4348 Main Street, Manayunk

I arrived in Singapore at 2:00 A.M. The airport glistens. There are no papers rumpled in corners, nor trash on seats or along the pristine corridors. Anything resembling dirt is already resting in a plastic bin or metal canister. The Men's Room smells as if it were a hospital operating room. All lavatory stalls sparkle; the urinals gurgle intermittently with waterflow and a shine.

The drive to my hotel seems effortless. The roads are freshly tarred and painted. High overhead lampposts light huge areas of sidewalks, benches, walkways, lawns, entrance ramps, exit lanes, trees and bushes. I can see not one spec of debris nor improperly disposed materials anywhere.

"Everything's so spotlessly clean," I comment to the concierge upon arrival at Raffles.

"It's fine," he matter-of-factly replies. "It's $500.00 fine to spit; it's $350.00 fine to flick cigarette; it's $300.00 fine not to flush. We never spit, never flick, always flush."

"What happens to the most affluent offenders," I snicker and then smile, "if money is of no consequence?" I chuckle knowingly with cosmopolitan cynicism.

"Then they raise cane," he mouths dryly, elevating simultaneously one dark eyebrow. "A wet cane with which you shall be flogged." He had emphasized his last three words by hesitating one full second between each. "Sign here," he commands. I do so without hesitation.

In Singapore, I was introduced to Sushi and Sashimi platters, and felt, at the time, that a flogging would have been preferable to eating raw fish. Hikaru has set me straight, slowly but surely.

The assortment of raw fish pieces here is submitted on a large thick wooden board. The Japanese waitperson carrying the school of samples removes shoes at the base of a few steps before alighting on knees, scrambling and shuffling to the platform on which rests my table. The footwear within which I'd arrived is already deposited among others behind a sliding cubby drawer nearby. I'm seated on a pillow in a specially constructed service area on the restaurant's second floor where one's feet dangle into an indentation in the flooring.

I recognize fresh raw tuna, shrimp, squid, halibut, octopus and mackerel. Previously, the morsels would have resembled something I'd put on the end of a fishhook in order to catch a nice bluefish. And believe me, I'd bake the blue for at least thirty five minutes in a 325&Mac176; oven before devouring it.

Now, the pieces of seadwellers smell perfectly pelagic. All but the mackerel is skinless. Therefore, I slowly bring the smattering of pink mackerel to my mouth and gulp. Chomping on raw mackerel and its surrounding skin is akin to this: Have a Common Pleas Judge who's sat all day hearing the least stimulating cases disrobe in chambers. Quickly and without warning, take a bite out of the judicially rigor-mortised tush. Try to chew. Depending a tinge on the age of the judge, you're as close to the concept of eating dead raw mackerel as you'll ever need to be.

I can't swallow. I yell with a stuffed mouth, "I'll take four months behind bars, a $2229.00 fine and six lashes with a rattan cane." I beg, "No more sashimi." I reach for a wonderful dry cold Sapporo beer and guzzle the chum.

Take away the beer, and you certainly have the appropriate remedy for a teenager bent on mischief.

Now, I want to point out that Hikaru is as clean as a whistle. Its young staff is accommodating and polite. The presentations of foodstuffs are often spectacular. Try the sushi offerings where the thinnest pieces of fish (some cooked) are surrounded by cut pickled vegetables, then wrapped and rolled artfully with rice and seaweed covering. Nothing is more spirited and sprite than Ikura, a bed of rolled crimson round salmon roe eggs. Huge and delightful to grasp is a sticky-riced California Roll with avocado and crab leg. Futomaki, the fattest of the sushi, whose inside colors make a Japanese rainbow, brings moments of jawful joys.

Full course platters are also provided. The beef or chicken teriaki, for instance, are the tenderest of portions, sliced in a light soy sauce and served with rice, cole slaw and vegetables.

Present day Japanese cooking favors curries, paella, tofu and varieties of lettuces. Hikaru has only a stylized sense of what Americans want, and therefore its kitchen staff is still preferential to iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots. There is little in the way of inventive use of spices. This dearth of prescience is cause for no major culinary exclamations.

Downstairs on the first floor, the operation is totally "Beni Hana," where cleaver-wielding chefs chop and sizzle onions, bean sprouts, shrimp, scallops, chicken and beef before your very eyes. There are many, many children accompanied by doting parents surrounding the steaming stir-fried concoctions. All are seated ten or twelve to a table, persons and families previously unknown to one another. Quite an adventure for youngsters and a marvelous socialization experience. One of the oldest youngsters, I notice, has a magic marker and a pen with which he's coloring the carpet.

"Joey, stop that," his mother mildly reprimands. He doesn't. Instead Joey looks mama right in the eyes and continues to put a purple inky stain onto the rug.

"Joey please, that's destroying someone's personal property," mother reminds him. Joey continues on in defiance. His mother looks away and smiles at the chef with the cleaver. Joey's drawing is now a blot, growing darker and dirtier. I clench my teeth.

In Singapore, Joey should be "fine." In America, he needs a mouthful of sashimi. The parent....the cleaver.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back