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by Teo Pau Lin
XXL marks the spot
THE owners of Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks knew they had hit the right note when a customer ordered their crispy chicken seven times in a day.
Called XXL Crispy Chicken, each fillet is the size of a large hand palm and is deep-fried until it is crispy outside and juicy inside.
It is then cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed with a secret blend of Chinese spices.
The Taiwanese snack stall, which also offers handmade oyster mee sua and chicken floss egg crepe, has been attracting queues of up to 30 people at its five outlets.
Owners Melvyn Wong and Daniel Tay, both 26, first tasted these snacks when they were on national service in Taipei more than five years ago.
Right through their studies in the National University of Singapore, they had their minds set on bringing the items here.
'A lot of Singaporeans who have been to Taiwan love these snacks, so we know there's a ready market,' says Mr Wong.
But there is no franchise available for selling the items, so he took matters into his own hands.
Last year, he spent two months in Taipei's Shihlin market - the most famous night market in Taiwan - learning how to cook the three items. He paid three chefs a five-figure sum for the lessons.
With their savings, the owners launched their first company-owned outlet in Far East Plaza in February this year.
Since then, they have gone on to open four franchise outlets, with two more to come by year end.
The pair still receive one franchise inquiry a day, they say. A franchise right goes for between $25,000 and $35,000, depending on the stall's location.
'It's a simple business. We supply the ingredients, they just need to cook and serve,' says Mr Tay.
He is not worried that the craze will go the way of Taiwanese bubble tea.
'We're not selling a fad, we're selling staple Taiwanese food. We're confident it'll be popular here for a long time,' he adds.
Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks
Sells: XXL Crispy Chicken, handmade oyster mee sua and chicken floss egg crepe, at $3 each
Five outlets: Far East Plaza, Bishan Junction 8, Plaza Singapura, Bukit Panjang Plaza, IMM Building
Stick them up, they're good
STREET versions of expensive food are rarely good.
But not only are Tori-Q's yakitori fresh, tender and deliciously addictive, they are reasonably priced from 80 cents a stick.
Owner Yohei Takeda, 36, admits to another reason his chain has expanded to an impressive six outlets in four years - machines.
Each outlet boasts a $20,000 yakitori-making machine, which dips the sticks in sauce and grills them at two sticks a minute.
'It produces many sticks in a much shorter time, all made fresh on the spot,' he says.
Mr Takeda, who has lived in Singapore for 10 years, first started selling takopachi (squid balls) from a pushcart in Clarke Quay in 1994.
Business was so encouraging that the now Singapore permanent resident moved to Takashimaya food hall two years later.
He now has three Takopachi outlets at Takashimaya, Bugis Junction and Bishan Junction 8.
But with the rising prices of squid, he decided to branch out into a different snack that uses cheaper ingredients - yakitori.
He imported the yakitori machines from Japan so he could sell cheaply and in vast volumes. Now, a constant stream of customers snap up more than 3,000 sticks at each outlet every day.
Mr Takeda, who is married with two children, says he keeps a tight rein over quality.
He prefers to mince the meat for the chicken balls himself because 'suppliers don't always give you the best'. All sauces and mayonnaise are also made in-house.
For this reason, only the Paragon outlet is a franchisee.
He is not selling any more franchises because 'we want to really control the quality'.
Sells: Japanese skewers of chicken, pork and eel, from 80 cents to $1.60 each
Six outlets: Takashimaya Food Hall, Bugis Junction, Paragon, Liang Court, Far East Plaza and Bishan Junction 8
Croquettes stay crispy for 2 hours
FANS of deep-fried food would find croquettes irresistible.
But Corochan's Corokke offers an edge - its croquettes stay crispy for up to two hours.
Mr Hoo Shao Pin, managing director of the Singapore franchise, says the secret is in the breadcrumb coating, which includes chopped vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, red peppers and tomatoes.
The family-owned Japanese croquette chain has over 700 outlets in Japan.
Mr Hoo, 35, came across its website when he was looking for food business opportunities on the Internet in 2002.
Convinced that the tasty snacks would be a hit in Singapore, he flew to the company's headquarters in Gifu to persuade the owners to sell him a franchise.
Now the master franchiser for Singapore, he has set up four company-owned outlets since launching the first in Far East Plaza in 2002, with an initial investment of $150,000.
They offer seven types of croquettes - plain potato, camembert cheese, prawn, onion tuna, milk, seafood and omelette.
For $3.80, you can also have them with rice covered with Japanese curry, deep-fried chicken, cabbage salad and watermelon.
At its peak, each outlet sold up to 3,500 pieces a day, although the number has since dipped to about 800 a day, says Mr Hoo.
But the former IT specialist of 12 years is confident of his product's staying power.
All frozen croquettes from Japan are made with top-grade potatoes from Hokkaido. For frying, all outlets use the healthier canola oil which is low in harmful fats and high in beneficial fats.
In fact, each seafood croquette ($1.50) contains only 40 calories, Mr Hoo says.
Sells: Seven types of potato croquettes from $1 to $2 each
Four outlets: Far East Plaza, Plaza Singapura, Bugis Junction, Bishan Junction 8