It's the eternal question for any Asian. Rice or noodles?
Well, now you have to make that decision even before you reach for a menu because Menya Oiden (which specialises in rice bowls and kushiage) recently opened up next to the ever so popular Menya Mappen (which specialises in noodles and tempura).
I'm a massive fan of both.
Here's why -
The concept behind both these eateries is a Japanese style self-serve canteen. The above photo features a banner which illustrates the six steps:
- Get yourself a drink from the fridge.
- Grab a tray and choose from the noodles and rice menu (if you're really hungry, go for the large size).
- Help yourself to some toppings (chef's suggestion - tempura is delicious on top of udon)
- Take your meal to the cashier.
- Find a seat and enjoy! There's self serve water if you want.
- When you're done, return your tray.
It's quick and hassle-free and is the perfect lunch or dinner for when you crave serious comfort food.
The menu at Menya Mappen features many styles of udon and soba and the odd rice bowls. But the highlight of any visit is the tempura bar.
The vegetable kakiage tempura ($2.80 each) is a giant fist-sized ball of mixed vegetable strips, deep-fried. There's also prawn tempura ($2.50), chicken breast tempura ($1.80), pork sausage tempura ($2), sweet potato tempura ($0.80), fish cake tempura ($1.90) and more!
Right beside the cash register at the end of the canteen is a miso soup dispenser and containers of thinly chopped spring onion and tenkasu (bits of tempura batter) which you can add by the spoonful.
My favourite thing to order is the ontama bukkake udon. Available in regular ($4.90) or large ($5.90), and hot or cold, it's a light and refreshing way to eat udon. It is served with a wedge of lemon, a creamy half-boiled egg and a splash of tsukedashi soup.
Meanwhile, right on the other side of Menya Mappen is Menya Oiden, the latest creation from I's Holdings, which also manages Rengaya, Suminoya, Koh-ya, the Menya noodle bars and Menya Mappen.
Rice dishes available at Menya Oiden includes the Oroshi beef bowl ($5.90 regular / $7.90 large) which is sukiyaki beef and ponzu infused grated radish on rice, ontama yakitori bowl ($6.90 regular / $8.90 large) that is grilled chicken and ontama on rice and Japanese curry with rice ($3.90 regular / $5.90).
Similarly to Menya Mappen, side dishes and condiments at Menya Oiden are aplenty. There's chicken stew with vegetables ($2.50), marinated deep fried eggplant ($2.50), potato salad ($1.50), spinach with sesame sauce ($1.20) and loads more.
But again, like at Menya Mappen, it's the self-service bar that gets me really excited. At Menya Oiden, it is self-serve kushiage. These are bite-sized skewers of eggplant ($1.50), pork (tonkatsu, $2.50), beef mince-fry ($2.20), chicken breast ($1.90), smelt whiting ($1.90) and prawns ($2.50). All panko-crumbed and deep-fried.
This is the large ontama curry rice ($6.90) with takoyaki (octopus balls), crumbed chicken breast and beef mince-fry and miso soup ($1.50). I'm sure you could tell that by the meaty nature of the kushiage selection, it belonged to Zen!
I have the Oiden set (regular, $3.60) which includes rice, miso soup, pickles and coleslaw. I top it off with a combination of deeply satisfying kushiage - eggplant, prawns and pork, and a serve of the chicken and vegetable stew.
Dining at either Menya Mappen or Menya Oiden works out to be very reasonable. It's a cheap eat if you don't go too wild on the tempura or kushiage. I adore the options and variety, but I hate having to choose. I wonder how long until they knock out the wall in between and allow noodle lovers to mix with rice lovers?
P.S. Join in the ultimate showdown: rice vs noodles! What's your pick?
Shop 11, 537 - 551 George Street, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9283 5525
Shop 12, 537-551 George St, Sydney NSW