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Pepper Lunch Express

November 7, 2013

It was late in the afternoon on our only full day in Singapore and we had wandered all over the place.  Walking from our hotel to the nearest MRT stop, which was a good 15 minute walk, going over to Raffles Hotel, hopping back on the MRT, wandering for awhile trying to find Merlion Park, posing for pictures with the Merlion in the Clarke Quay area, back on the MRT to visit the SkyPark at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, wandering around the hotel itself, walking over to the Shoppes at Marina Bay, just to name a few things we did.  We still had yet to wander around the Gardens By the Bay nor gone to the Singapore Flyer.  My feet were tired and I was hungry!  While we were wandering around the Shoppes at Marina Bay, a large shopping center connected to the ritzy Marina Bay Sands hotel, I told my husband we just had to stop for food!  Not knowing what we wanted, I dragged him to the mall’s food court to see what they offered.  There was all sorts of ethnic food there it was almost hard to pick out one thing – Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Singaporean, Filipino, Italian, American, Thai, etc.  The food court was packed with people, those waiting in lines for food, those carrying trays from food stalls to their tables, and those sitting down enjoying a meal.  It all looked, and smelled so good.  But then I zeroed in on a couple of people who had walked by me as I was wandering with sizzling plates full of food that looked and smelled better than anything else I had seen that I knew that’s what I wanted to try for lunch.

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Pepper Lunch, and it’s fast-food cousin, Pepper Lunch Express is a chain of Japanese fast service concept dining experiences where you can cook food your way.  Founded in Japan, it’s grown throughout Asia to encompass more than 250 locations.  Everything starts with a sizzling hot teppan plate where whatever you chose is piled on and is allowed to cook the way you want it to.  Various flavored sauces are provided for you to pick and choose and create your own dipping sauces for the fresh beef, chicken and fish you choose to pile on to your teppan plate.

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At Pepper Lunch Express, you order a meal based upon the picture board that they display, a cook puts together your meal on the teppan plate and then you take your sizzling hot iron plate, along with your chosen sauces, back to your table, and you allow the protein to cook as much, or as little, as you want and then devour the plate when you’re ready.  Essentially, you become your own chef and put the plate together the way you want.

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Uncertain as to exactly what the Pepper Lunch Express experience was like since my husband and I had neither heard of, or seen, such a concept before, we decided to play it safe and just order one entrée for the both of us to share.  After perusing the options, I chose the beef pepper rice.  From looking at the picture menu, it seemed that it was beef slices ringed around a mound of rice and some corn.  It seemed pretty neutral enough that it should satisfy both my tastes and my husband’s tastes.  Immediately after ordering, the employee at Pepper Lunch Express began to put my meal together.  Taking out the sizzling hot iron teppan plate, he loaded a bowl full of rice, which immediately began to sizzle and crackle from the heat of the teppan plate.  It was nice to be able to watch him assemble the meal and see it all come together, made-to-order.

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Meanwhile, as my meal was being prepared, I looked through my sauce options.  The three sauces available were a chili sauce (no thank you!!), a garlic soy sauce and a honey brown sauce.  As both the garlic soy sauce and honey brown sauce sounded appealing, I ladled a little bowl of both of these sauce options figuring we could try out both of them.

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Within a few minutes, the employee behind the counter handed me to me on a tray my beef pepper rice lunch.  The exact makings of the meal are as follows:  Japanese rice, a scoop of their signature margarine (they are Asian after all and Asians have a love of margarine), crunchy corn, slices of tender chuck steak sliced thin and laid out on the sizzling hot teppan plate to cook, topped with sliced green onions and of course fresh cracked black pepper.  And when they say sizzling hot teppan plate, it literally is sizzling hot.  For safety purposes, they cover the sizzling teppan plate with a paper barrier, presumably so that you don’t accidentally burn yourself.  As you carry the tray loaded with your sizzling plate, you can hear the beef crackle and cook from the heat of the plate, the rice is also sizzling and crackling.

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With the meal, you also get a small bowl of soup to finish it off.  And of course, there’s these little bowls of the sauce(s) you’ve chosen from the counter.  Once the beef had cooked to our liking, what we did was drizzled some of the garlic soy sauce over the whole thing, and then combined the beef, rice and corn together, almost like making a fried rice.  I guess you could do it any way you like.  You could just leave everything as is without mixing it all together.  For us, once we mixed everything, we just started digging in.  I poured some of the honey brown sauce on my side of the plate, took a bite of our beef pepper rice and I was in love!  Because the rice was given time to cook and sizzle on the teppan plate, the bottom layer of the rice had developed these nice crispy-crunchy bites which were delicious and added such great texture to the meal.  The corn was sweet and really balanced out the beef.  And the beef was thin, crispy, and cooked to perfection on the hot plate.  A spoonful of the rice with the pepper and the signature margarine with the corn and the garlic soy sauce and honey brown sauce all mixed in was pure perfection.  This meal was a true winner!

I’m so glad I went with my instincts and decided on Pepper Lunch Express out of all my options at the food court.  Even my husband, who was skeptical of my choice at first, really loved the meal.  It was so simplistic, yet delicious.  It has actually inspired us to re-create this meal at home on our own tailored to our own tastes.  You’ll see a post for our own version of this wonderful meal in the weeks to come.  If we had had more time in the city, I know I would have been back to Pepper Lunch Express again.  In fact, in our last stop before the end of this vacation, we find ourselves in Bangkok, and while walking around the city early one morning, my husband and I actually do pass an actual Pepper Lunch restaurant, and I was so tempted to want to go back there later for a meal.  It really was that good, and simple and yummy!

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