food

The Instagram Caifan Chronicles: “Cai Png is Rice, Cai Png is Life”

Last Updated: May 4, 2021

Written by Natalie Tan

Cai fan (economical rice) is the equivalent of McDonald’s in the hawker food realm for many Chinese Singaporeans—a fuss-free option with an ever-moving queue, its charm lies in its affordability, variety, and the efficiency of the cai fan auntie/uncle.

Also, it is the answer to the million-dollar question—what to eat for lunch? Well, for most Asians, rice with meat and vegetables is a staple on the dinner table at home and is always a trusty option. Just like your standard order at McDonald’s, you get what you expect (most of the time, even a tilted, out-of-place melted cheese of a Fillet O Fish burger). Thus, more often than not, we gravitate towards this stall with a glorious array of dishes, reciting, within seconds, our standard combination: ‘2 (portions of) meat 1 veg (vegetable), 1 meat 1 veg 1 egg, 1 meat 2 veg’

Akin to how the common love for Fillet O Fish garnered a community of senget (tilted) fish burger posts on Instagram, photos of cai fan combinations are posted on this Instagram page, @caipng2.50, where Singaporeans’ love for cai fan converge. 

Named Cai Png 菜饭 on the account, the owner’s love for Caifan is stronger than our patriotism on the National Day Parade. The biography reads, “Cai Png (Economical rice) is Rice, Cai Png is Life”, attesting to our Asian tastebuds and the ubiquity of cai fan stalls. Anyone can send in photos of their cai fan meals which are then posted with witty and endearing captions. With close to 3,000 followers, 230 posts, and multitudes of reposted stories of nothing but colourful meals of cai fan, this page is a conduit connecting Singaporeans through their relatability for this consistent hawker fare. 

Furthermore, riding on the trend of Instagram story templates, we’re not surprised to find its cai fan edition on this account, where users can cross out common experiences on this virtual bingo. It’s fascinating and fun to see what we usually have on our plates ride on Instagram trends—to be transposed into an expression of our common Singaporean identity.

If there’s anything we can take away from this playful, tongue-in-cheek photo documentation of what’s on our plates (other than recommended ingredients for your next cai fan meal), it’s probably our craving for a taste of home. When lunch is just another box to be checked off in our fast-paced lives, no longer a meal shared by family members at the table, nothing is more heartwarming than a plate of your favourite dishes—even when you’re rushing to get on with the next part of your day. 

This page of cai fan meals reveals that there is beauty in the simple. We don’t need extravagant meals to be contented; a simple and familiar meal can be home. 

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