Lesson 652: How to Order Economic Rice Like A Pro

Image taken from google search

All humans who have stayed in Singapore for a reasonable amount of time must have surely eaten Economic Rice [or as we Chinese like to call it, 菜饭] at your local coffee shops or food courts.

For those of you living under a rock, [or have not been to Singapore] Economic Rice is a local form of Chinese hawker food where the customer can choose a staple, usually rice or porridge, and select from a variety of pre-cooked ingredients on display to be added on to their staple.

The stalls usually have a wide variety of ingredients, ranging from different vegetables to chicken, pork and even whole slices of fish. They work on a first-come-first serve basis, and once a particular ingredient is sold out, well, you just have 1 less option to choose from.

Image taken from google search

Although it's called Economic Rice, depending on where the stall is located, and what you order, it may not really seem very economic at all. A simple meal of rice with 1 vegetable, 1 meat and 1 slice of fish can easily go up to 5 to 6 Singapore dollars.

And 2 separate $5 plates of Economic Rice can look very different from each other, in terms of both appetising-ness and staple-to-ingredients ratio.

So, through my years of ordering Economic Rice, here are a few tips to get the most out of your buck and make your meal economical yet satisfying.

Image taken from google search

1. Always order the Fish and Meats first

A quick lesson on how they charge:
Fish and Seafood - Most expensive item
Meats - 2nd most expensive item, and also where their main core income comes from
Vegetables - Cheapest items on the menu

Ordering the Fish and Meats first is like telling the stall owner "I'm not a cheapo who's going to order 3 or 4 vegetables!" Once the owner knows this, he will be more willing to give you more ingredients, since he knows he is going to earn more from you than those who order 4 veges.

Image taken from google search

2. Always order your ingredients one-at-a-time

There's a big difference in ordering "This fish..... This meat.... This veg" as opposed to "This fish, this meat and this veg"

In the first order, the person taking the ingredients for you is always in a rush to serve everyone behind you, and will tend to rush to the next ingredient once he knows what it is. He might also be afraid that he might forget your last ingredient if he takes too long to dish out the first 2.

Imagine a verbal order of "Chicken meat, curry potato without the chicken, cabbage, fish and bean sprouts" would you want to take your time to take 3 pieces of chicken meat, or just grab 1 piece so that you don't forget the rest of the order.

By slowing down your order, we are preventing the scenario where he takes only 2 scoops of ingredient A and moves on to ingredient B to try to save time.

Image taken from flickr

3. Always wait for the staff to finish picking the selected ingredient before letting him know the next ingredient

Similar to point 2 above, this is to ensure that the staff picking your ingredients does not rush through your order. If you start telling him the next ingredient while he is still picking the first, more often than not, he will immediately stop and move on to the next ingredient. Make your moneys worth by letting him give you the full quantity of what you ordered.

Image taken from google search

4. Stay away from ingredients (especially meat) that are a mix of meat and vegetables

You will be charged the price of a meat dish. But more often than not, you will only get a 40-60 ratio of meat to veg. Especially true for dishes that are cooked with lots of garlic. It's like playing Russian Roulette with your tongue. Try differentiating a piece of gravy-soaked garlic from a piece of gravy-soaked chicken and you're gonna have a hard time.

Image taken from google search

5. Avoid ingredients that are running low in stock

Unless you really have to have that ingredient, the smart choice is to stay away from ingredients that are running low in stock. [A good gauge would be if the food level is less than 50% of the height of the pan or bowl that is holding it]

This is basically common sense. [But apparently, common sense is not really common to all people] If you had 1000 peanuts in a bowl and someone asks you for some peanuts, would you give him the same amount as when you only have 200 peanuts in the bowl?

Image taken from google search

6. Avoid female staff

This might sound sexist but it is true from what I have personally experienced. I know that most of the time you can't really choose who serves you, but generally, male staff tend to give more ingredients than their female counterparts. I have even seen this lady who counts the pieces of meat that she scoops up from the tray before putting it onto the customer's plate!

Image taken from google search

7. Order those that are furthest away from the cashier first

Ordering Economic Rice is like being on a conveyor belt. Both the staff and customer usually flow in 1 single direction. Always order the ingredients furthest away from the cashier first, and progress your order toward the cashier. This is to prevent the scenario where he has to cut back across his colleagues to get an ingredient that you missed out at the start of the queue. If he has to rush or stretch to get it, more often than not he will not give you the full serving.

Now that you know the secrets to ordering a good plate of Economic Rice, I'm sure you won't be left disappointed on your next meal.

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