A zen-looking wooden signboard caught my eye from the rows of loud signboards during a recent visit to Bedok North Market & Food Centre.
With its Japanese-style facade, I expected to find bento sets and donburi (rice bowls) at Plum & Rice. However, the four-month-old stall serves pink-coloured rice and braised pork belly.
Naturally, I was intrigued.
It turns out that the rice has a rosy pink hue from being cooked with pureed umeboshi or Japanese preserved plums. Starting at $4, these Japanese-inspired rice sets give solid bang for the buck. Each comes with a choice of umeboshi rice or porridge, braised pork belly or pork shoulder, a side dish and free flow of soup.
An equally curious sight is the three young men running the stall, who charm customers with their earnest and friendly manner.
The trio, Mr Gladwin Yap, Mr Eric Lee and Mr Raphael Sim, all 26, met in and graduated from the Singapore campus of The Culinary Institute of America. Inspired by the Japanese breakfast staple of umeboshi and rice that they ate on their holiday to Japan last year, they decided to incorporate the plum into their menu. Umeboshi is said to alleviate fatigue and indigestion, among other benefits.
PLUM & RICE
01-45 Block 216 Bedok North Street 1 Market & Food Centre; open: 8am to 2pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays; tel: 9130-1200; www.facebook.com/PlumandRice
Rating: 4/5 stars
Instead of serving hipster Western cuisine, they chose comfort food.
Mr Yap says: "Many youngsters do not have time to eat dinner at home these days, so we decided to serve the down-to-earth food that our parents cook."
Most popular is the braised pork belly rice set. On the small platter are seven plush blocks of pork belly, slow-braised for two hours. I recommend the umeboshi rice. Its chewiness is an interesting textural contrast to the meltingly soft fat of the pork. The acidity and sourness from the umeboshi flakes in the rice cuts through the oiliness and richness of the meat. The rice is also sprinkled with furikake - comprising cereal bits, curry leaves, seaweed and dried shrimps - which gives each spoonful a subtle spicy finish.
Those who are more health conscious can opt for the fish set ($6), which features a thick slab of cod that is coated liberally with minced garlic and fried garlic bits.
The clean-tasting cod, which is cooked sous vide, is best accompanied by the umeboshi porridge. It is topped with a dollop of umeboshi puree, to be stirred into the grains. The zinginess of the plum is more pronounced here and teases the palate.
The side dish of chilled cucumber is a good palate cleanser. Seasoned with sesame oil, garlic, light soya sauce and bonito flakes, the sour cubes leave a satisfying tingle in the mouth. The stall rotates its side dishes and the others include tau pok (fried beancurd puffs) with beansprouts, and cucumber with black fungus. If these are not enough, the fried tau pok stuffed with pork, prawn and water chestnuts ($1.50 for two pieces) makes a very moreish snack.
Complete the meal with soup. The roster changes daily and includes pork ribs and corn; and black bean and wintermelon.