If the very idea of drinking a hearty dashi broth strikes you as a choice meal, MAI by Dashi Master Marusaya is the latest go-to establishment along Bukit Pasoh Road.
For those who don't know, dashi is an indispensable Japanese soup stock served since the 17th century Edo period. Dashi only uses one or two ingredients and takes just 20 minutes to make, unlike other cuisines where soup stocks are made from an assortment of ingredients boiled over several hours. Dashi is key to giving Japanese food that rich, savoury umami flavour.
Katsuobushi, a 2-year cured skipjack tuna.
Presenting a curation of dishes that features their famed dashi, MAI shies away from instant dashi stock unlike some restaurants in preference to traditional methods and premium ingredients.
With a background as a well-established wholesaler of dashi, MAI’s focal point in their dashi is the use of katsuobushi, made from Hokkaido skipjack tuna that is cured for at least two years. Common bonito is only cured for a few months, hence katsuobushi is a more premium ingredient. This results in a concentrated and ripe smoky aftertaste that is reminiscent of char-grilling.
Chef giving a short introduction before we start.
If you’re interested in trying the katsuobushi in its very essence, the Half-Dried Bonito Fish Jerky ($14++) would be perfect as a bar snack. It's a savoury chew with heavy smoky notes, best paired with an ice-cold beer!
We were invited to try their Set Lunches which starts from $29++, a more affordable selection of their menu. But if you’re looking for a luxury treat and you're comfortable with leaving it up to the chef, MAI does offer a Lunch Omakase starting from $68++ and Dinner Omakase from $88++.
Hokkaido Pork Dashi Shabu Shabu Set Lunch. ($29++)
The Dashi Shabu Shabu Set Lunch includes chawanmushi, tsukemono, wasabi kombu, ikura, katsuobushi, dashi rice, miso soup and a choice of premium meat (A4 Wagyu at $49++, Black Angus Beef at $29++, Hokkaido Pork at $29++ or White Fish and Salmon for $39++) to complete this meal.
From left, clockwise: Dashi rice, Goma (sesame) sauce, Shio (salt), Katsuobushi flakes, Ponzu sauce, Chawanmushi, Asari Miso Soup, Ikura, Wasabi Kombu and Tsukemono (white shown upon request, brown flavoured with dashi available).
Plain as it may seem, the dashi rice belies the usual sticky consistency inherent in Japanese grains with the underlying smoky flavour from the katsuobushi, which is great for highlighting the other side dishes. Tsukemono, which are preserved radishes commonly found in Japanese cuisines, lean toward a sharper zing than the usual ones from other restaurants. However, it still has the smoky umami palette which is derived from the dashi.
To fully utilize the kombu (kelp) that was used in the making of the broth, MAI marinates these kombu with wasabi. Be warned, the pungent aftertaste is stronger than one might expect. The chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) is light, sweet and the abalone lends a luxurious anchor to this side dish. Surprisingly, the asari clam miso soup is sweet and it lacked the usual acridity.
A4 Wagyu Dashi Shabu Shabu Set Lunch. ($49++)
A4 Wagyu Dashi Shabu Shabu Set Lunch ($49++) showcased with dashi stock.
The almost paper-thin shabu shabu meat on its own is slightly smoky, with different variations in texture and taste depending on the selection of prime meat. The chef recommends adding the goma (sesame) sauce, adding modest bitterness to balance the smokiness of the meat, or pair it with shio (salt) for a saline touch. Vegetables on the other hand, are best paired with the ponzu sauce for a citrusy finish.
Chef showcasing a sizzling hot Toban Yaki.
For those that prefer sizzling hotplates, MAI has the Toban Yaki Set Lunch that comes with the same side dishes with the exception of the premium meat and dashi dipping broth. It instead offers the hotplate choice of A4 Wagyu at $49++, Japanese Prawn, Scallop and Oyster at $32++, Hokkaido Pork Cutlet and Egg with Bonito Stock at $35++ or Unagi and Egg with Bonito Stock at $35++.
Japanese Prawn, Scallop and Oyster Toban Yaki Set Lunch ($32++).
The A4 wagyu ($49++) in the Toban Yaki has an almost negligible acerbity and firmness that yields to bite, but taste-wise, it is not overpowering. For those that prefer a variety of seafood, the Japanese Prawn, Scallop and Oyster ($32++) is a modest selection with fresh oysters and tender scallops. Do note that the oysters may have a stronger aftertaste than one might be used to.
If you’re a fan of unagi, then you must try the MAI’s signature Grilled Unagi Don Nabe (or Grilled Unagi Claypot Rice, $32++). But it is advisable to call and order an hour in advance as it takes at least 45 minutes to prepare! As such, it is not recommended for walk-in lunch for its prolonged preparation.
This dish is most suitable for communal dining as the heavy portions are recommended for 2 to 4 pax. A unique dish in approach, the brined dashi clay-pot rice, flaky unagi flesh and peppercorns provides an umami, sour and peppery kick in contrast to the usual savoury clay-pot rice. However, do note that the unagi is from the China seas, as such, flavour-wise you’ll tend to taste more of the skin than the flesh itself, as compared to fresh unagi from Japan (unagi fans would discern this fact).
To end off the night, we had the Bonito Stock Flavour Deep Fried Chicken ($16++). It was marinated in dashi and coated with bonito powder and a light batter, producing a delightfully light and crisp tender kaarage, with a wavering scent from the katsuobushi’s smokiness.
Souvenir Katsuobushi flakes to bring home, courtesy of MAI.
In general, MAI is for one who is into the heavy smoky essence that they excel in, though it might be rather overwhelming for some. If you decide to swing by, do expect seasonal menu changes for its dinner selection, but the Set Lunches are here to stay. With its snug ambience, light jazzy music and soft, warm lighting that accentuates the intimacy MAI has, it might just be your next evening haunt.
MAI by Dashi Master Marusaya 46 Bukit Pasoh Road Singapore 089858