“Uncle, add one more packet of chilli”, that’s my standard request when I take away food at the chicken rice store just a few blocks down from home.
Sambal chilli, Chilli Padi, green chilli – the list is endless for Singaporeans’ favourite chillis. One thing’s for sure: We can’t live without it.
It’s natural that condiments go for free in Singapore. Auntie and uncle don’t tell you to pay an extra dollar for the chilli you takeaway to go with your Nasi Lemak. Even at big restaurants, chilli padi and green chilli is a free-flow entitlement to us. Perhaps it makes sense for condiments to be free of charge in restaurants when you pay extra for GST and service charges. But for hawkers, are they then technically entitled to charge you extra for the costs incurred in making chilli packets?
So, I asked two hawkers from stores I usually visit why is it that they do not charge for extra chilli. Auntie from my favourite Tian Tian Porridge Store at Maxwell and Uncle from my favourite Ban Mian store at Timbre+ both reflected that the chilli is part of the “package”, and expectantly free. Auntie said that of course it does cost to make her chilli, and she does feel irritated when people take way more than they need.
Remuneration For Quality
It seems like people have become addicted to demanding for 2 to 3 extra packets of chilli for everything, from Nasi Lemak to Hokkien Mee, and hawkers don’t charge for this. Often enough, I find myself not finishing my chilli, throwing away the extra packets I took and I’m sure many Singaporeans resonate with this action.
Here’s how the price of one packet of chilli would cost if hawkers really started charging for chilli. We used chicken rice chilli as an example.
|Cost of 1 packet of chilli (10g)||$0.07|
$0.07, essentially less than ten cents for a packet of chilli does look like nothing at all. But if we included operating costs such as labour and time costs put into making the chilli, especially sambal which usually requires an electric blender or a whole lot pounding, it may seem reasonable to be charging $0.10 for every extra packet of chilli you take.
Will charging for chilli allow for a more efficient distribution of recourses? It can. Charging for extra packets can shift the cost burden to those who actually need the chilli instead of everyone at large in the form of overall price increases.
We Already Pay Extra For Condiments
Since 2012, Macdonalds started charging for sauce in Singapore. The news hit Singaporeans greatly, rendering discussion amongst netizens. But, 6 years on from that today in 2018, we see paying extra for the sauce at MacDonald’s becoming commonplace. It is no doubt that wastage has been decreased since people think twice before taking sauces from the counter excessively now that a small price has been put on it.
If chilli were the Asian condiments for just about every meal, then its pretty similar to bread with olive oil and vinegar for Italian food, extra cheese for American food and so on. If I stepped into an American bar and they charged me for extra cheese on my fries, most people would also be okay with paying an extra dollar or two for that. If I went into an Italian restaurant and they charged me for bread with an olive oil-vinegar dip, I wouldn’t think much of it even though it’s pretty much a “necessity”.
We already consciously pay for a lot of condiments and food items people regard as commonplace. Hainanese Chicken Rice Chilli already sells for $2.40 on online grocery stores. If we saw chilli like cheese for the Americans, would paying for chilli also be okay?
Inflation In Singapore
It is hard not to notice the price increases since food inflation came in at 1.4 per cent in Singapore last year. Things that go into making food like electricity and gas was at a high 6.2% in March 2018 and domestic sources of inflation are bound to increase alongside a faster pace of wage growth and an increase in domestic demand.
Chicken rice today is no longer priced at $2.50 from just about five years back. You can get your plate for no cheaper than $3.50 at most hawker centres in Singapore today. So if hawkers really started charging for the extra packets of chilli they give us, it probably will not come as a surprise.