The memorable aroma of good food, the planning of “What are we eating for dinner?”, or the mere thought of what one will get to cook with friends for supper are things that keep some students going during a tiresome day of studying. Food quietly manages to define the university experience for many students, shaping their moods and habits on campus. As such, students share a plethora of unique food experiences, and have different answers for what food means to them.
In hopes of unlocking some of these food-related stories, we have invited a few residents to share their rich and sumptuous encounters with food on campus, which we hope will in turn inspire more students to ponder about how food has shaped their own schooling experiences too. If you’re excited to ‘tuck in’ to these stories, read on!
Glennys – the carefree food nomad
Hello, I am Glennys Tai, a Y3 Communications and New Media student living at UTown Residence (UTR). I am also a designer for NUSSU The Ridge Magazine, which, fun fact, is how I got the chance to stay in UTR this year!
On Wednesdays, my class ends at 9pm and there is usually no more food to buy after that… However, I still manage to have dinner because of my classmates, who stay at Cinnamon College. Shout-out to them for sparing me a free dining hall credit every week, so that we can eat together in the Cinnamon-Tembusu dining hall until as late as 9.30pm! 👍
Glennys (right) and her friends at Cinnamon College’s dining hall
Other than the residential college’s dining hall food I have on Wednesdays, there are other foods that I have tried on campus as well, so I will share some of them here!
1. Fried rice with oyster mushroom (from The Terrace)
I bought this the first time I had a class at the School of Computing. I quite like the Computing canteen because I can take my time to order on my phone, instead of queuing (and panicking) when I reach the front of the line because I haven’t decided what to get. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this dish only costs around $2.80! I acknowledge that the rice is not the best as it is slightly bland, and the mushrooms have to be bought as an add-on. But the mushrooms were so good, and they made the whole meal enjoyable – best 80 cents (if I recall correctly) I’ve ever spent! I try to get this dish whenever I can since I visit the COM2 building every week. This is especially because it is very budget friendly, so it saves me money as I have to buy food on campus every day.
2. Food cooked in a mini cooker
Having a mini cooker has genuinely saved my life in the time that I have stayed on campus because I can just throw in anything that can be cooked with water or cook anything that has soup. To save money, I stock up on instant noodles and bring as many ingredients as I can whenever I come back from home after the weekend, which helps me achieve an illusion of luxury (ham, luncheon meat, mushroom, literally anything I can get my hands on).
Cooking instant noodles and luncheon meat in a mini cooker
Sometimes I bring canned mushroom soup and throw it in to boil and it feels like I’m home. Other times, I buy the Hai Di Lao soup base from Octobox and put in whatever ingredients I have, and it really feels like a whole meal! I really appreciate having a mini cooker because there are times when I truly don’t feel like leaving my room to eat by myself– plus it helps me save money (I think)!
I think that mini cookers are really life saviours as they will fulfil all your needs. Never underestimate the power of boiling water 👍especially during busier periods of the semester. It really helps to have food stocked up in your room that can be easily cooked so you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about what to get for meals. Using a mini cooker is the closest I can get to making my own food, because heavy cooking is actually not allowed in UTR (there’s no stove) – we just have a pantry area.
3. Trying random things from Octobox
I spend a lot of time walking around Octobox when I’m bored because I enjoy browsing the racks of items that I have never thought of buying before. I recently tried this packet of frozen dumplings (which cost around $5) that I boiled in my mini cooker. It was surprisingly very enjoyable to indulge in! The packet came with a generous number of dumplings (around 20) and it included a packet of vinegar and chilli oil too. I think that the amount of sauce they give is not enough, but other than that it was great and lasted me a few meals.
Dumplings in chilli oil!
I have also tried out a self-heating hotpot from Octobox. I’m not sure why there are so many different self-heating hotpots at Octobox, and I have actually never heard of them until I saw them being sold there.
Octobox’s self-heating hotpot
I finally tried this recently and I think that it was not bad! The hotpot came with quite a lot of food: noodles, potato, mushroom, lotus root and green vegetables (looked like seaweed). I only purchased this because it was a tiring day and I felt like treating myself. However, for a $4 to $5 item, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of ingredients given. Plus it was pretty easy to prepare. However, I would say that the ergonomics of this bowl was not the best because its shape makes it hard to scoop your food. Overall, this was a solid 7/10. I wouldn’t eat it regularly, but it’s nice to know that the option is there if I ever run out of food and don’t feel like eating at FineFood again!
A hotpot full with ingredients
4. Mala at the PGP canteen
I would also like to take this opportunity to give a special mention to the PGP Mala, although I believe that most people would have heard about it already.
To me, it tastes the best out of all the Mala stalls in school. It’s not too oily, yet it has sufficient flavour; the spice levels are all quite consistent and predictable; most importantly, everyone usually agrees that it is the best Mala on campus so it is easy to converge on where to eat! Other Mala stalls are usually quite controversial when I talk about them with friends. For example, some people think that Mala at The Deck is nice, while others think that it is overrated. PGP Mala is also the cheapest option, so when I get it with friends, even if we select a lot of ingredients, the damage usually does not exceed $6-$8 per person. Hence, its price also plays a really major factor that makes it good in comparison to all other options!
Before moving into UTR, I didn’t realise how much more money I would spend as I had to buy my own lunch and dinner every day. I try as much as possible to bring a lot of groceries from home and eat what I have instead of going out, because all the food at UTown is slightly expensive. I also don’t have many friends who stay on campus, so if I’m eating alone, it makes sense to make my own food and save money – when I actually do see my friends, I can then go out to eat something nice with them!
Looking back, I realise that food has shaped a lot of my interactions with friends in school. It is typically difficult to meet up because everyone is busy with conflicting timetables, but it is easy to grab a quick impromptu meal when everyone happens to be in school, since we all need to eat lunch anyway. Since there are so many options on campus, someone always has a story about something they have tried at a certain stall in school and these stories frequently pop up as fun conversations that we bond over. When I stayed in Hall previously, my friends and I would spend a lot of time trying to decide what to eat for lunch and then later laugh about the sorry state of our Hall dinner (it wasn’t always bad but some days were worse than others). Yet, even the bad meals eventually turn into funny memories that we look back on fondly! Overall, what I will remember most is how food in university is a constant, shared experience among friends, even when it seems like we’re too busy with school to spend more time together.
Zi Xin – the mini cooker extraordinaire
Hi everyone, I’m Wong Zi Xin, a Y2 double majoring in Psychology and Communications and New Media, and I stay in Kent Ridge Hall. Fun fact, I had dance practice 8 times a week in Y2S2… it was truly tiring. As I stay in Hall, I tend to cook a lot of food in my dorm room, as dining hall food can get quite dreary to eat.
My habit of cooking was largely cultivated during the Covid-19 and Home-Based Learning (HBL) period. During that time, I did not have to physically go out of Hall to go for classes, so I chose not to go out to get food either. Since delivering food everyday would be very expensive, and the dining hall at Hall does not serve lunch, I started cooking lunch for myself.
However, even after HBL ended and most classes resumed in their physical form, I found myself maintaining the habit of cooking. If I have to rush from one tutorial class to another, I would sacrifice a quick nap to cook myself lunch before heading out again. This is the benefit of having a room on campus – rather than struggle with the chaotic lunch crowd at The Deck during peak hours, I can cook for myself at the comfort of my own dorm room instead. That way, I do not need to stand in long queues and hunt for seats in the cafeteria!
One thing I love to have is instant noodles! I love to cook all sorts of noodles on campus, such as Kimchi Maggie and Indomie, because it is so easy and fast to cook. I tend to cook it most often for supper, especially on days when I have dance practice until 12 am because I tend to get hungry after dance. If I have nothing else in my room or I’m too lazy to walk to Supper Stretch to eat, I would just cook Maggie Mee in the comfort of my own room. I also used to eat with my dance friends and watch dance shows with them (shout-out to the show Street Man Fighter)!
Cooked Maggie Mee with sides
Another thing I cook quite often as well is spaghetti! To me, this is another very convenient meal. When I have the money, I’ll also buy cheese sausages to dump in and cook together with the spaghetti since it is so easy– I just need to boil the sausages! The sausages also add a savoury dimension to the plain noodles.
Pasta with sausages and a sunny side up!
Spaghetti and boiled sausages lined up in the shape of a smiley face
I usually purchase pasta sauce from Don Don Donki, but my friend introduced me to this kewpie soy sauce and garlic butter flavoured pasta sauce in Y1 and it is really good. To be fair, it is not mind-blowing, but I find that it is quite good for the cooked food standards in Hall.
On one fine day in Y2, my mother suddenly decided to get me soba sauce. Hence, I began buying Japanese soba noodles on certain lunch days when I felt like eating healthier! I usually rinse the soba noodles in cold water (taken from the water cooler), plus there is ice available in my Hall too, so I get to make very ‘legit’ soba noodles. I also bought some small seaweed flakes to add to my soba as garnish. But fun fact, most of the flakes flew out of the packaging when I opened it in my room. It was a hard time cleaning the mess up, but thankfully the garnish turned out to be very yummy. I ate my soba together with my floormates, and we also made some boiled dumplings in a separate pot! It was an amazing homemade dining experience.
Boiled dumplings cooked in another pot!
I find that pots are very useful. They come in especially handy for hotpot nights with hallmates! We put different soup bases in different pots, buy hotpot ingredients that we like, and then gather to eat hotpot together. Such a good bonding activity! Here is a tip for those who want to use pots to cook on campus: be careful not to get too much water touching the base of your pot or the power socket area when you are washing it, or it might spoil more easily (I have already lost two pots to such mistakes)!
Now that I am in Y2S2 and Covid restrictions have eased, I no longer cook in Hall as much. I typically am out from morning all the way till night, which is when I have dance practice, so most of my meals are eaten outside. However, I still cook on days when I get hungry in Hall! I think it is overall very convenient to cook food on your own, and it is a cheaper option as compared to ordering food delivery every day. On days when I do not feel like eating dining hall food, I also get to cook up a quick meal easily. The cleaning is also very fast since I would only use one pot to cook, and one set of utensils to eat.
A comforting meal of Jjajangmyeon cooked using one pot
Overall, I think it is pretty clear that I typically go for easy, instant meals. There are many online food trends now, such as those viral 5 minutes cooking recipes for instant noodles. These vibrant trends make me want to try them out, since they look convenient and the outcomes look tasty. Furthermore, university life is so hectic. I am constantly so busy that I barely have time to think about my meals anymore. While that sounds rather drab, it’s really not so bad – I have yummy, instant meal recipes to quickly whip up as a good mid-day treat!
Kang Wei – the budding communal MasterChef
Hello! I am Lee Kang Wei, a Y4 double degree student studying Computer Science and Computational Biology, and I am part of NUS College. I had previously stayed in Cinnamon College, but I currently stay in the West Wing building (Yale-NUS College campus)!
I have an extensive relationship with food and campus life, and I have many small stories to share. For instance, I love walking to the Fairprice at UTown to treat myself to an ice cream on nights when I need a break from studying!
I have always loved drinking a large bowl of hot soup at one go. As such, I first started getting into cooking, soups were one of the dishes that I thoroughly enjoyed learning to make.
Ginseng chicken soup cooked in a Cinnamon College floor pantry
I like to view grocery shopping as a break to take from studying. So, when I have spare time, or when I need some respite from doing work, I visit the 24/7 Sheng Siong nearby to get some ingredients to make soup! Since soup is a very shareable food item, I like making extra portions to share with my close friends on campus.
Warm bowls of ABC soup and Cream of mushroom soup
I also enjoy eating noodles, so soup and noodles is a food combination that I tend to have too!
Tonkotsu broth with ramen cooked by Kang Wei
I used to cook lunch with some of my floormates every Saturday too. It was perfect because many of us turned out to enjoy cooking. It served as a nice break from the academic week, and it was a fun way for us to spend some time together.
An array of delicious cooked food served in the middle of the corridor
Bonding over different cuisines of food in the floor lounge
I actually started cooking only because I wanted to save money while staying on campus. However, the activity of cooking became more meaningful for me in Y3 when I began to cook for my floormates, or even cook together with them. It was this development that propelled me to spend more time learning different recipes and putting in more effort into cooking tastier dishes.
A large meal prepared amongst floormates
I think that making food together with friends or for friends is definitely very fun. It makes the meaning behind cooking go beyond just making meals for consumption. I find that food has great potential for bringing people together.
For people who stay on campus (or for those who are considering staying), these communal living experiences are hard to come by. It is unlikely that we will get to stay with friends and engage in activities such as cooking so easily ever again. Hence, I advise students on campus to make full use of this chance to experience communal living and have fun with friends while they still can!
Hungry yet? We hope that these warm and personal sharings will serve as inspiration for more to create good experiences with food on campus. The possibilities are endless – if you crave more stories or wish to share about your own experiences, do post your thoughts on Instagram and tag us @nusresidentiallife – we will be sure to repost it!