Sunday, May 25, 2014

Taiwan Railway Bento - A Delightful Rice Box, Chicken Rice Bento Anyone?

Bento is essentially a rice box that commuters take and consume on board trains in order to save time and money.

Over the years, bento boxes have become increasingly popular in Asia, and though it probably originated in Japan, it has also found a wide following in places like Taiwan.

The Taiwanese has a knack of taking something simple, and dressing it up into colorful variations that are both eye appealing and creative.

It is no surprise that Taiwanese bento has become such a fad in recent times, and this has apparently spread to our shores.

Located in the heart of CT Hub at Kallang Avenue, Taiwan Railway Bento is a delightful facsimile of the popular Taiwan Bento outlets. 

They serve many varieties of these charming rice boxes, and many of the Taiwanese favorites are available here. But they also have the sense to include some local classics into the bento concept, which I found both inventive and enterprising.

Each of the lovely boxes is beautifully presented in carefully crafted wooden crates, and all of their food are intricately plated within the bento boxes. As a result, every bento is like a mini work of art.

Stewed Pork Belly Bento

For dine-in customers, the bento is presented minus the lid. For those who do takeaways, it will come with a proper lid which has their signature logo and art beautifully presented on top.

The pork belly set is a Taiwanese standard, and here it was presented with the whole slab of pork belly uncut. Served with a stewed egg and preserved vegetables directly imported from Taiwan, and a huge chunk of tau pok, it was certainly value for money.

Whilst I would have preferred the pork belly to be more chopstick tender, the flavors of the stew sauce enveloped the rice nicely and this really makes for a very hearty and full meal. The acid of the preserved veggies gave it a nice balance overall.

Red Yeast Pork Slices Bento

The red yeast pork bento will be more challenging to those not accustomed to the sour notes of the red yeast. For those who have acquired the taste, you will find something to enjoy here that is not so commonly found in other eateries.

Served with the same accompaniments of egg, veggies and tau pok, it was another hefty set that will leave any diner full and satisfied.

Hainanese Chicken Rice Bento

I found this chicken rice bento to be both novel and inspiring. Short of eating at chatterbox, this is probably the most beautifully presented chicken rice set that I have seen yet. And at a fraction of chatterbox's price, this is really a steal!

The chicken drumstick was nicely cooked and tender, and just about past pink. But it did lack a robust chicken flavor which I would have liked more. The seasoning was also a bit light, but would please the younger chicken rice audience nevertheless.

The rice itself was strong with the flavors of  ginger and chicken fat, though it lacked the shallot element which would have balanced the flavors better. It was also bordering on the sweet side, but despite that, the rice was perfectly cooked and every grain was separable and fluffy.

For a clever idea, the chicken rice was executed with some flair and while it may not trump older chicken rice stalls, this still makes for an idea lunch meal.

Five Spice Fried Intestines

Besides bento sets, they also provide affordable Taiwan sides as snacks or appetizers, and I must say, they are pretty darn good on their own. I particularly favored this simple plate of fried pig intestines.

There was little or no smell from the intestines, and the use of five spice powder would have done a lot to mask that stench, as well punching up the flavor content. Each piece was nicely fried and crispy, and on the inside, there was still that meltingly soft texture that indicated that the cooking was executed perfectly.

Namyu Chicken Wings

Even better was this set of crispy chicken wings that had been marinated with namyu sauce to give it that distinct red sheen on the exterior. Again, the frying process was executed to perfection and the moist, succulence of the flesh was all too evident.

The strong, savory flavors of the namyu was just the perfect way to coat the chicken wings and probably aided the moistness of the chicken meat too. Perfect with beer.

Chicken Chop, Taiwanese Style

The now famous Taiwanese chicken chop is also available here, and while it is not a standout, it is still pretty decent on its own. Presented as if the chicken was too oversized for its box, the crackling exterior was punctuated with doses of salt and chilli powder.

It was certainly better than the ones you get in Shin Lin outlets, but it was not probably the best Taiwan Chicken I have had here. Despite that, the portion they served here is really large and worth the price of admission.

How to Eat a Proper Bento

Taiwan Railway Bento has another outlet in town, and according to the owner, business has been good. Catering largely to the office crowd, I can see why such bento concept outlets will prove such a hit here.

Most office workers would appreciate the charming boxes as an alternative to the usual economic rice options they get in hawker stalls. Each bento box's price is equivalent to a plate of "3 veg 1 meat" plate these days. And they are so, so pretty!

By pricing them at the right range, Taiwan Railway Bento has hit on a successful formula that has tremendous mass appeal. Rather than resting on his laurels, the owner is constantly on the lookout for new ideas for his bento box concept, and the chicken rice is the result of one such breakthrough.

While the idea of bento boxes is not new, it is very refreshing to see how a clever Singaporean has taken an overseas formula and made it very much his own now. I won't be surprised to see imitators coming up very soon.

Taiwan Railway Bento
#02-16 CT Hub
2 Kallang Avenue

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