By Tay Yu Ning (23S06E) and Victoria Lim (23S06B)
Day in, day out, busy RI students patronise the various stalls in the canteen, looking to satisfy their hunger with something sumptuous. Piping-hot prata, spicy tom yum noodles, fragrant chicken rice: these are all what keeps us going after many hours of monotonous tutorial lessons. But have you ever wondered about the people behind all the delicious food in school? Where did they learn their trade, and what does their day look like?
In this article, we feature four canteen stall owners: Marni (Asia Ghani’s Prata Hut), Emily (J&E Yong Tau Foo), Ricky (Yuan’s Western Food) and Fiona (Thai Food).
Asia Ghani’s Prata Hut
Tucked away in the corner of our canteen is Asia Ghani’s Prata Hut, run by siblings who work tirelessly to churn out the best food for hungry students. Before working at the stall, one of the owners, Marni, was working as a floor manager at Marriott Hotel but had to quit due to health issues. The stall was set up to give her a better work-life balance and allow more time for family. Marni’s brother, who has been making prata since he was 13 years old, decided to join her in running the stall.
The stall in RI is actually one of the family’s six branches in Singapore. While the RI stall mainly focuses on selling prata and briyani, the other branches actually focus on selling chicken rice and an a la carte menu. Some of the other branches are located at Clementi, Jurong West, and Woodlands under the same name. Do check them out!
“We see students as our main motivation,” Marni says, “we have seen many students grow up, especially the RI boys who have been coming to our stall since their secondary school days.” She explains that in this way, they have built strong bonds with many students, at times even cracking jokes with them. This encourages them to continue serving the tastiest and freshest food to the students and they would like all of you to continue supporting them!
J&E Yong Tau Foo
Despite her stall being named “J&E Yong Tau Foo”, Emily believes that her stall’s speciality is laksa and soup. “The laksa dish is actually a family recipe learnt from home,” says Emily. “Most students who come to our stall order laksa.”
Emily moved to RI three years ago in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Although she faced hiccups running the stall amidst the pandemic, Emily has adjusted well to working in RI. “The students here are all very nice,” she says, smiling. When asked if she has any advice for students, she replies, “I just hope they can work hard so I can continue making good food for them.”
Emily enjoys cooking fried food such as laksa and yong tau fu for students because they enjoy them. However, she claims that she often faces scrutiny from Singapore Food Agency (SFA) inspectors who disapprove of such “unhealthy” food being sold. She thus faces a dilemma of whether to continue cooking food that students enjoy or swap out more oily ingredients to cater to SFA’s demands, at the expense of potentially losing student customers.
“SFA wants us to swap our tasty noodles for wholegrain… I hope they can understand that what we have right now is not really that unhealthy and students won’t want to buy wholegrain anyways.”Emily
Running a stall is no easy feat, and Ricky, the owner of Yuan’s Western Food, tells us just that. His stall dates back to the early years of RI and at that time, it was Ricky’s mother who ran the stall. About 10 years ago, he took over the business and has been running it with his wife ever since.
However, amidst food price hikes, the stall has not been doing too well and earnings have drastically fallen over the years. To supplement their income, Ricky also works part-time as a coach driver after he closes the stall in school. Unfortunately, the stress of work has affected his health as well, as he often finds himself having a lack of appetite. “I haven’t eaten anything today; I will pack some food and eat it on the way to my next job,” Ricky says.
Despite the obstacles he faces, he is determined to continue working hard for the students by finding new recipes and creating new dishes to cook. He sincerely hopes that students will give the stall a shot and try his food. His menu consists of a wide variety of delectable Western food such as aglio olio, popcorn chicken and beef stew, so do show your support for him!
To Fiona, the owner of the Thai food stall, free time is a luxury she doesn’t often have. As a foreigner in Singapore raising a primary school-aged daughter, she has to work two jobs — one full-time (here at RI) and one part-time —in order to make ends meet. And when she’s not working her jobs, she’s busy spending quality time with her daughter.
Fiona moved from a region near the Myanmar-Thailand border to Singapore over twenty years ago. One of her first jobs in Singapore was selling Korean food in a hawker centre with her sister, who is currently the other owner of their stall. Having run the Korean food stall for many years, Fiona only came to RI recently in February 2022.
Despite having been at RI for only a very short time, Fiona has already built up close friendships with many students. She states, “Some students are very cute, especially one Y6 boy! He always [comes] to support me and when I see him I already know what he wants because he always orders the same thing. Even though we [have been] here for [only] a few months, I treat him like my son, so I call him 干儿子 (godson).”
As canteen stall owners in a school full of hungry teenagers, Fiona and her sister are often looking to improve their menu so they can cater to more students’ tastes. In order to gauge what foods students might enjoy, they have trialled a “Today’s Special” programme where they serve dishes they are considering putting onto the permanent menu. They hope that they can continue receiving your feedback so they know how to improve their dishes.
“Come try our food and experience the Thai taste!” invites Fiona. “And please give us feedback after that, we are always open to receiving and accepting your feedback. We always listen to the students’ advice because adults and students may have different palettes.”
All the canteen owners in RI work so hard to provide us with scrumptious and healthy meals every day so let’s do our part in supporting them. A simple “how are you” and “thank you” can go a long way in making their day. Do check out some new stalls in the coming weeks to explore some new delectable food as well!