Make the most of a trip to Asia's hottest urban spots, Singapore and Tokyo, with our what-not-to-miss guide.
DISCOVER MORE TO SINGAPORE
Most Singaporeans are obsessed by food but don’t cook much at home, which explains the vast choice of restaurants and stalls featuring Chinese, Malay, Peranakan or Indian food. For sophisticated, Chinese-inspired dining, head to My Humble House in the Esplanade Mall on Singapore’s buzzing waterside. Dishes have poetic names like ‘Tender, delightful, divine’, a baked fillet of silver cod in sake sauce, which really lived up to its name. Expect to pay from S$75 (around Dhs220) per head for dinner.
The Imperial Herbal restaurant on Seah Street is completely different – you’ll probably be the only tourists there. Doris, the host, will guide you through the menu of Chinese dishes designed to balance your ying and yang. Favourites included Pork with chilli & woodberries (‘good for vision’).
Fish head curry is a speciality in the Little India district. It’s not as scary as it sounds, as there’s plenty of meat and a rich curry sauce to be mopped up with flatbreads or rice. For the best, step into the air-con cool of Muthu's Curry on Race Course Road.
As across most of Asia, street food is really where it’s at. Singapore’s street hawkers have been moved into purpose-built centres with strict hygiene standards – our favourite was the Maxwell Food Centre, near Chinatown. The must-have dish is Singapore chilli crab – chunks of sweet crab in a hot chilli tomato sauce.
For a real foodie fix, book a place at the At-Sunrice cookery school, perched up near Singapore’s botanical gardens. For S$100 (around Dhs300), experience the Spice Garden Walk and Morning Gourmet class, which involves a morning walk, cookery demo and the chance to recreate their dishes and eat them on the patio for lunch. Visit www.at-sunrice.com.
Singapore’sEsplanade development is a popular cultural centre with bars and the Esplanade Theatre. Take a bumboat ride down the river where you’ll see traditional buildings dwarfed by skyscrapers and hear a guide to Singapore’s history. Around S$12 for a 40-minute ride.
For a traditional experience, step back in time at the Tea Chapter on Neil Road, and take in a full Chinese tea ceremony in one of the private rooms.
WHERE TO STAY
Singapore has all the major chain hotels, but for something a little different (and affordable), try the New Majestic Hotel in the heart of Chinatown. All rooms are uniquely decorated and there’s a glamorous lobby area and rooftop pool. Room rates start from US$150 (Dhs550) per room per night. Visit www.newmajestichotel.com.
A TASTE OF TOKYO
Tokyo has to be one of the most diverse cities in the world for eating. With over 300,000 restaurants, serving everything from raw fish to a soothing bowl of noodles, you won’t go hungry.
For traditional Japanese, head for The Palace Hotel and relax in the serene Wadakura restaurant, where diners sit around traditional low tables and enjoy lots of little courses served by geishas. Dishes might include tofu with soy, or for the more adventurous, raw spiny lobster. For dessert, don’t feel short-changed if you are simply brought a slice of melon – ‘perfect’ fruit is highly prized and very expensive. You will be expected to remove your shoes before being seated.
For modern Japanese with stunning views, try Zipangu, on the 47th floor of the Caretta Shiodome building in Minato-ku. Every type of Japanese cooking is available here, including teppanyaki (food skilfully cooked in front of you) and more refined dishes like Lily bulb with sea urchin. For dessert, try the delicious Black sesame ice cream. The sake (rice wine) list is immense and can be served ice-cold as well as in the traditional warm style.
For more down-to-earth fare, enjoy some small kebabs of charcoal-cooked meat and a beer at one of the many yakatori bars beneath the tracks at Yurakucho Station. This is a great area for cheaper food.
Pay an early-morning visit to the Tsukiji wholesale fish market, where over 16,000 stalls sell 450 seafood varieties. Sushi bars slicing the freshest sushi in Tokyo, to order, are on the perimeter of the market – even if it’s not your idea of breakfast, it must be tried. Visit www.tsukiji-market.or.jp.
Traditional Japanese sweets, wagashi, are made from moulded bean paste and are available from the food halls of most big department stores.
National tipple sake is served in small shot-size glasses and should be sipped rather than gulped. Pick up a bottle at Suzuden, a well-stocked sake shop with a bar. Visit the refrigerated storage rooms – the colder the room, the more pricy the sake. Suzuden 1-10-1 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku
The Japanese take their tea very seriously. Yamamotoyamahas been selling tea since 1690 and has all the implements needed to host your own tea ceremony. Yamamotoyama, 2-5-2 Nihonbashi, Chou-ku.
Japanese knives are the choice of most master chefs. For ones as sharp as a samurai sword, and for any other kitchen equipment you can think of, head to Kappabashi Street – a goldmine for cooking-related items.
WHERE TO STAY
The ANA Hotel is near the museums in Akasaka and the nightlife of the Roppongi area. The hotel has ten restaurants and bars, and the Manhattan Lounge on the 36th floor has breathtaking views. Rooms start from about Dhs735. ANA Hotel Tokyo, 12-33, Akasaka I-Chome, Minato-ku. www.vanahoteltokyo.jp.