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PGP Mala is Overrated

Written by Warren Tanaka


What are your thoughts on Comm Hall food in RH? Does the queue on Monday dinners traumatise you like they do to me? Have your tastebuds protested against that one specific chicken cutlet they always serve with the curry they claim is Japanese? Well, all jokes aside (or not), Comm Hall food is not too bad when you think of it; you just need to avoid certain foods. But of course, there are better options out there if you feel like you need a breather from the Comm Hall crowd and/or, like the foods in NUS canteens or the food courts in UTown.


Source: Warren's iPhone // actually this one is not bad except for the pork stew thingy

I’ve visited almost all of the canteens and food courts around NUS (save for The Summit, because it’s not worth waiting for the BTC bus that comes once every hundred years), and everywhere I’ve been, there’s always a mala stall. Since I had nothing better to do, I’ve taken the opportunity to taste every single one and compared them in terms of taste and such.


So now, I’m going to bestow my knowledge about the malas of NUS to you. I will rate all the mala stalls in NUS, based on these four criteria (expand the text to know more about these criteria!):

Taste

A self-explanatory criterion, based on my personal preferences. I would like to declare that I like the la (辣) spice as much as the ma (麻) spice. If you don’t know the difference between the two, well here’s a crash course: the ma spice gives the ‘numbing’ sensation when you eat it, while the la spice gives the ‘hot’ sensation.


I don’t like it when the taste is just purely spicy—I want something beyond that, such as a savoury taste. Also, all the mala I ordered has the lowest spice level.

Price

Location

Waiting time

I am also assigning points to each criterion. The higher the points, the more important the criteria are. I will then quantify the points by multiplying my rating (out of 5 for each criterion) by the points, and tabulate the total points so that I can rank the mala (wow, I sound like I’m writing a lab report). You can see the assigned points in the table below.








With that, let's dive straight in.


PGP

Source: Warren's iPhone

People keep on telling me that PGP mala is the epitome of all mala in NUS. They told me that it's good because it has the true mala spice, which I think is fair! For most mala, the ma spice is not really pronounced and the la spice is overpowering, but PGP mala has a delicate balance between the two types of spices. The taste is also not just spicy—it has that meaty taste to it as well.


As for the location, if you manage to stake a claim in the aircon room, then all is well. Unfortunately, that room closes quite early, so if you’re eating at night, you’d most probably have to settle for the stuffy non-aircon area.


The problem I have about PGP mala is that the queue is just way too long. Even if you’re going for a very late lunch or dinner, the queue is still never-ending. It is quite pricey too ($9.40 per person, sharing with another two), so if you’re running low on cash, this place might not be the best for your mala cravings.


Verdict











Fine Food (UTown)

Source: Warren's iPhone

Fine Food has a fine reputation for… not having the finest food, but I think the mala passes my vibe check. Taste-wise, it’s nothing special. It could be a bit bland for some, but I think for someone who can’t take heavy spice, the spice level is just right. You can’t really taste the ma spice, but the la spice is okay.


Location-wise, Fine Food, despite the food being quite bad, is almost always crowded during peak hours, so the problem is finding seats, not that you have to queue and wait for long for your mala. There is also the snail noodles stall there that gives the place a very unique and strong aroma, so just be mindful of that. The price is just an average price for a bowl of mala ($7.15 per person, sharing with another three), really.


Verdict











Flavours/Food Clique (UTown)

Source: Warren's iPhone

My experience with the mala stall in Flavours has not been great, I think. It was incredibly suspicious that my mala bowl had very little meat when my friends and I remembered we had taken a lot. Nonetheless, Flavours mala had a much more pronounced ma spice as compared to its other UTown counterpart (one of the best ones, actually), Fine Food. The la spice was not bad, and overall the meal was quite savoury.


Flavours always has free seats no matter how crowded it is (or maybe I’m just lucky), and the queue for the mala stall is not too long, though they cook slowly (definitely slower than Fine Food). For the price, I feel that I’m not a fair judge for this because I’m quite sure they reduced the amount of meat that I’m supposed to get, but if it is the actual amount that I took, I’m going to say that it’s on the pricier side ($7.15 per person, sharing with another two, but way less meat than usual).


Verdict











The Terrace (COM2 canteen)

Source: Warren's iPhone

The Terrace is one of the nicest locations in NUS. Most just use it as a place to study, because apparently the food there is… let’s just say it’s not the best, for lack of a better and proper word (my friend says not to eat the ‘chicken rice thingy’ there). But if you are unlucky enough to be forced to eat there, then there is a pleasant surprise for you: the mala is one of the best in NUS, in my opinion.


The location is just perfect. It’s well-ventilated, it looks nice, it’s peaceful enough that people can study there (you can munch on your mala while studying there). You also don’t need to wait long for your mala; there is practically no queue there, but they do take quite a while to cook it up for you.


In terms of taste, it’s one of the better ones. I can taste the ma and la spice just fine, but I wish there was more of the ma spice. To top it off, it is very, very affordable!


Verdict










Techno Edge (CDE canteen)

Source: Warren's iPhone

Techno Edge’s mala blew my mind the most. Mouthwatering savoury taste, exquisite ma and la spice, and generous portion sizes (I don’t exactly remember the price, but I remember it being very cheap for the amount of ingredients we took): all of these are encapsulated in that one, unique bowl of mala. There is nothing else to say about it; go try it out now! They cook extremely fast too!


The problem with Techno Edge mala is just the canteen itself. It’s so hot and stuffy inside, and with the construction work happening inside it becomes even worse.


Verdict











The Deck (FASS canteen)

Source: Google because I forgot to take pics oops

The Deck mala is by far the worst-tasting mala I’ve ever tried in NUS. I tried it twice just to make sure (I’m a fair judge), but instead it made me sure that it did not taste good. I ordered xiao la the first time and I thought it was a bit tasteless. Then the second time I ordered zhong la and it was no different than xiao la.


For the location, it would be good if you found a place to sit in the aircon room, but if not, you’re going to have to carry your heavy plate of mala down a set of stairs (which was a nightmare because I ate during peak hours). Waiting for the food also wasn’t a fun experience, because they didn’t give a buzzer to indicate whether our food was ready or not. My friends and I had to wait while standing for quite a bit of time for our food since our seats were not in the aircon room. And for some reason, it is one of the most expensive ones I’ve ever had ($8.00 per person, sharing with two others).


Verdict










Frontier (FoS canteen)

Source: Google again because I made another oopsies

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with the Frontier mala. The ma and la spice were okay, but as with many other mala, it would be better if there was more ma spice. But that’s about it—there’s nothing special about it.


Location-wise, it’s Frontier, so it’s always crowded during peak hours (since it’s open to NUH and Science Centre staff), so I wouldn’t recommend eating mala here during that time. It’s practically impossible to find a seat at that time. But if you really want to try it, you should go an hour earlier than the peak hours; go at 11 am, since Frontier will be relatively less crowded.


I spent $9.10 when I ate, which was a lot but a fair price since I was eating alone—mala gets cheaper the more people you eat with.


Verdict










Conclusion

Here is the ranking of mala stalls in NUS!











Oh boy. This is quite controversial, isn’t it?

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