There are some things that NTU undergraduates can universally agree on.
- Besides finals, ordering drinks at Koufu is probably the next most stressful event.
- Seconds feel like years when you’re queueing for the library printer.
However, ask us where the best mala on campus is and we stand divided. Canteen 1? Canteen 9? Canteen 16? Tamarind? There is no resolution in sight…
In this second piece from the Humans of NTU series, we get up close and personal with Mr Ong, owner of popular mala stall in Canteen 9, Xian Noodles. He shares with us his passion for cooking and serving.
Q: Where do you come from, and for how long have you been operating this stall?
A: Singapore and 11 years.
Q: Is this your first food stall?
A: Yes, for Mala. Before this, I sold noodles in NTU canteens including Canteens A, B, 1, and 2, for about 20 years in total. I also have a restaurant for mala hotpot in Bukit Panjang.
Q: How did you get the idea of setting up a mala food stall?
A: There was no one else selling noodles and very few mala food stalls. Even now, we are the only ones selling hand-made noodles in NTU.
Q: How do you feel knowing that your mala is a favourite among NTU students? Why do you think your stall is so popular?
A: Maybe because we provide more types of vegetables and meat. Our noodles are also hand-made which gives us an edge over other noodle stalls. But most importantly, I think it’s our attitude. We take customers’ requirements seriously and try our best to satisfy them. Customers may ask for less oil or less spicy and we’ll cook according to their liking – something restaurants outside don’t often provide. Besides, our relationship is more than seller and customer. We are like friends. Each time we meet a regular customer, we greet them and have a small chat. I’ve made friends with lots of students, and after they graduate, they also come back to visit us.
Q: Are your customers mostly local or Chinese?
A: Chinese. But now there are students from all over the world, e.g. India, Canada, Russia, America, Africa.
Q: Have you encountered any difficulties running the stall?
A: When it was first opened in Canteen 1, we had very few customers – the fewest among all the other stalls. But running a business takes time. We put our hearts into it and customers can feel it. This is very important: be friendly and sincere. Also, you cannot let customers wait for too long unless it’s during peak hours. If they have to wait, you must inform them how long it takes and let them decide if they want to wait. However, as time went by, more people became aware of this stall and came here to eat.
Q: What are your future plans for the food stall?
A: I am considering having more partners, for example, collaborating with other stalls. But it is dependent on timing and opportunities.
While we may not all agree on the ultimate go-to mala stall in NTU, we can definitely agree that our canteen stall owners work tirelessly round the clock to give us food from the heart. The next time you’re having a meal in NTU, don’t forget to show your appreciation to these unsung heroes of ours!
Humans of NTU is a project initiated by NTU Fest, in collaboration with U-Insight. NTU Fest is one of NTU’s largest flagship events, organised by the NTU Students’ Union. It aims to welcome new students into the NTU family while celebrating the spirit of the university community. This year, NTU Fest will be held on 14th August (Wed), from 4pm – 10pm.
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