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Old School Canteen

Hawker spotlight: Old School Canteen

Breakfast of champions: traditional nasi lemak at Changi Village without the long queues.

Delfina Utomo
Written by
Delfina Utomo

Take a step into the Singapore of the past at Changi Village. While it isn’t some seaside shanty, these parts are definitely more carefree. Fitting the nostalgic backdrop, blasting old tunes and peppered with vintage memorabilia, Old School Canteen serves plates of nasi lemak the traditional way.

What exactly is old school nasi lemak? Ross Said, 58, the owner of Old School Canteen explains that the difference lies in the ingredients. The nasi lemak we know and love is rich in flavour and comes packed with an assortment of fried things and a small dollop of smooth sambal. But back in the day, according to Ross, it was a simple dish with lightly-perfumed coconut rice, a hard boiled egg, fried ikan tamban (silver-stripe round herring) as opposed to the ikan selar kuning (yellowtail scad) you see in present-day nasi lemak and even kangkong. The highlight of the dish, he says, has to be the sambal.

At Old School Canteen, the sambal stands out. Ross works alone at the stall and prepares his sambal the day before as he believes it requires “resting time” for the flavours to fully mature. The rest of the ingredients are cooked on-site early in the morning before service starts at 8.30am. There are three different types of sambal to choose from: sambal with boiled egg, cuttlefish or prawns. Unlike the smooth paste you usually get with regular nasi lemak, the sambal here is thick and chunky. Ross roughly cuts the onions to add to the sambal’s texture. It’s the perfect balance between spicy and sweet – thanks to the onions – so even people with a low tolerance for spice can handle it. Have it with a serving of fluffy coconut rice, fried fish, peanuts and anchovies – starting from a mere $3 for a complete plate.

Old School Canteen has only been in business for slightly more than two years but it’s not Ross’ first rodeo in the F&B industry. He’s worked in French, Chinese, and Italian restaurants since the 1980s before finally opening a stall of his own. Inspired by the different techniques he’s learnt over the years, he offers a secret menu during the weekends. Look out for the Roti Ross ($6), his version of the Roti John made with slow-cooked beef or mutton doused in a cheesy sauce stuffed in a bun. When about his left field creation, Ross laughs and says that it’s the beauty of having your own stall – you can be who you want to be and cook what you want for the customers.

#01-85, Changi Village Market and Food Centre, 3 Changi Village Rd. Expo.

3 questions with Ross Said

1. Why open a nasi lemak stall in Changi Village?

After years of cooking, I wanted to return to my roots and cook something authentic. My mother used to be an excellent cook. She cooked for big groups but would still insist on using the best ingredients and retaining that home-cooked taste. In a way, this stall is a homage to her and making things the old-school way. Just like how my mother – and all our mothers – used to.

2. What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

Nasi lemak with cuttlefish sambal. It’s my comfort food.

3. What’s the best part about running your stall?

I can cook my own food, serve my own food, set my own menu and meet new people. I usually have a regular crowd of oldies but it’s always nice to see some fresh faces. I enjoy explaining the traditional ways of nasi lemak to them.

Go there now

Old School Canteen
  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Changi 

Fitting the nostalgic backdrop, blasting old tunes and peppered with vintage memorabilia, Old School Canteen serves plates of nasi lemak the traditional way. 

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