Every spring, the Japanese turn out in full force across the nation to celebrate hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, by having picnics under the sakura trees with friends and family.
Wouldn't it be great if we could do that in Singapore too?
Before you head down to Gardens by the Bay with picnic mats in hand, here's some bad news: the cherry blossom display in the Flower Dome ended on Sunday, March 26.
The good news? There are more sakura blossoms in town, and yes, you can dine right under them! Well, sort of.
Japan Food Town in Wisma Atria is hosting a Sakura Fair from Mar 31 until Apr 16, with real sakura blooms flown in directly from Yamagata in northeast Japan.
The sakura displays are now blooming in three different areas at Japan Food Town, while other decor recreates the spirit of spring in Japan. Sprays of artificial cherry blossoms hang outside every shop and along the corridors, while the lights around the food hall are pink-hued in celebration of the season.
Of course, what's a food hall without food? The restaurants within Japan Food Town have specially curated 'sakura-inspired' dishes for the Sakura Fair to highlight popular spring ingredients used in Japanese cuisine.
If you're heading down to the Sakura Fair this weekend, here are four must-try dishes:
Temari Sushi Set ($26++) from Tsukiji Sushi Takewaka
The colourful temari sushi platter is served with a variety of seafood, including salmon, shrimp, tuna and squid.
Modelled after temari balls that Japanese parents traditionally give to their children on New Year's Day, the round temari sushi was easy to pop into one's mouth. The rice did not fall apart under our chopsticks, and the fish was fresh and sliced just right.
In fact, all the seafood at Tsukiji Sushi Takewaka is freshly shipped from Japan, with only the best cuts used. The restaurant takes its name from the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, where the first Takewaka shop was started about 28 years ago.
Wakatake Soba Set with Chrysanthemum Tempura and Hijiki ($27.50++) from Yomoda Soba
The Wakatake Soba Set highlights the use of bamboo shoots, which are a seasonal ingredient popularly eaten during spring.
The soba bowl is filled with generous amounts of bamboo shoots, wakame seaweed, and mushrooms. The bamboo shoots are springy and easy to bite into, and pair well with the smooth texture of the soba noodles.
While the broth was on the salty side, it was complemented by the takikomi gohan, or Japanese mixed rice with hijiki, a sea vegetable. The rice itself was mildly flavoured, hence making it a good match with the soba broth.
The last part of the Soba Set is the Chrysanthemum Tempura, which is a crispy batter fried with edible chrysanthemum leaves. The tempura pieces were crispy and not overly oily, and the chrysanthemum leaves added a fragrant taste. We were dismayed to find that we had finished ours and would have liked to get some more of it.
Sakura Ebi Okonomiyaki ($18++) from Osaka Kitchen
Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake, is said to have originated from Osaka. No surprise, then, that Osaka Kitchen would have a sakura-style okonomiyaki prepared for the Sakura Fair.
The Sakura Ebi Okonomiyaki is made with dried sakura shrimp, which is chosen over fresh sakura shrimp for its concentration of flavour.
Generous use of this special ingredient ensures every bite is a burst of wonderful flavour.
However, we found the okonomiyaki a tad too starchy for our liking. If you're ordering this dish, we recommend sharing it with a few friends, as a single slice proved to be quite filling.
Sakura Parfait ($12++) from Rang Mang Shokudo
Rang Mang Shokudo is famous for its karaage chicken, which is freshly prepared every day and has different sauces for diners to choose from. Just for the Sakura Fair, they have introduced a Sakura Parfait, made of sakura-flavoured ice-cream, azuki beans and mochi, and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
The sakura ice-cream, specially imported from Japan, was reminiscent of a mildly flavoured strawberry ice-cream. It was light on the palate, though its taste was slightly overwhelmed by the sweetness of the azuki beans.
The cornflakes buried at the bottom of the parfait also added crunch to the dessert, making the parfait a delicious way to wrap up our meal at Japan Food Town.
What: Sakura Fair
When: Mar 31 to Apr 16
Where: Japan Food Town, level 4, Wisma Atria Shopping Centre, Singapore 238877
Opening hours: 11.30am to 11pm on weekdays, 11am to 11pm on weekends