Meet the Good Folk Part 1 –
Samurice and Makai Poke
Ever wondered about the people behind the delectable food choices at Tanjong Pagar Centre Basement? Meet The Good Folk introduces you to the stories of passion, hustle and discernment behind each brand.
In part 1 of this series we sit down with Han, the founder of Makai Poke, and Akari from Samurice to talk flavour profiles, origin stories and little-known factoids about their respective cuisines.
Meet Han from Makai Poke.
Hello Han! Tell us a bit about yourself.
My full name is Seu Hin Han, but you can call me Han for short. I'm turning 30 this year. This is not my first F&B endeavour. My first outlet was a small cafe which I started from 2010 to 2013. I don’t have a background in culinary studies, but I’m a self-taught cook.
Before we opened Makai Poke, I spent 6 full months eating sashimi fish every weekend. I was constantly asking my friends to come over to my place to try out the dishes I was trying to create for the menu...the recipes at Makai Poke are all from me!
Tell us a bit about what Makai Poke serves up.
Singaporeans have always been very involved in barashi don, chirashi don. And until today I don't mind admitting that a lot of people still seem to think that poke is Japanese.
The fact is that poke in Hawaiian means 'to cut into cubes'. It doesn't actually refer to a specific ingredient, rather than a method of preparation. It's not just seafood, but fruits and other staples of Hawaiian cuisine.
How did Makai Poke come about?
It's like a love story in reverse. I didn't actually fall in love with Hawaiian food, rather than the location at first.
I've a lot of relatives staying in Tanjong Pagar. My mum and my grandparents used to stay in this area when she was a child, so it’s almost like my hometown. When I first heard about the plans for Tanjong Pagar Centre, I thought, “Wow, Singapore’s tallest building. How amazing is that going to be?”
What keeps you passionate about your business?
One thing that's always gratifying is coming down -even on the weekend- and talking to our customers. It's not about the money; at the end of the day, it's about customers coming back and telling you that they enjoy your food.
Which dish are you most proud of?
A lot of Singaporeans love salmon, and so do I, but I'm actually very proud of our Yuzu Tuna. We use a lot of fresh produce in the dish, and real Yuzu flesh in the marinade.
Meet Akari-san from Samurice
Hello Miss Akari, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Akari Mizutani. I've been working in Samurice for the last two years. Before I joined Samurice in Singapore, I was living in Vietnam, working with a cafe selling bingsu.
I moved to Singapore because I wanted to learn more about F&B, and that Singapore is a very interesting location, because of its many cultures, nationalities and cuisines.
Could you tell me about the brand story and vision of Samurice?
Onigiri is a very popular staple in Japan. But before we launched, there was no onigiri shop in Singapore.
Onigiri is like soul food for the Japanese. it's very convenient. The dish itself has got a history of over 2000 years. Onigiri has been constantly evolving, and for us, we're hoping to expand Japanese food culture all over the world.
What makes Samurice’s onigiri special?
We import Japanese rice with the hulls [rice husks] still intact, and only remove it here in Singapore, so that the freshness of the rice is retained. Cooking also happens in each shop, so that we can ensure the quality of the preparation and ingredients.
What’s one interesting fact about onigiri here in Singapore?
Interestingly, in Japan, ume (plum) is one of the most popular flavours, but in Singapore, I've found that teriyaki tends to be the most popular flavours. Teriyaki salmon and chicken.
The food customs and preferences are very different from country to country. For example, plum is very sour [for Singaporean taste preferences], so we try not to let that ingredient become too excessive in terms of flavours.
We've also developed a few dishes to a fusion taste: For example, our chicken rice onigiri, shrimp chilli onigiri. Singaporeans seem to enjoy that sort of spicy, chilli taste.
What keeps you passionate about your work at Samurice?
I'm 25 years old, and it's often quite difficult for F&B newcomers to experience challenges that will help them grow.
Samurice has let me take on new challenges like marketing research. It was definitely very interesting for me to assist in the process of opening new outlets, from hiring the new staff, to ensuring the goods are purchased well.
Right now I'm helping to develop the menu, and doing the social media marketing on Facebook and Instagram. We're also trying to increase our production of onigiri and bentos, so we have a partnership with other companies.
I'm constantly tasting, strategizing and helping the other company’s staff to understand how Samurice works.
Is there one dish you'd recommend?
We don't sell only onigiri here at Tanjong Pagar Centre, but bento [Japanese lunch boxes] as well. I'd recommend to try our salmon belly bento. It's one of our most popular bentos, and the salmon is purchased from Norway, and is very fresh and tender.