Students say vending machine cafe convenient but costly

PHOTO: HAZIM ZULFADHLI

By Adele Chiang

Pioneer Hall resident Keith Lee was studying in hall when he felt late night hunger pangs.

Within two and a half minutes, the 20-year-old was tucking into a plate of chilli crab on steamed rice from Ma2 Vending Cafe — a cluster of six vending machines that opened in Crescent Hall last September.

Unlike the typical vending machines that dispense snacks and drinks, the Ma2 Vending Cafe serves hot food with the likes of seafood Hokkien mee, nasi briyani, chili crab steamed rice and even finger food such as cheese tofu and fish fries. Ice cream and cold canned drinks are also available.

Lee, who is a second-year School of Social Sciences student, says he does not mind forking out more for its accessibility, as no food is available at the canteen after midnight.

“The food might be a bit overpriced, but I am paying more for the convenience,” he said.

Lee is also impressed with the quality of the food.

He said that the chilli crab was “legit”, adding that the mutton nasi briyani he tried on a separate occasion tasted similar to versions from hawker centres.

This cluster of vending machines is conceptualised by the No Signboard Seafood restaurant chain in Singapore. There are currently five other outlets located in the void decks of HDB flats. Prices range from $4.50 to $9.90 for hot mains, and $3.20 to $3.40 for finger food.

With the introduction of Ma2 Vending Cafe, Pioneer and Crescent Hall residents now have easier access to hot meals — a convenient supper option within campus.

But students feel that despite the convenience, the food prices are a big deterrence.

“I wouldn’t get the food again, unless I don’t have time to travel the extra 10 to 15 minutes out of school at night. If I was really looking for a good meal, I would make the effort to travel,” said Cedric Seah, 20, a second-year student from the School of Humanities.

The Pioneer Hall resident had ordered mutton nasi briyani and felt that the rice was dry and unevenly cooked.

Another resident, Jonathan Lim, 22, said he usually walks to S11 Eating House (known informally as “Extension”), which is open 24 hours. The walk from Pioneer Hall takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

“I think the vending cafe’s selling point is the convenience, since students who stay in hall usually sleep late. But if there are other means of getting food (late at night), I will not make a repurchase,” the second-year Nanyang Business School student said.

Others feel it is not worth paying for instant meals if there are cheaper, freshly-made alternatives available.

“I’m okay with frozen food, as long it tastes good,” said Esther Rim, 20, a second-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

“But if it’s unreasonably priced or if I can get something fresh and good at the same price, I probably won’t purchase it,” added the Crescent Hall resident.