How they eat at the National University of Singapore

Visitors to the 700-seater Flavors food court can choose their reasonably priced meals from more than a dozen separate outlets, each offering a different type of cuisine from Southeast and East Asia, including Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Japanese. It is not even the biggest dining area, either: a further three 850-plus-seat canteens and numerous smaller restaurants and cafes are dotted around the university’s Modernist campus. In total, they feed about 50,000 people each day, serving a meal every 1.4 seconds on average.

…While the incredible variety of dining options on campus might seem incidental to this success, [recently retired president] Tan believes that it has played an important role in the university’s improvement on his watch.

“These are not just places where you eat — it’s where students and staff linger, mix and also learn from each other,” he said, adding that this element of campus life is “a cultural dimension that makes Singapore special.”

Here is the full story from Jack Grove.


I think this is common. Both Peking University and Moscow State University have big, cheap and reasonably good food cafeterias, when I visited as a guest lecturer (I'm good). Reminds me of the distinguished company I enjoyed when I dined alone in Versailles Hall of Mirrors.

If it's not operated by Sodexo, it must be good.

The prices are also extremely low (due to economies of scale no doubt). Interestingly, when I visited the small number of stalls in the AC conditioned air charge 25% high prices (which made them well worth going to in May but not so much in January).

According to Google: "February is the hottest month in Singapore with an average temperature of 27°C (81°F) and the coldest is January at 26°C (79°F)."

1°C / 2°F makes all the difference?

When my godson interned at a university in Shenzhen summer before last, he made what struck me as an odd observation: he rarely if ever saw the same people twice in the dining room, even though he ate almost all of his meals there. There's not much lingering, mixing, and learning in the dining room at this university in Shenzhen. Is that a cultural difference between China (or Shenzhen) and Singapore, or simply something unique at this university? By the way, my godson speaks fluent Mandarin so there wasn't a language barrier; indeed, his job for the summer was translating documents from English to Mandarin and vice versa.

Eating in the dining room? Uni students """we really can’t spare one single minute to eat""" """15 million views in just 10 days (on the Chinese site)""" probably while eating their noodles.

Having studied in Singapore, I can confirm that there is no real mingling happening in SG university canteens.

Brevity (Hamlet/Polonius) is the soul of wit: You are what you eat.

No Indian food?

I expected South Indian food, since there are lot of south Indians settled in Singapore. Perhaps that is included under " cuisine from Southeast "

Yes, there is South Indian food there. (Less than I would have expected, though.)

I am not sure what is the point that Professor Cowen is trying to make here. Students, faculty, and staff can "linger, mix and also learn from each other" at the gym with a fancy rock climbing wall, a gym with the latest equipment, an internal run around track, a fancy football stadium?

Is it simply about the importance of good, inexpensive food on campus? Will the state legislature be willing to support this? What's the point?

Tyler likes food and Singapore and choice and learning?

Never blog when you're hungry?

(Actually it is fine encouragement to US universities.)

My conjecture, which probably has nothing to do with the original point of this post, would be this: cheap Chinese or Thai food is usually better than cheap American food. Panda Express > McDonald's. If you're a broke college student, or just broke in general, eat more Chinese.

Sugar chicken is neither cheaper nor healthier than a dollar menu meal at McDonald's.

Hands down best food I've tried when I studied there in 2009! :)

Apropos of nothing, but Singaporean cuisine and science fiction intersect at SCP-2857:

Why is this notable? At most large universities in the U.S. you will find a food court with Panda Express, McDonald's, Chick Fil A, a sushi shop, a salad shop, Taco Bell, etc..

Because 'at most large universities' that food is shit.

This isn't.

GMU had triple cheeseburgers when I was there.

I wonder if they experience the "freshman fifteen".

There's nothing remarkable about this. Hawker centres like this exist in every corner of Singapore and in every institution. The food is variable, and often every kind of MSG-soaked awful. One of the greatest myths about the place is that the food in Singapore is good. It's certainly cheap, at least in a place like this. People may interact with whoever they came with, but Singaporeans in such situations are absolutely not for mingling, lingering, or learning from each other. It's also little surprise that the chaps at NUS cite this as a reason for feeling special - that's what Singaporeans do (and have been informed to do by the government) about almost every facet of their lives.

I think this the the important question. Cheap food is not that hard to do. Good food is harder, and good cheap food harder still.

How good is the food at these university food courts? I see statements on both sides; I've never been to Singapore so I don't have any observations. I have been to China where the street food is cheap and decent, so I'd expect food courts at Chinese universities to also be cheap and decent. But that doesn't represent some miracle of university leadership, it's just a reflection of the local eating scene.

Ditto with American universities. As another commenter noted, food courts with a variety of food are standard at American universities now. One can argue about their quality but I think what is less arguable is that they also reflect the local eating scene.

This sort of thing is very fashionable in the startup scene. Dropbox has its own michelin star cafeteria. Google is renowned for their lavish cafeterias and food pantries. (

When I was working in management consulting, I wrote a short piece on innovation and workplace design. As with most management consulting, it was an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. I think this sort of thing will come and go as fashions do.

Great Articles, thanks for providing this useful information. Keep up the good work.

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