Nagomi Bento Salmon (S$9.80).
Rice, sides (lotus root & hijiki, and nutty okra), and teriyaki salmon make for a simple and healthy meal.
This salmon didn’t look as enticing as those in the display case, but it was soft, delicate, and flaky. Good enough for me.
Beef Yakiniku Don (S$15.80) is undoubtedly the best ready-to-eat bento in my eyes.
Do you know how many “convenience store haul” videos I’ve watched on YouTube ? I salivate at the mere mention of yakiniku don or gyudon.
Soft, tender beef and sweet onions on a bed of rice soaked up every last bit of “beefy” flavour. A piece of caramelised sweet potato waited on the side, awaiting its unfortunate but sweet demise.
In short, Isetan Scotts guarantees quality through and through. Though on the slightly steeper side, the Japanese foodstuff and ready-to-eat meals are worth splurging on. After all, you seldom see bentos and sushi platters being executed with such grace and finesse.
2. Don Don Donki
Ah, Don Don Donki, the one-stop shop for all your quirky Japan-related needs.
There are five outlets and counting, with no signs of stopping. Annoying jingle aside, a trip to “Japan’s discount king” promises a fun, almost liberating experience.
Here at the City Square outlet, variety is the name of the game.
I was drawn to the aesthetically arranged sashimi platters. A longing glance was cast on the uni, but no. Self-control is a must.
Before I proceed, let me give you a heads-up: discounts are out and about at night, so swing by after work or school for a “frugal” feast.
The assorted sushi selection may look average, but it’s the salmon that takes precedence here.
A sea of salmon options, no doubt.
Notice that uni crabmeat donburi on the far left? I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
We were also greeted by tons of ready-to-eat meals, all flanked by bright signages and cute explanatory messages. It seemed as though every item was a “must try”.
Onigiri is an ideal snack for busy individuals. Choosing a filling is going to take up all your time though.
Fret not, health-conscious folk —the salad, soba and side dishes are here for you.
This wasn’t all. We also spotted gyoza, fried chicken karaage, porridge, takoyaki; you name it, they have it all.
It varies by outlet, but the dining area is equipped with a microwave.
I was in the mood for Takowasabi (S$4.32), sweet and chewy with a nose-tingling heat. The slimy texture can be off-putting to some, so choose wisely.
Need something speedy for your picnic or lunch gathering? Grab a box or two of Aburi Mentaimayo Sushi 5pcs (S$6.50).
Its popularity is justified; after all, torched mentaiko and salmon is a faultless combination you cannot argue with.
I could have gone for one of the regular sashimi platters, but there’s no fun in that.
Looking all pretty in pink was the Honmaguro (Hiramori) (S$18.80)—bluefin tuna sashimi. Once again, labels would’ve been helpful.
Don’t take my word for it, but I believe the reddish honmaguro on the left was akami while the paler pink was chutoro.
Both were delightfully creamy and fatty, with the latter possessing a melt-in-your-mouth quality that left me swooning.
We proceeded on to the Salmon 3 Bento (S$6.90), which we microwaved for about thirty seconds.
It was a balanced meal of flavoured rice (scattered with tau pok and octopus bits), mediocre teriyaki salmon, chicken karaage, sweet potato and green beans in a nutty peanut sauce.
The flavourful, still slightly crisp kaarage was the best component, unlike the odd and tough sweet potato.
Honestly, the Curry Chicken Katsu (S$6.90) is a steal.
This Japanese curry with carrots and onions would suit those who like it mild. Though flavourful, the thick hunk of tonkatsu was on the salty side. It was also a little too lean for my liking.
Nothing beats freshly-fried cutlet, but for a portion this generous AND affordable, I’m not complaining.
We could’ve ended it there and then, but my colleague couldn’t resist a cup of Brown Sugar Milk (S$3.90).
It may be one of the most affordable versions out there, but it didn’t match up to its pricier counterparts. Alas, the non-chewy pearls made with 100% Okinawan brown sugar were a letdown.
A visit to Don Don Donki, with its bright, cheery demeanour and show-stealing discounts, leaves one feeling spoilt for choice. Products are generally hit-or-miss, but the accessibility and entertainment value makes shopping a breeze.
Don Don Donki 100AM: 100 Tras St, Level 2 & 3 100AM, Singapore 079027 | Tel: +65 6249 8811 | Opening Hours: 9am – 12am (Daily)
Don Don Donki Orchard Central: 181 Orchard Road, B1 & B2, Orchard Central, Singapore 238896 | Tel: +65 6834 4311 | Opening Hours: 24 hours (Daily)
Don Don Donki Square 2: 10 Sinaran Drive, #B1-01 to B1-85, Singapore 307506| Tel: +65 6254 1711| Opening Hours: 8am – 12am (Daily)
Don Don Donki Clarke Quay Central: 6 Eu Tong Sen Street, The Central, Singapore 059817 | Tel: +65 6226 2311 | Opening Hours: 24 hours (Daily)
I have to admit, Japanese upmarket grocery store Meidi-Ya has seen better days. A cloud of uncertainty looms over Liang Court, which has unfortunately lost its lustre.
This flagship Clarke Quay branch pales in comparison to their bustling Great World City outlet, which offers exclusive Hokkaido treats and Japan-centric merchandise.
Still, there is a fair share of customers, mainly Japanese expats who seek a taste of home. A variety of fresh produce and high-quality foodstuff are imported from both Japan and international suppliers.
Does the Meidi-Ya of today still live up to their motto “More Than Just Freshness”?
The sashimi selection is pretty standard, save for a couple of unique outliers.
We noticed a lot more assorted sushi platters.
Several sections are devoted to unagi, their pride and joy.
There’s an extensive range of salad bowls in both Japanese and Western-inspired flavours.
We visited in the late afternoon, which explains the half-stocked shelves. I liked that cutlery is attached to each individual bento or bowl—a hassle-free experience which minimises social interaction with the staff. Nice.
Traditional Japanese sides and bentos are also available.
We paid and settled down at the outside sitting area. Don’t worry about space, because seats are aplenty.
The Nanami Sashimi (S$14.80) presented to us a fabulous four: salmon, mekajiki (swordfish), hamachi (yellowtail) and hokkigai (surf clam).
It wasn’t as fresh as I’d liked, but then again, it was already past 4pm.
Honourable mention goes out to the thick, creamy salmon and meaty mekajiki, the latter of which is my favourite sashimi.
Now, the Nakajima Sushi (S$13.50) was certainly easy on the eye. The palate, not so much.
We had no issues with the relatively fresh fish (especially the ikura, scallop, and even the multi-layered tamagoyaki), but there was simply too much rice. The ratio was completely off.
Popping the first tuna nigiri into my mouth yielded disappointment, for I tasted nothing but cold rice.
As for the hot food, do look for the microwave inconspicuously located near a certain aisle.
Of course, we had to try some Unagi 5114 – 09 (S$9.90). Glazed with a sweet, smoky unagi sauce, the tender meat and skin glistened with a layer of fat.
One of the better supermarket unagi I’ve tried, for sure.
Most of their bentos come with coded names, like this Sozai 7 (S$7). If I didn’t have prior knowledge of yakisoba, I would’ve been very confused.
Anyhow, this was decent yakisoba. Microwaved for two to three minutes, the noodles were oily and flavourful, complete with crunchy vegetables, well-seasoned meat, mini shrimp, and even a gooey-yolked egg.
Lastly, we tucked into Bento 5 (S$5), or fried chicken onigirazu. It’s essentially a rice ball “sandwich” packed with tender and succulent meat.
The rice to chicken ratio wasn’t half-bad, although more mayonnaise would’ve been nice. Accompanied by braised daikon and a sesame corn salad, this is something I wouldn’t mind purchasing again.
This OG Meidi-Ya may no longer be in its heyday, but it is still a reliable option for Japanese produce and household supplies. Show it (and the Great World City outlet) some love.
Location plays a huge factor here, but which Japanese supermarket are you most drawn to?
Are you gravitating towards the refined Isetan Scotts with its premium, top-quality products, the crowd-friendly Don Don Donki and its unbeatable value items, or the modest, still-charming Meidi-Ya?
Let us know what you think.