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25-year-old daughter of popular Japanese mee pok hawker back to helm stall after 5-year break

“Being a hawker is hard, but I saw how busy my father was handling everything himself in Singapore and I wanted to come back,” says the second-gen hawker of Japanese fusion bak chor mee chain Li Yuan Mee Pok who returned to Japan after a two-year stint as her dad’s cook.

When last spoke to Naoji Kuribara two years ago, the 56-year-old Japanese owner of Li Yuan Mee Pok (a reference to Naoji’s family name in Chinese) was working solo to build his Japanese fusion bak chor mee business in Singapore. The former corporate salaryman, who has been in the hawker trade for a decade, has since opened five noodle stalls under the Li Yuan brand. 

While many veteran towkays have found it hard to pass their torch on to the next generation, Naoji says he is “very happy” that his 25-year-old daughter Reina has returned to the family business recently. Naoji, his wife and two children had been living in Singapore since 2005. Five years ago, they moved home to Chiba (a city near Tokyo) as his family wanted to live in Japan. Prior to the relocation, Reina cooked at one of Naoji’s mee pok stalls at Clementi West from when she was just 18 years old, along with her then teen brother. Her bro and mum are still living in Japan now.

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Reina is back to run Commonwealth stall

While in Japan, Naoji opened a Singapore-style mee pok stall in Tokyo in 2018, but had to wind down the biz three years later due to the pandemic. He returned to Singapore in 2021 to focus on growing his noodle brand here, while his family continued to live in Japan.

Evidently, Naoji’s daughter has inherited his love for the hawker trade as well. Recently, Li Yuan Mee Pok’s Facebook page posted a photo of Reina at the stall with a cute announcement: “Master’s daughter came back”.

“I’ve been thinking of the mee pok business for about a year [before deciding to return],” Reina tells us over the phone. “Being a hawker is hard, but I saw how busy my father was handling everything himself in Singapore and I wanted to come back. I like cooking and I like to see customers happy [when enjoying our food], so I asked my husband if he wanted to do it together and he said yes.” Reina and her husband Hikaru (shown in pic), 24, married last August and relocated to Singapore in December 2022. Hikaru was recently granted an S-Pass (Reina is a Singaporean PR) and the couple are now managing Li Yuan Mee Pok’s Commonwealth branch together.

Post-hiatus cooking skills validated by dad

Reina says she “remembers everything” that her dad (left in pic) taught her as a teen hawker and has been cooking daily at the stall since February. “She knows all my recipes. Last time, she cooked at my stall every day. Her standard is very good,” affirms Naoji in a separate call with These days, Naoji has relegated most of the cooking to his staff to focus on managing the five outlets. He has no immediate plans to further the expansion. “I only cook sometimes when the staff are on emergency leave,” he says.

The young hawker also plans to show her husband the ropes. “He’s slowly learning how to cook the noodles and won’t be cooking for customers yet.”

“The first month [back at the stall] was very tiring.”

Reina says her first month back at the stall was challenging. “Working in Japan was easier!” she quips. The Gen Z-er tried out different stints in Japan, including an administrative job at Japan Post as well as preparing unagi dishes and bento meals at a small restaurant. For the past year, she was also a video game streamer, which was how she met her Mobile Legends pro gamer husband. “The first month [back at the stall] was very tiring. I started with managing orders first [to ease into running the stall],” she shares. 

On the future of Li Yuan Mee Pok, Reina says she is unsure of whether she’ll take over the entire family business. “I haven’t thought so far yet. I just like to cook and want to focus on that [for now].”

Fusion mee pok with ramen influences

In addition to the usual bak chor mee fixings, Li Yuan Mee Pok’s signature fusion mee pok is served with chashu, abalone slices and tossed in either shoyu or miso tare (Japanese base seasoning used in traditional ramen). There’s also a standard vinegar-spiked option without tare. Prices start at $5 for the local version, and $7 for the Japanese-influenced fusion bowl (we favoured the latter during our last review).

Li Yuan Mee Pok’s Commonwealth branch is at Food More @ 115B Commonwealth Drive, #01-697, 115B Commonwealth Dr, S149597. Open daily except Tue, 9am-7.30pm. Facebook. More info on the other outlets here

Photos: Li Yuan Mee Pok & Kelvin Chia

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Related topics

Li Yuan Mee Pok mee pok japanese hawker hawker food cheap food japanese fusion mee pok japanese fusion food japanese food bak chor mee Commonwealth chiba gen-z gen-z hawker young hawker ramen

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