Seijo Ishii's Dry Laksa Bento
Seijo Ishii's Dry Laksa Bento
Seijo Ishii’s Dry Laksa Bento. (Photo Credit: Luis Hoon)

Seijo Ishii Singapore Fair 2021 – Recreating Peranakan flavors in Japan

Just as Singaporeans love vacationing in the Land of the Rising Sun, Japanese too enjoy short getaways in tropical Singapore. While they may have been a common sight at tourist attractions like the Night Safari and the MBS pool during pre-Covid times, did you know that local institutions like Song Fa Bak Kut Teh and Chin Chin Eating House draw their fair share of Japanese tourists as well?

The Japanese fervor for Singaporean food has generally flown under the radar, unlike their Singaporean counterparts’ well-documented hankering for Japanese delights such as ramen and sushi. 

One would be hard-pressed to even imagine so, given that the spicy heat of Southeast Asian cuisine is a polar opposite to the mild and savory flavors that dominate Japanese cuisine. 

Nevertheless, Japanese tourists and expats that have lived in Singapore are unanimous fans of local dishes such as bak kut teh and Hainanese chicken rice, with some even turning their passions into livelihoods by setting up businesses selling these dishes back home in Japan.

Peranakan-inspired goodness

Seijo Ishii, a Tokyo-based supermarket chain specializing in imported and specialty foods, is known for its “ethnic” bento boxes based on various international cuisines. For its 3rd Singapore Fair this month, Seijo Ishii has released takeaway bento versions of four classic Peranakan delights: ayam sio (Peranakan-style braised chicken), beef rendang, dry mee siam and dry laksa. 

Previously, the chain had also released a laksa bento in 2015 to commemorate SG50. The mix of aromatic spices and creamy coconut milk was an instant hit with the locals, with Seijo Ishii employees recalling having to deal with customers asking “Do you have any more laksa bentos?” long after the fair had ended.

Food diplomacy at its finest

This time though, recreating the Singapore-inspired bentos with travel restrictions in place proved to be highly challenging. Enter Peter Tan, Singapore’s Ambassador to Japan. An avid cook and believer in “food diplomacy”, Tan pulled out all the stops to help the Seijo Ishii team perfect their recipes. The proudly-Peranakan Tan was also glad to have the opportunity to spread Singaporean, and in particular Peranakan flavors, to Japan. 

The team spent 4 full months developing the dishes with Tan’s help. From cooking demonstrations to contributing personal recipes, Tan provided invaluable assistance to the Seijo Ishii team, especially in fine-tuning their ayam sio recipe.

Finally, as the finishing touch,  Tan advised the team to use yakisoba noodles instead of pasta to achieve the coveted mochi-mochi (soft and chewy)  texture that Japanese love so much, since the thick rice noodles used for laksa are not easily available in Japan. 

Wanderlust, quenched?

So did the bentos do anything for the Japanese with a Singapore-shaped hole in their hearts? Twitter reviews range from “unexpectedly delicious” to “this is a strong contender for the last meal I get to eat before I die”. 

Some even reported success with repurposing leftover laksa gravy from the bentos as risotto stock.

While it might be a bit too much to hope that these bentos might inspire any Japanese person to do business in Singapore/migrate/marry a Singaporean, it warms the cockles of Akadot’s heart that dry mee siam made someone’s day.

Dry laksa is balm for the homesick soul

And how do these bentos measure up to the high standards of Singaporeans abroad? It is a truth universally acknowledged, that food is the one true way to the Singaporean heart, but only if it passes muster.

We spoke to a few Singaporeans residing in Japan for their honest comments. For a population known to be harshly critical of anything food-related, the overall feedback was surprisingly very positive (albeit with a dose of typical Singaporean perfectionism.) 

Luis Hoon, a Singaporean based in Kyoto, was generally satisfied with the bentos he tried, although he felt that the shiokness was lacking. In his opinion, the dry mee siam bento was a “hard-to-find sour and spicy taste for those who miss Singapore”. He also prefers the soup version of laksa over the dry rendition. 

Seijo Ishii’s Dry Laksa Bento. (Photo Credit: Luis Hoon)

Another Singaporean who wishes to be known as Ultraman, credits Seijo Ishii’s laksa bento for converting him to the dry side, despite not even knowing that there was a dry version of the dish prior to this. 

Made for the microwave. (Photo Credit: Ultraman)

Most other Singaporeans interviewed had nothing but praise for the bentos, especially the dry laksa. Even stripped of its familiar thick gravy and tongue-numbing spiciness, it seems that laksa, in any incarnation, is damn shiok.

The bentos (and other Singapore-inspired goodies) are available at Seijo Ishii outlets throughout Japan until the end of this month.

About the author

Translator, writer, and all-around multilingual person.
Always on the lookout for interesting people and projects in Japanese/English/Chinese.