Thursday, 29 January 2015

Singaporeans' views on value of local food

After 57 years in the business, Nasi Padang River Valley decided to close its doors on 28 March, citing a lack of manpower, rental and food costs (Photo: HungryGoWhere / Nasi Padang River Valley)

Some Singaporeans reacted with grave consternation over the recent news that the iconic Nasi Padang River Valley eatery along Zion Road would be closing down 28 March.

The food shop, which has operating since 1957, announced that it was closing because of reasons such as rising rents, manpower challenges and a gradual decline in customers.

Industry observers are lamenting this impending loss and how it will damage Singapore's culinary heritage, laying much of the blame on greedy landlords who have raised commercial rent prices to sky-high levels over the past few years.

Nasi Padang River Valley is now paying $11,000 a month in rent, compared to $8,300 a month when they first rented the shophouse 10 years ago. This is a more-than-30-per-cent increase.

Yet, maddeningly, this has become a common scenario.

Others also pointed to tightened labour laws that have dried up supply of manpower, especially in the F&B sector, while some argued that rising ingredient costs are putting a huge dent in the margins for food businesses.

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They are all valid arguments, yes. But what struck me most, however, was this comment made by Nasi Padang River Valley co-owner Hariz Pua in a news report:

"Many people tell us that paying $7 to $8 for a plate of nasi padang is too expensive in comparison to other stalls. But they don't consider the fact that we use fresh ingredients every day, which costs more, while other hawkers use frozen food."

To pay $7 or $8 for a plate of nasi padang, where you get to pick dishes from a selection of meat and seafood options, would be considered hard to stomach even for a serious foodie.

How did we even get to this stage where a plate of nasi padang – one of the more ubiquitous local comfort foods – has to cost as much, if not more than a McDonald's Happy Meal?

So perhaps it's no surprise that Nasi Padang River Valley has been seeing a drop in its customers since its heyday where it sold more than 500 plates a day. Reportedly, 300 plates a day these days would be considered "decent business".

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