I’m a cai png fan, and I can proudly tell you the best cai png in Singapore. In fact, I’m so cai-png-ive, whenever a new cai png stall opens, I can project whether it’ll last for at least six months or not…and so far, with 100% accuracy #caipngexpert
Which is why I’ve also always liked army cookhouse food *siam-ing all the rotten eggs*
There are a few cai png chains that have often impressed me, like 長城 or Select. But if you would like me choose now, I would say that my personal preference is NTUC’s Rice Garden.
Now, just a quick disclaimer: NTUC is indeed our client, but this article is completely impartial. In fact, both 長城 and Select have once approached us for our rates, so they’re our prospects and therefore if I really wanted to be bias, I would have chosen one of them #justsaying
Many of us, including all my colleagues (who all happen to hate cai png), did not know of the existence of Rice Garden.
Shocking, because there are 24 Rice Garden outlets peppered in neighbourhoods all over Singapore.
So, what exactly is Rice Garden, and what’s its affiliation to NTUC?
Before that, we need some context: for people who associate NTUC to NTUC FairPrice at first thought, you guys need to understand that NTUC itself is a social enterprise, and FairPrice, like many of its other branches (e.g. NTUC Income), are all just part of the large umbrella NTUC.
To be more specific, NTUC is a union, and NTUC Social Enterprise’s objectives are as follow:
- to help stabilise prices of basic commodities and services
- to strengthen and protect the purchasing power of workers
- to allow union leaders to gain management experience, and to understand the problems faced by management, thus helping to promote better labour-management relations
Yeah, I got that info from Wikipedia and not from my contacts in NTUC #impartiallevel99
If you would have remembered, there was some hoo-ha between a hawker and NTUC Foodfare two years ago, as NTUC fought to keep hawker prices low while the hawker feel that the direction is killing the hawker culture.
Rice Garden is run by NTUC Foodfare, and their objective is to provide affordable cai png, primarily to low-income estates. This is evident from where they’re located, and the crazily low prices.
Just so you know, the Ang Mo Kio outlet that I go to often offers $3.00 for two meats and two vegetables. Find a similar price elsewhere in Singapore and I’ll gladly do a free advertorial, and even a video, for them, plus maybe my stamp of approval (which is pretty much useless).
However, do note that some readers have mentioned that they didn’t get the same price. Either they give a fat guy like me a better price or prices have increased (though, given that their mission is “affordability”, it shouldn’t be that high).
Interestingly enough, the stalls aren’t exactly opened by NTUC Foodfare themselves, but by hawkers themselves using the brand Rice Garden. Think of it as a “franchise” by NTUC, although it technically isn’t.
The hawker would have to firstly sell their dishes at a lower price, with senior citizens and Comcare cardholders (low-income individuals) being able to buy at a much lower price. For example, Comcare cardholders pay $1.50 for one meat and two vegetables.
In “return”, the hawker would get a grant of $4,000 per month, and also a start-up capital of $20,000. They will also be able to link up with NTUC Foodfare’s central kitchen for supplies (at a lower price since they buy in bulk), and get training from NTUC.
Now, for such an affordable (and if I might add…ingenious) meal, how does it taste?
While I’ve been to maybe five or six of these outlets, I can tell you that they’re one of the best cai pngs ever.
You see, to me, cai png has two versions: the Singapore / Malaysia style and the China style. Recently, there has been more China style cai png, which in my opinion just isn’t for an old man like me as I’ve been having the Singapore / Malaysia style for decades.
The SG / MY style is usually less salty with more gravy, while the China style has much more taste but is usually drier. Sometimes, they even offer mantous instead of rice.
Rice Garden belongs to the SG / MY style. Some cai pngs have moved on to a fusion of SG / MY / China style, but the Rice Garden outlets I’ve been to all remain rooted to the SG / MY Style.
Old-school dishes like sweet and sour pork cubes are still crispy even after I’ve dabao-ed it home, and curry dishes like curry vegetable remains soft and sweet, as though it has been cooked for days.
Prices may differ from locations, but it’s certain that they’ll be the cheapest among all cai png stalls nearby.
Now, if a cai png expert (okay, maybe just a lazy guy who likes cai png) would choose Rice Garden over any cai png stalls even when he has the means to buy the more expensive ones, you can bet that it’s one heck of a cai png chain.
And if you really want to travel just to have that perfect cai png, try the one in Ang Mo Kio Ave 10. Just remember to bring your NTUC Plus! Card when you’re there for that $3.00 = 4 dishes meal (if you’re fat like me).