For my international readers who are not exactly acquainted with our local culture, Economical Rice, or what we locals like to call Cai Fan, is a dish where you pair a serving of steamed white rice with vegetables, meat and fish dishes of your choice. There is anywhere between 10 to 30 dishes to choose from, and they’re always displayed in a glass case or behind a transparent plastic board, making them one of the most recognisable and mildly iconic storefronts in Singapore. It is, like its name suggests, economical, as they’re usually the cheapest option for a complete meal in a food court or kopitiam (coffee shop).
Apparently, you can manipulate the person serving into giving you a larger portion. It seems simple enough to execute right? You just had to request for “more rice” instead of “add rice”, order the meat dishes instead of the vegetables next and then act really restless and indecisive, much like your MP during the Meet-the-MP session.
While the explanations seemed logical enough as to why the methods would apparently work, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
Just ask CNN.
Anyway, to quench my curiosity, I decided to set up an experiment to see if the myth is, indeed, just a myth.
I got my friend, C, who prefers to hide his identity behind a single alphabet, to help me along with this test.
- I would first go up to order like how many would usually do; vegetables before meat and rushing throughout my order.
- C would do the same 15 mins later, except this time, he’ll follow the ‘tips’.
Regarding size, C is the same gender as me, around the same age as me, about the same height and size as me, but just slightly uglier than me.
We also made sure the person attending to the both of us was the same to ensure maximum accuracy going into the experiment.
The dishes I was planning to order were Ku Lo Yuk (sweet and sour pork), long beans and tofu, which were all quantifiable to a reasonable extent. I made some changes along the way as some of the stalls did not sell the mentioned dishes.
All the dishes were ordered between 12-2pm.
To measure the mass of the food, I opted for a manual scale as, firstly, they’re more accurate in my opinion, and secondly, I don’t have a digital one. Interestingly though, the readings are all in multiples of five, so no rounding up or down was required. I’m not saying my results aren’t reliable, but I’d say my numbers (for mass) do have a margin of error of ±1g.
Yew Tee Point
Let’s start with the Economy Rice stall at Yew Tew Point (basement food court).
I received a healthy serving of rice, along with 13 pieces of Ku Lo Yuk weighing 80g, five pieces of tofu, and 50g of vegetables. When C went to purchase the exact dish with the tips in mind, he came back with slightly more rice and 12 pieces of Ku Lo Yuk weighing 70g. There were, however, only four pieces of tofu, along with 45g of vegetables, again, 5g ‘lighter’ than what I was served.
Difference: Slightly more rice, -1 pc of Ku Lo Yuk, -1 pc of tofu, -5g of vegetables Did it work? It backfired.
Again, the amount of rice I received was decent. There were ten pieces of Ku Lo Yuk weighing 65g, four pieces of tofu and 63 pieces of long beans weighing 80g in total. C received more or less the same amount of rice, nine pieces of Ku Lo Yuk weighing 60g, three pieces of tofu, and 54 pieces of long beans weighing in at 65g.
Difference: No notable difference in rice portion, -1 pc of Ku Lo Yuk, -1 pc of tofu, -11 pcs of long beans
Did it work? Backfired again.
Lastly, I headed to 888 Plaza to finish off the experiment. To change things up a li’ll, I asked C to work his manipulation first.
The portion of rice was notably larger than the other two stalls in the article, and they didn’t skimp on the portions of their dishes. I received 12 slices of beef, six pieces of tofu and 80 pieces of long beans weighing 95g. C got the same amount of rice, nine slices of beef, five pieces of tofu and 60 pieces of long beans, 25% less and 30g lighter than what I received.
Difference: No notable difference in rice portion, -3 slices of beef, -1 pc of tofu, -20 pcs of long beans
backfire work? What do you think? It is worth noting that this stall was the cheapest yet provided the largest serving.
To be honest, I am terribly surprised at what I found out. It was definitely something I wasn’t expecting. Not only did the tips fail miserably, it achieved the opposite effect instead. Across all three stalls, there were a contextually marked difference in portions between the normal and ‘manipulated’ versions of the same food. The amount of both meat and vegetables decreased, rendering the slightly larger portion of rice a scant consolation.
I wouldn’t assume the tips were deceiving though, as there were a couple of factors that could contributed to such a lop-sided finding. Okay, maybe just one. The businesses could have taken note of the tips and instructed their staff to be indifferent to people who decide to try their luck. After all, it has been well over three years since this image made its rounds on the interwebs.
Maybe C felt insecure that his looks were inferior to mine and let that distract him from doing his job well, but I was there watching him and he did execute the tips quite superbly. Maybe the middle-aged staff had a thing for man buns and felt inclined to give me a larger serving. Or maybe, the tips didn’t live up to its psychological billing after all.
Whatever the case is though, try smiling and greeting the person serving you before ordering. That, maybe, is the only foolproof way to get more than what you’ve asked for.
They might not work for me, but do the Cai Fan tips work for you? Share your experiences with me in the comments below!
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