Mentai-Ya Review: Mentaiko Don In Bukit Panjang Sold 10,000 Bowls In Their First Week
Hawker Reviews Japanese

Mentai-Ya Review: Mentaiko Don Stall In Bukit Panjang Sold 10,000 Bowls In Their First Week

18th September 2020

Mentai-Ya has mentai don under $10

For the friends who run seven-week-old Mentai-Ya together, sleep was a rare commodity in the stall’s early days. Even if they were sold out each before 1:30pm, preparations for the next service, and next day, would keep them hard at work till 4am, only for them to be back on their feet by 7am.

Mentai-Ya store

And yet, the grind seems to be paying off. This small corner unit of a coffee shop in Bukit Panjang churns out a mighty 400 to 600 rice bowls in the six hours it takes for them to sell out. In other words, they sell 1.7 don bowls every minute, using as much as 60kg of Taiwanese short-grain pearl rice a day.

Food at Mentai-Ya

You can’t visit Mentai-Ya and not try their Mentai Don. It comes in four variations: Regular or Spicy Salmon Mentai Don ($8.80), and Regular or Spicy Chicken Mentai Don ($7.80).

Mentai-Ya spicy chicken mentai

The mentaiko topping is blended in-house, stored in huge bags that emerge to pipe sinuous, uniform lines of candy-pink cream on your choice of chicken katsu or salmon. Mentai-Ya is free-handed with the mentaiko, so expect generous amounts. When torched, the sauce wraps each morsel of meat in a buttery, umami and slightly smoky blanket.

Mentai-Ya aburi

Its spicy counterpart stuns in a sharper red hue, piquant without being overbearing. The spice doesn’t overwhelm the briny taste of mentaiko, and is tempered by its creaminess.

Salmon and mentaiko are made for each other. Here at Mentai-Ya, the salmon is deep-fried, although I wish it could have been a little less cooked. It went well with the aburi mentaiko topping, as did the chicken katsu with our choice of spicy mentaiko. 

Mentai-Ya salmon mentai

We are told that Mentai-Ya started out breading boneless chicken thighs each night for the chicken katsu. This was unsustainable, and they currently use specially-sourced chicken breast katsu that they pre-fry ahead of the lunch crowd for efficiency’s sake. It goes for a final, quick fry just before serving.

Mentai-Ya spicy chicken mentai

Unfortunately, my dining companion and I found the chicken breast to be lacking. While crisp from its double-frying, the drier chicken breast for us pales in comparison to chicken leg meat. 

Mentai-Ya tori karaage

This was especially so when eaten side by side to Mentai-Ya’s homemade Tori Karaage ($4.80). Marinated in-house and battered with a house blend of spices and Japanese flour, the pieces of chicken leg were scrumptious and juicy. I would have preferred this on my rice bowl, instead of the chicken katsu.

Mentai-Ya unagi don

At $9.80, the Unagi Tama Don is one of the cheapest unagi bowls in Singapore. A generous serving of rice is topped with a beaten egg that’s just shy of done, and onions, cooked to softness in house gravy. All this melds with the homemade unagi sauce to form a toothsome base for five plump slices of grilled Taiwanese unagi. 

Ambience at Mentai-Ya

Mentai-Ya ambience

The coffee shop in which Mentai-Ya is situated is not big, but it’s airy and well-lit. With social distancing measures in place, there aren’t many tables up for grabs. It’s clean, and tables are cleared pretty quick as diners leave. We were there at the beginning of the lunch crowd, and tables were turned quite fast, with few diners idling over their meal. 

The verdict

Mentai-Ya

Mentai-Ya prides themselves on using restaurant-standard ingredients, from the quality Japanese mentaiko and shoyu, to the karaage flour that is specially imported from Japan. I definitely can taste the difference that this makes in the food, and I appreciate the care they have for customers’ enjoyment.

If there was any doubt about their standards, no salt or MSG is added to any of the food served at Mentai-Ya, unless it is pre-existent in the products that they buy. They don’t cut corners ─ each pot of rice is soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes before cooking, in a method that is believed to enhance its texture. 

Mentai-Ya flatlay

I wouldn’t travel all the way to Bukit Panjang to eat here, but I would definitely recommend it if you’re in the area. Be mindful though, that they sell out early, so it would be best to head down when they open at 11am. They’ve also launched delivery services, so that could save you a trip there too!

The team is looking to expand their operations as well.

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For more interesting hawkers, The 6ixs in Ghim Moh makes great rosti, but if you stay in the North, give the white curry at Kuroshiro a try!

Address: 628 Senja Road, Singapore 670628
Opening hours: Daily 11am to 2:30pm, 5pm to 8:30pm
Tel: 8188 8628
Website
Mentai-Ya is not a halal-certified eatery.

Photos taken by Muhammad Hafiq.
This is an independent review by Eatbook.sg.

  • 7.5/10


    - 7.5/10

7.5/10

Summary

Pros

– Generous portions
– Tasty, quality food
– Very affordable

Cons

– Chicken breast katsu was not ideal
– Inconvenient unless you live in the area

Recommended dishes: Salmon Mentai Don ($8.80), Tori Karaage ($4.80)

Opening hours: Daily 11am to 2:30pm, 5pm to 8:30pm

Address:628 Senja Road, Singapore 670628

 

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