Rice on a roll

The humble rice roll has been getting fancy makeovers of late.

Eschewing seaweed wrappers and generic ingredients for stuffing, eateries are cramming the rolls with fruits, cream cheese and pork floss.

The rolls are equally elaborate on the outside - crowned with slivers of meats, from aburi salmon to poached chicken, and drizzled with sauces such as hoisin, Japanese curry and kebayaki.

Four eateries selling these jazzed-up rice rolls have opened in the past seven months .

Among them: Seoul Roll, a five-week-old takeaway kiosk that sells East-meets-West kimbap (Korean seaweed rice roll) in Raffles City; and Roll Out, which offers sushi rolls containing a melting pot of flavours, and started in Tampines Mall in June this year.

Seoul Roll's co-owner Changheon Kim has zeroed in on kimbap, a traditional Korean street food, which has often been relegated to a humble side dish in Korean eateries here.

Mr Kim, 45, a former restaurant chef, says: "Kimbaps here are usually quite plain and have more rice than other ingredients."

On top of the classic ingredients, such as julienned carrots, pickled radish and cucumbers nestled in Korean short-grain rice, Seoul Rolls' kimbaps are also filled with popular Korean dishes.

They include beef bulgogi and spicy pork, and side dishes such as anchovies and spicy dried cuttlefish.

Mr Kim says that widening the variety of ingredients expands the appeal of his eatery.

He adds: "We make kimbap more accessible. Kids prefer the rolls that are filled with creamy crab or chicken salads, while those who want something crunchy can choose the fried shrimp roll."

His stall sells up to 400 rice rolls daily, catering mainly to the office crowd.

His wife, Ms Stella Jung, 42, who is a former graphic designer, designed each intricate roll, down to the arrangement of the ingredients by their colours.

She says: "People eat with their eyes these days, so having a colourful cross-section is appetising."

Agreeing with Ms Jung, Roll Out's co-owner Denise Lim says that being visually appealing is key to the sushi rolls in her takeaway joint.

Instead of being wrapped in seaweed, most of the rolls are draped with ingredients such as grilled unagi and smoked duck. The ingredients are also nestled in the rice rolls.

Ms Lim, 28, who also works as a flight attendant, says: "It is more enticing to see the sushi inside out, and is a way of having more ingredients for each roll."

The rolls also feature popular combinations of flavours, such as smoked duck paired with hoisin sauce and deep-fried mozzarella cheese sticks with ham.

The 160 sq ft stall sells up to 350 rolls daily.

For Rollie Olie, a three-month-old sushi roll-centric cafe in The Star Vista, owner Amy Chou worked with a chef to design nine rice rolls with unique toppings and sauces.

For example, its Cali Dream roll comes with fried prawn, tamago, avocado and strawberries.

Ms Chou, 46, wanted to build on the long-time trend of rice roll cafes, which she saw while she was based in the United States for 18 years.

The Taiwan-born graphic designer, who moved here in 2003 because her husband was working here, says: "We wanted to come up with more adventurous flavours other than California and tuna rolls in order to stand out from what's available in Japanese restaurants here."

She sells up to 150 rolls daily, and will open a second outlet in Suntec City next month.

Besides shopping malls, there are also rice roll shops in hawker centres.

One of them is Bento n Rolls in Bendemeer Food Centre.

Stall owner Lisa Tan sells more than 10 flavours of sushi rolls, including a vegetarian selection that has stuffings such as achar and mushrooms.

A brown-rice option is available for the health-conscious crowd.

Her sushi rolls feature "cooked ingredients that are familiar to heartlanders" such as hot dog and luncheon meat, and she jazzes them up by rolling them with pork floss and fried eggs.

Says Ms Tan, 43: "Sushi rolls appeal to those who are looking for a quick wholesome meal."

Diners are lapping up the more exciting rice roll options.

Graphic design undergraduate Louise Baskerville, 35, who has patronised Seoul Roll thrice, says: "Eating these rice rolls feels like having a really good burger.

"I also like that the ingredients are cooked, unlike most sushi rolls, which have raw ingredients."

Freelance surveyor Jane Phua, 46, who is a regular at Roll Out, says: "These rice rolls make healthy and convenient dinners."


Seoul Roll

What: This 224 sq ft kiosk sells more than 10 types of kimbap, some of them have a combination of fusion ingredients.

Try the Anchovy & Almond Roll ($4.50), which is stuffed with crunchy fried ikan bilis imported from South Korea, cheese, almonds and greens.

The signature Seoul Roll ($5) comes packed with home-made kimchi, ham, burdock and greens.

There are also creamy crab, chicken and tuna salad options in these rolls (starts from $4.50).

Where: B1-58, Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road
Open: 11am to 8pm daily
Info: Call 8685-7315 or go to seoulroll-sg.com

Roll Out

What: Look out for quirky local-flavoured sushi rolls such as The Hainanese ($4.90), which has poached chicken slices on sushi rice cooked in chicken stock and flavoured with ginger sauce.

The Red Hot Chilli Pincers ($5.90) comes with fried snow crab leg with chilli crab sauce and adorned with capelin roe.

For those who need their Japanese fix, go for the popular Electric Una ($5.90), which has grilled unagi, tamago, greens and kebayaki sauce. The selection of sushi rolls changes monthly.

Where: B1-K11, Tampines Mall, 4 Tampines Central 5
Open: 10.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6900-4372, go to rollout.com.sg

Bento N Roll

What: Stallowner Lisa Tan converted her family's 30-year-old popiah stall into one selling bentos and rice rolls in March this year.

The avid self-taught bento-maker offers 10 flavours of sushi rolls (starts from $3.20) made with cooked ingredients, such as hot dog, kimchi, crab stick, ebi and luncheon meat.

These meats are rolled with other ingredients such as pickles, carrots and cucumbers. Add 30 cents for brown rice.

Where: 01-55 Block 29, Bendemeer Food Centre, Bendemeer Road
Open: 7.30am to 2.30pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday
Info: Call 9699-7494 or go to bentonrolls.com

Rollie Olie

What: This casual 24-seat cafe serves nine elaborate sushi rolls.

Popular picks include the Sunkissed Salmon ($16.95), which has aburi salmon, crab meat, avocado, jicama cucumber and roe, and the K Pop ($12.95), which consists of spicy crab meat, kimchi, cucumber, chives and jicama.

It also sells Sushirritos ($14.95), which are a cross between burrito and sushi, and Skinny Rolls (from $12.95), which have greens and meats wrapped in a wafer-thin soya bean-based wrap.

Where: 02-05, Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green
Open: 11.30am to 10pm, weekday, 11am to 10pm, weekend
Info: Go to rollieolie.com

This article was first published on October 04, 2015.
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