The dirty secret behind economic rice that you eat at kopitiams

A blogger has revealed what goes on at mixed vegetables rice stalls when it comes to the preparation of food, and why we should be wary of what we eat.

Also known as economic rice, 'zhup cai bng' or 'chap fan' stalls, they are commonly found at hawker centres, food courts and coffee shops in Singapore.

The blogger's information comes from his 72-year-old mother, who has been working at a chain mixed vegetables rice for some time.

He wrote on his blog at

"Basically, a typical vegetable stall in a HDB coffee shop is manned by 3 persons. The main player will be the cook who is the in-charge of the food stall. He is assisted by one staff in the morning and another in the afternoon until it closes for the day.

"Understandably, the in-charge works extra hard with the longest hours operating from about 8am till 9pm catering to the lunch and dinner customers. On top of their basic pay, they are also given incentive payment if collection exceeds the target.

"There are CCTV cameras all over the stall to monitor them. The boss hardly comes over except to collect the day's takings. The cash register captures all transactions.

"The in-charge of the stall is usually a Foreign Talent (FT) from neighbouring countries and recently, many are PRCs. Few locals could undertake such a demanding job churning out simple meals at dirt cheap prices.

"Due to time constraint with only one assistant, the in-charge who does the cooking of more than 20 dishes has got to be fast and energetic. As such, he is forced to take short cuts and cut corners. This is what is happening in the food preparation.

"For example, the vegetables are never washed at all. One method is to boil a big pot of water and dump the unwashed vegetable to half-cook it. Thereafter, it's then stir fried to taste.

"I do not worry about dirt and slime on the stalks and leaves of the vegetables. I am more perturbed by the tons of insecticide residue on them.

"Just look at the beautiful green leaves where even worms would not feast. Surely it must be the insecticide that is keeping away the worms chewing on it. If it is not thoroughly washed and eaten by unsuspecting consumers, what would happen?

"Wonder no more why city folks like us are getting all kinds of illnesses especially colon cancer. Think of what I just sketched for your imagination. It is no joke and witnessed by my mum working there.

"As such, she always advises us not to consume green vegetables in a cooked stall except the bean sprouts where they got no choice but to wash them to clear the uneatable husks of the green sprouts (tuagai)."

The blogger then shared his experience at an eatery in Ipoh, where he noticed that the leaves of vegetables looked unappealing and were punctured with holes.

He had made a comment comparing those vegetables to that of those in Singapore, but was told that this was because 'tons of insecticide' had been sprayed on the vegetables here which even worms avoid.

"I was told that no matter how much you wash your insecticide-laced greens, the chemicals will never go away completely. In the case of the typical food stall quoted above, it's far worse than that."

The blogger raised an alternative to cook your own vegetables at home, which he felt might not be always possible due to our long hours of work. Another option is to consume organic vegetables instead, which is far more expensive and yet healthier.

He continued in his blog entry:

"I have elaborated on the no-washing of the vegetable in a typical food stall. What about the manner of preparation for other food such as chicken wings, meat, fish etc. Yup, they simply throw into the hot boiling oil in the wok and deep fry them.

"Rice is never washed at all before it's put in the rice cooker to steam.

"Another observation made by my mum is that all those ingredients and condiments such as salt, oil, sugar, black or light soy sauce kept in small containers meant for cooking are all left overnight without any lids to secure them.

"Lizards, rats, cockroaches having a big party throughout the night and then they are used in the cooking the next day for our own consumption. Frightening? Flabbergasted?"

With the knowledge of how food is prepared at these stalls, the blogger explains that this is why his mother brings her own food to work even though free meals are provided. He also raised an interesting observation:

"From my observation, only those Malay stalls seem more hygienic than the Chinese or Indian food stalls. I have yet to come across Malay stalls out-sourced to FTs. The Malay stalls are usually run by locals.

"That is why Malay food usually costs more than Chinese food. I would rather pay more for Malay cooked food than those Chinese cooked food which is comparatively cheaper.

"Just be more observant and look out for yourself the next time you consume your food in a hawker centre or coffee shop. Watch what you eat."

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