From kimchi tofu to cajun chicken: These canteen vendors are leading the way in making school meals better

Queues quickly form at the stall during recess time, and even the teachers are a fan of the food, CNA observed during a visit in September. 

Besides kimchi tofu, Mdm Lee prepared another of her popular dishes, pumpkin with omni meat – a vegan meat substitute – served with brown rice for the CNA team to try. It’s not difficult to see why the students keep coming back for the homestyle meals. 

“I focus a lot on real ingredients and also introducing a lot of subtle twists to the cuisine, so you don’t feel like it’s vegetarian food.” 

Mdm Lee makes everything from scratch, including the kimchi and rempah that she uses in curry or assam dishes. “We know that the children like spicy food here,” she said. 

The menu changes daily so that students look forward to their meals in school. 

“Sometimes they will come up to me to ask me to cook certain dishes that I’ve cooked before that are to their liking, or even dishes they would love to try,” said Mdm Lee, adding that many students have requested the return of ddeokbokki, Korean rice cakes in spicy sauce, or okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake.

Her son, now in Primary 4, brought all his friends to try her food when the stall first opened, and often serves as her taste tester and assistant at home. 

To account for the recess and lunch crowds, she prepares up to 15 to 16 dishes a day, and takes preorders for lunch during recess to avoid food wastage. 

“It’s tiring for me at the end of the day because I’ll be hot and sweaty. But I enjoy it when the children thank me after their meals for the good food, or sometimes they come up to me to say that they enjoy the variety that I’ve put up for them so far.” 

Mdm Lee intends to continue as a canteen vendor even after her son graduates from the school, and hopes to eventually open a vegetarian hawker stall as well. 

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