A pot housing off-white puddings — silky and wobbly like soya beancurd — was laid on the induction cooker. Slowly, the heat transmuted the solid blocks, the culmination of simmering chicken bones for over eight hours, into a molten state. The soup came to a roiling boil, and my young, bespectacled waiter emptied a medley of ingredients into the pot. He gave the pot of choppy soup a few swirls, skimmed the scum, then scooped up a portion of the gorgeous soup and presented it to me in an ochoko. I downed the creamy soup as if it were a shot, and I felt bliss, like the connoisseur who had just found the wine befitting his palate.
Forty-five minutes into my meal enjoyment at 6:15pm, a female customer ambled into the restaurant, and was asked if she had a reservation. She did not, and had to wait for a table — and so began the queue for the dinner service. I was a little surprised, because all about me were empty tables! But such is the popularity of Tsukada Nojo, iconic for its golden Jidori chicken soup — if you wish to dine here during peak hours, you will need a reservation. Jidori chicken, if you believe the marketing hype, is the poultry’s equivalent of Kobe beef.
Yet Jidori chicken is not a breed like Kurobuta, says Dennis Mao, Founder of Mao Foods, responsible for coining and trademarking the moniker. “Jidori chicken” roughly translates to “from the ground” in Japanese; basically it is free-range chicken. Freshness is a salient benefit that Mao Foods offers its business partners. Employees clean the chickens by hand, store them in large vats of ice water (a key step to keeping each chicken’s water-retention level low at two per cent), and then deliver the meats to their clients within a day of slaughter.
And what comes of slow-cooking organic, fresh chicken for eight hours? Flavour. Palate-enveloping, mind-blowing and soul-touching flavour. Diners have to observe a ninety-minute time limit when dining at Tsukada Nojo, and because for a good part of my dinner I was preoccupied with photographing the food, it became a hurried endeavour to finish my meal. I blew on my bowl profusely, lest I got chased out before I could empty the pot of its liquid content. When the soup had boiled for quite some time, there formed this gelatinous layer, bubbling, sticky, clinging to my lips. Heavenly.
And drain the pot I did.
So good the soup was that it robbed the solids of their limelight. At S$25, the Bijin Nabe comprised tori tsukune (chicken meatballs), red radish, baby sweet potato leaves, baby corn, enoki mushroom, deep-fried tofu, sunflower sprout, lettuce, skewered prawns, yellow zucchini, black fungus and complimentary noodles. A modest spread, which probably would not be filling, but by the end of the meal you would probably be bloated from chugging the soup — I definitely was.