On the days when I crave fried rice, I don’t think about finding a healthy version of it. Shops I would normally be interested in are street vendors like Uncle Soon Fried Rice for their spicy sambal and punchy wok Hei or any other Chinese restaurant nearby.
Kenneth Lai knew his dishes couldn’t compete with those affordable mom and pop shops in the Malaysian market, so he started a cauliflower rice brand to found Cauli & Rice.
Its not so healthy beginnings
The sale of cauliflower rice was actually a fluke for Kenneth, who initially sold roasted chickens from a central kitchen for takeaways and deliveries under the M Fried Chicken brand. “It’s probably the opposite of being healthy,” he realized.
The brand had some success selling the fried chickens paired with good ol ‘fried rice to act as a belly filler. But they soon noticed an influx of customers just buying the fried rice without the chickens. Orders like this came up often enough to let them know that their fried rice was of standards.
Cauli rice paired with a side dish of fried chicken / Photo credit: Cauli & Rice
So the team did a lot of work on improving the fried rice with the Malaysian flavors in mind. Kenneth also asked his co-founders: “How do we differ from the other really wonderful street vendors where the Sifus serve fragrant wok-fried rice?”
“And then I remembered eating cauliflower rice myself some time ago. It’s light taste, low in calories, and almost looks like white rice when the cauliflower was crushed. ”
The team immediately rejected his idea.
They had never tried cauli rice themselves and were even more skeptical about having it fried. But they eventually compromised and decided to put it on the menu as an option while continuing to have white rice ready for their rice bowls.
Kenneth may even have had an “I told you” moment for his team when they sold out all of the 2kg cauli rice by lunchtime. It was only the first day of their market test in Subang Jaya two years ago, and two weeks later they were chopping 10 kg of cauliflower rice a day.
“We were humbly surprised by the adoption and have shifted our focus from M Fried Chicken to selling cauliflower rice for Cauli & Rice,” Kenneth told Vulcan Post.
Bowls made to order
Fresh cauliflowers are delivered to Cauli & Rice’s kitchens where they are rinsed and dried to ensure that no extra moisture builds up as cauliflower has a high water content. The vegetables are then chopped up using the restaurant’s bespoke machines to make cauliflower rice in sizes that mimic white rice. It is then stored in containers in a cooler to be fried to order. This process is usually done every day or for 2 days.
Preparation of the Cauli rice / Photo credit: Cauli & Rice
Assembling a rice bowl at Cauli & Rice is similar to salad bars and poke bowl shops. Customers can choose their preferred type of rice and vegetables along with raw and cooked foods to build their trays.
At Cauli & Rice, however, all ingredients are made to order to reduce waste. Raw materials that are not used up at the end of the day are simply packed away, refrigerated and used for the next day.
1 standard serving is 350g of cauliflower rice, and the founders also had to make sure that the cauliflower rice was flavored well with Malaysian-inspired flavors as it can be quite tasteless without it.
“The flavor of cauli rice is quite bland and light in itself, which is why it is suitable as an alternative to regular rice where it can complement the flavors of other dishes or ingredients without overpowering them,” confirmed Kenneth .
“We have our own soy sauce preparation that we cook ourselves to enhance the flavor and add a little saltiness to the mild and neutral taste of cauli rice.”
The store’s top 3 bestsellers are Belacan Caulirice, Garlic Caulirice and Tom Yam Caulirice, priced between 11.90 and 13.90 RM. In honor of the Malaysians’ love for curry, they also launched their Caulirice curry (RM 12.40) in April of this year.
Not geared towards the keto segment
My first assumption from the business was that they are likely serving customers on low carb or ketogenic diets since cauli rice is a cheap alternative for that.
Not to mention the ratio of customers who order cauli rice to white rice bowls is 75:25, according to Kenneth.
When asked about their customers’ dietary preferences, Kenneth said, “Based on our experience with customers, I would say that a majority, like 80-90% of the people who order our Cauli rice are health conscious people and generally make more effort their wellbeing. ”
Due to the spices used, the dishes are not 100% keto-friendly / Photo credit: Cauli & Rice
Taking into account the soy sauce used in the rice, he added that the dishes are not 100% keto friendly. This is because he believes the ketogenic customer segment may be too niche in the country and not have enough data to justify its economics.
Hence, Cauli & Rice is targeting the Malaysian mass market that simply wants a quick, healthy dish that they can wrap up and take away. This also explains why it is in areas with high pedestrian traffic.
That’s a lot of cauli
Since the start in 2019, Cauli & Rice has three branches in Subang, Damansara Utama (DU) and recently in Sri Hartamas, all of which are densely populated living and working areas.
To this day, every point of sale is a takeaway and delivery kitchen with no dining areas – a business model they used themselves before the pandemic. Even so, they were selling around 6-10 kg of cauli rice per day, with a significant decrease to 3-5 kg per day during MCO 1.0.
“There was a post MCO 1.0 period when we were making almost 35 kg a day for two points of sale after the DU branch opened in May 2020. So we chopped up about 1 tonne of cauliflower in a month,” said Kenneth. To translate that into bowls, they were selling about 100 servings of rice a day.
With the auspicious reception they have seen over the years, the Cauli & Rice team is hoping to eventually open a retail store where dine-ins are welcome to build a physical presence.
- You can find out more about Cauli & Rice here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured image source: Kenneth Lai, co-founder of Cauli & Rice