Discover authentic ‘tempura moriawase’ and ‘kurobuta tonkatsu’ at Kirishima Shuzou, one of JB’s oldest Japanese restaurants
JOHOR BARU, Jan 31 — Sometimes old is gold.
Our friends, whom we had not seen in months and years, suggested we have lunch at Kirishima Shuzou. The establishment, which is nestled inside a hotel off Jalan Tebrau in Johor Baru, first opened its doors in 1998, making it one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in town.
Certainly the interior of the hotel seems to harken to a bygone era; stave off refurbishments long enough and eventually any place will attain a vintage ambience.
We enter, past the white noren curtain, and are welcomed by a friendly if unfussy maître d’. There are enough of us that he invites us into a private room, like one of those in ryokans (guesthouses) with tatami mat floors.
First, we remove our shoes, of course. There is an old-school atmosphere here, certain unspoken traditions even if the manner of the servers remain casual and efficient, particularly at taking our orders.
Enter, past the white 'noren' curtain, and be welcomed into one of JB’s oldest Japanese restaurants.
But what to have?
For a restaurant that is about a quarter of a century old, Kirishima Shuzou’s menu doesn’t list mere dozens of dishes but easily over a hundred or more. Time does that, with life and with the choices we have.
Our server tells us she will return later, to give us more time to decide. Which is kind, but possibly a mistake too as we ruminate on how our lives have changed since the pandemic as we peruse the otsumami (appetisers) section, then the yakizakana (grilled fish).
Would we prefer a oyako temaki (salmon, salmon roe hand roll) or a sanma spicy roll (a maki made with whole Pacific saury)? Who has changed their jobs and who has not?
Perhaps a pari pari tori kawa yasai namuru or a kani korokke? Fried chicken skin and vegetables with Japanese-style dressing or a fried crab cream croquette? Who is feeling heaty today, in which case such fried items might not be the best idea.
Tempura soba (left) and one of Kirishima Shuzou’s sets (right).
We have fun trying out the Japanese words, reading them carefully syllable by syllable, but inevitably counting on the English translation or the pictures ("for illustration purposes only”, we are reminded by every fast food chain) to figure out what ingredients a particular dish features.
Odd, for we didn't take as long to make up our minds before, did we? Perhaps the restaurant and the hotel aren’t the only things that have gotten older. We wear the passage of time on our faces, more wrinkles now and more grey hairs.
How young we were when we first travelled to Japan, over a decade ago! Our first time on vacation together as a group of friends and everyone’s first time to the land of the Rising Sun. We remember the first ramen shop we visited and how we had posed with the cosplayers in Harajuku (well, one of us did).
Seems like a lifetime ago.
This might be exactly what is going through our server’s mind — the poor thing! — but we eventually make our selections and she scurries away with our thick menus.
'Unadon' or rice topped with grilled eel.
More time to catch up then, till our food arrives. Since Japan, there have been marriages and babies (well, just one) and switching careers. The usual trials and triumphs of life. Things change and we don’t recognise everything, not the way it was before at any rate.
Which is why our lunch at Kirishima Shuzou is unexpectedly so comforting. Some things don’t change at all.
There is the tempura moriawase, which offers the indecisive an assortment of prawns, fish and vegetables deep-fried in batter. The dipping sauce served on the side could have been homemade or direct from a bottle; it doesn’t matter — it is something we recognise.
More tempura, this time atop oodles of soba noodles in a hot dashi broth. Unadon or rice topped with grilled eel and shards of atsuyaki tamago (sweet omelette).
A formidably named Dragon Roll that turns out to be a familiar fried shrimp and cheese sushi. More fried decadence in the form of kurobuta tonkatsu — a deep fried crispy breaded Iberico pork cutlet.
Dragon Roll (left) and 'kurobuta tonkatsu.' (right).
(Guess none among us is feeling heaty, eh?)
Everything tastes authentic enough though that word can be a slippery notion; one man’s meat is another man’s poison, after all. Authenticity here might just mean what we remember, our taste buds, our best memory machine, and that is quite enough.
Speaking of enough, there is plenty of food on the table, yet the two of us order a bowl each of garlic fried rice to the alarm of our spouses. Every fluffy, oil-slicked grain perfumed with fried garlic and a web of scrambled eggs is a ward against further passing of time.
For now, let us just have this moment together. Our laughter and our gossip, our shared friendship and the bond of a lifetime.
Garlic fried rice.
Sometimes old is gold. Especially when that gold is the beautiful, timeless radiance of old friends and all the meals we have shared. Now, who wants another bowl of garlic fried rice?
Kirishima Shuzou 霧島酒藏
1st Floor, Crystal Crown Hotel, 117 Jalan Tebrau, Taman Century, JB
Open Tue-Sun 12pm-2:30pm & 6-10pm (Mon closed)
Tel: 07-276 2838
For more slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.
* Follow us on Instagram @eatdrinkmm for more food gems