Patrons of a Clementi coffee shop are getting an unusual sight when they order their mee pok.
With a cloth headband wrapped around his forehead, Japanese hawker Naoji Kuribara, 47, wields a noodle strainer and wok, among other tools, with flair.
Mr Kuribara, who took over Ah Hoe Mee Pok at Block 710, Clementi West Street 2, two weeks ago, learnt his skills from Singaporean Eric Chia, who owns the stall.
The two men got to know each other in 2013, when they ran separate stalls at the same coffee shop at West Coast Drive.
Then, the Japanese man ran a donburi (Japanese rice bowl dish) stall while Mr Chia sold mee pok.
Captivated by the taste of Mr Chia's mee pok, Mr Kuribara asked to learn how to make it.
Mr Chia agreed to teach him, but the journey was a tough one, even though Mr Kuribara had apprenticed at a ramen stall when he was younger.
Communication between teacher and student was hampered by Mr Kuribara's poor grasp of English.
But through sheer persistence, he mastered the art of cooking mee pok.
It took six months of intensive training of up to 12 hours a day.
Said Mr Chia: "He was very eager to learn how to cook mee pok, and he picked up what I taught him quite quickly."
Said Mr Kuribara: "The hardest part of learning to cook mee pok was trying to master its texture."
He said compared to ramen, mee pok takes a shorter time to cook. He also needed to learn how to cook other ingredients, like pork lard, which had to be just the right level of crispy.
Mr Kuribara did not pay Mr Chia for teaching him, but spent another six months working for him for free.
Now, the duo plan on launching a mee pok franchise. For the time being, Mr Kuribara heads the existing stall, while Mr Chia hunts for a location for their second branch.
These days, Mr Kuribara sells between 200 and 300 bowls of mee pok per day.
He has been in the food business for the past 10 years. In 2005, he quit his $7,000-a-month job as a financial executive with Sanyo Electronics in Singapore, after working in that role for four years.
Wanting to pursue his love for cooking, he set up a coffee shop stall serving donburi.
Mr Kuribara's family has been supportive of his kitchen adventures. His children, aged 19 and 22, help out full-time at both the donburi and mee pok stalls, together with their mother, 44.
The family, who are permanent residents here, live in a condominium on Clementi Avenue 6, close to the coffee shop.
Retiree Steven Lim, 63, who tasted the mee pok for the first time last Thursday, said: "There's always a long queue during meal times. It's pretty tasty."
He intends to ask his family to try the noodles for the novelty of seeing a Japanese family cook mee pok.
This article was first published on Feb 3, 2015.
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