If one were to ask for one of the best claypot rice in Singapore, Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice, located at ABC Brickworks Market, definitely makes the mark. Founded by Uncle Seah, 76, in 1982, Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice is created from his years of accumulated hawker experiences and unwavering dedication to making good food. Uncle Seah started out as a hawker selling dim sums, steamed buns, and then roasted meats. It was through a serendipitous meeting with a friend that changed his life trajectory forever.
In the early 1980s, Uncle Seah was introduced to a claypot rice shifu from Hong Kong who then imparted his knowledge and recipe to him. With deep sensing and familiarity with the locals’ tastebuds from his hawker years, Uncle Seah tweaked and improved on the recipe. He introduced the claypot rice as a menu item in his roasted meat stall and it became so popular that he eventually made it his core business, renaming his stall to Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice.
Handing Over The Business To His Son
30 years later, Uncle Seah finally stepped down from his pride and joy and allowed his eldest son, Raymond Seah, 52, to fully take over the business. As the trade required long hours of standing, heavy lifting of claypots and facing extreme heat, it had become too laborious for him to continue anymore because of his old age.
Raymond was the prime choice because he has been helping his parents at Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice since he was 12 years old. He started with washing bowls and claypots, serving orders, and counting money. He then went on to learn how to make his family’s secret black sauce, chop the chickens, boil the chicken broth, and marinate the chicken slices. In 2017, he took over the weekend shifts so that his parents can rest. Slowly gaining the trust of his father’s most loyal customers, he gave up his full-time job and inherited the business completely from his father in 2019 and has been manning the stall at ABC Brickworks Market since.
Raymond explained why he chose to continue his father’s legacy despite the hard work, “Yuan Yuan is my dad’s passion and his pride. And throughout the 30+ years at ABC Market, he had amassed a huge following of regulars who would constantly tell him how much they love his claypot rice. I cannot bear to see it disappear after his retirement.”
Uncle Seah left his son three words (in Chinese) when handing over the business, “敢敢做” (translates: go all out and just do it)
This, therefore, became his guiding principle and mantra when Raymond thinks about the future and continuity of Yuan Yuan’s Claypot Rice. How can he preserve his father’s legacy when Raymond himself is not around anymore? How can he let more people try his father’s delicious recipe?
Continuing The Legacy Through Apprenticeship
Unlike many second-generation hawkers who want to pass on the trade to their own family members, Raymond and his wife did not want their only son to take over the business as they know how demanding and taxing it can be, especially so for cooking claypot rice where one must endure the high heat intensity (more than 60 degrees Celsius) in a small space.
Raymond recounted, “After my first solo shift on a super busy weekend, my whole body was burning hot after I got home. Showering in cold water and drinking cold water did not help to lower the temperature. My body only got immune to it after 4 days, and since then, I never had this experience again.”
Yet, Raymond could not bear to let Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice disappear after him and has a desire to expand the business and preserve his father’s legacy.
The brainwave of hiring and training apprentices came to him one night.
“I was thinking what if I am able to make it easy for others to learn how to cook our claypot rice, yet retaining the quality and taste that everyone loves?” Raymond shared.
A lot of knowledge goes into making a good claypot rice and the crux is knowing how to control the charcoal fire. Raymond realised he could make it easier for his apprentices to acquire the skill with a single pax claypot compared to the claypots they are using right now that serves 2 to 5 pax.
With proper procedural implementation and delivery of core ingredients such as the secret homemade sauce and chicken broth (which will still be made by Raymond) – this looks like a feasible strategy for expansion and continuing Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice’s legacy.
First New Stall After 40 Years
This succession plan is now well underway with the opening of Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice first stall outside ABC Brickworks. Located at Blk 273 Bukit Batok East Ave 4, the new stall will be helmed by a trained apprentice chef serving the following items:
Made using fragrant old rice cooked in homemade slow-boiled chicken stock over charcoal fire for the perfect texture and flavour. The fire strength is monitored closely and controlled to get the impeccable golden crispy scorched crust at the bottom. Ingredients include the well-marinated fresh chicken in hua diao wine and other secret ingredients, salted fish, lup cheong, and liver sausage – which customers can choose to pair with their claypot rice. It is served with generous amount of secret homemade black sauce drizzled over.
Top tip to eat it:
Scoop a spoonful of rice with the chicken and lup cheong, pat some homemade chilli on it, and send the spoon straight to your mouth.
Raymond’s dream for Yuan Yuan is to open more outlets in Singapore and hopefully bring it overseas to let more people experience the rich heritage and taste the goodness of his father’s recipe. If the apprenticeship model proves to be successful, he looks forward to training new aspiring claypot chefs to preserve the taste for future generations.
Encouraged by his regular Japanese customers, he would love to open a stall in Osaka, Japan if there is an opportunity. “I think my dad would be really happy and proud if we managed to let people outside of Singapore try his claypot rice,” Raymond mused.
Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice’s new outlet is located at Blk 273 Bukit Batok East Ave 4, Singapore 650273. The opening hours are from 11am to 9pm daily.