If there were three dishes I could use to sum up a Singaporean’s identity, they would be bubble tea, mala xiang guo, and mentaiko-flavoured dishes—all of which cost a pretty penny, especially when you’re a mere student or arts degree graduate, whichever’s more applicable. But you’ll find that having expensive taste isn’t all that bad when places like Mentai-Ya exist to keep your budget low, and expectations high.
The Japanese hawker birthed out of Bukit Panjang, and later expanded to Sengkang. Now, they’re giving Easties what they want with their latest and third stall in the neighbourhood that seems to have just about anything and everything now—Tampines. No thanks to Ms ‘Rona and our current tightened restrictions, we’re having our mentai bowls in take-out form today, but that should give you a better idea of what to expect when you tapau.
What I tried
Dining at Mentai-Ya is just like walking through a park of roses—roses that are absolutely free for plucking. A bed of very umami, very creamy roses. Oh, and the roses are smoked, too. Basically what I’m trying to say is that you’ll never be short on mentaiko here, at what I can only describe as a haven for the ultimate enthusiasts.
Right off the bat, the Salmon Mentai Don (S$8.80) presents a sizable salmon portion generously piped and torched with glorious, smoky mentaiko over it. And you’ll find that this quickly sets the precedent for everything else to come—a heaping portion with mentaiko for days. Though if you’re getting the salmon bowl, make sure to get in there fast if you don’t want to be tucking into overcooked fish.
The same hearty mentaiko coating is also found in the Chicken Mentai Don (S$7.80) which boasts a staggering price of just under S$8. Here’s where you’ll find a crispy tempura-battered chicken cutlet dressed brazenly with mentaiko piping, torched, and served snugly over a bed of Japanese rice. The no-frills, straight-to-the-point plating is how Mentai-Ya keeps their prices economical, but you don’t need very much to have a good time. Cutting straight to the party is how you know you’re wasting no time getting to the solid stuff.
There also exists its spicy counterpart—the Spicy Chicken Mentai Don (S$7.80) at no additional cost, but definitely with an added kick. It’s essentially what we had before but elevated with a carpet of spice that possesses the zing I’m most definitely looking for. Although it would work wonders for the dish if the chicken were thoroughly brined, it’s still a protein-packed bowl well worth your lunchtime budget.
“That seems like too much mentaiko,” said no one ever. But still, if that’s you, first of all, I might have to rescind my friendship offer, and secondly, other non-mentaiko options still exist for days when you’re not feeling the creamy, smoky goodness.
For robust, scrumptious Wednesday afternoons, the Unagi Tama Don (S$9.80) forms the excellent lunch option that’s equal parts savoury and creamy, presenting a good bite, one eel slice at a time. There’s no worrying about having a dry bed of rice with this one—you can take utmost comfort in the fact that every grain of fluffy Japanese rice will most definitely be coated in umami stirred egg and topped with earthy spring onions.
Better yet, take the fabulous lap of opulence and pair it with a sweet-spicy blend of Japanese curry in the Soft Shell Crab Curry Don (S$9.80) that emerges as a very close second to the glorious mentaiko sauce.
Each morsel of soft shell crab is lightly battered and fried to perfection, and complemented by a familiar, silky Japanese curry that boasts a comfortable spice level no matter whether you’re team McSpicy or a-splash-of-black-pepper mild.
Considered one of Mentai-Ya’s best-sellers, the Mentaiko Fries (S$4.80) can be thought of as, like Genki’s, but better. Yes, I said it. Anyone who knows anything about my gastronomic favourites knows that Genki Sushi always sends me squealing off to heaven in a handcart, but the scale tips slightly toward Mentai-Ya’s favour simply because of just how much mentaiko there is coating every unsuspecting fry.
Though it does come with one caveat—you should only have it fresh in-store, because soggy fries due to condensation during transport does no one any favours. For that reason, this very dish has temporarily been removed from the delivery menu, but there’s no FOMO when you can have it in person when you do go down to try it for yourself.
If you’re still standing even after all that mentaiko like the champ that you are, then let me close with one of my favourite dishes—Tamago Mentai Yaki (S$4.80), which when translated to hungry person talk, is simply a mouth-watering combination of generous mentaiko over a sweet, rolled omelette. Even after making my rounds with the other bowls at the table, I find myself returning over and over for this genius duo which is quite arguably two of the best things you can put together in a Japanese establishment, if anyone’s keeping score.
Vera’s ‘Chef’s Kiss Award’
Don’t just take my word for it, the fact that you can expect to be liberally handed mentaiko here regardless of the iteration has been seconded by many, and is in fact what earned Mentai-Ya its popularity in the first place. And for that, the dense, or as the children say, thicc, layer of mentaiko is well worth a resounding chef’s kiss.
For the respectable portions you get here without breaking the bank, I’d say that in itself is worth writing home about. And if you’re one for utter, unadulterated indulgence where mealtime is concerned, you can count on Mentai-Ya to see you right through it.
Expected damage: S$6.80 – S$9.80 per pax
*This post is brought to you in partnership with Mentai-Ya.
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Our Rating: 4 / 5
602B Tampines Avenue 9, #01-01, Singapore 522602
602B Tampines Avenue 9, #01-01, Singapore 522602