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Nice reminder, my old primary school lunch in Malaysia was a bowl of laksa for 20 cents = 3 US cents. The good old days.


I would kill to eat any of those lunches right now (not literally, but you get the idea).

I am sitting at my desk weeping softly.

Marts Aziz

Oh my, I remembered my school canteen served laksa for 50 cents a bowl when I was in primary school. Laksa is always my fav. :-D

lili - pikeletandpie

I have recently started working at a Vietnamese private school. All meals are provided for the students, and I often eat the morning snack and lunch with them. The morning snack is always fruit, a banana, a wedge of pomelo, pineapple, rose apple or papaya.
Lunch is a metal plate affair with a selection of vegetables, tofu and meat or fish dishes. Normally there are four or five choices, plus pickled eggplants or peanuts or boiled eggs. There is always soup, of course. The options are different daily, and I am constantly surprised to see these upper class kids who love money and America heartily tucking in to generous servings of steamed vegetables, tofu or meat and carefully picking the bones out of their fish. The quality is a bit hit and miss, some days the meals are fabulous, others we abandon ship and head out for a quick plate of fried noodles.
There is no big complaint amongst the students about the absence of sweets or other packaged junk, though I'm sure they get plenty of that at home. Really the only uproar in the lunch room happens when they run out of soup.


I look at the above and think back to a recent post on the site Simple, Good and Tasty in which readers submitted photos of their children's US school lunches. What a difference!

The offerings above, tired roti and all, actually look as they might if cooked at home. Perhaps that's being a bit too sunshiny, but if you'd seen some of those American lunches . . .


I love these photos! They make me wish I'd gone to school in Chengdu.

The last time I was in Taiwan, one of the subbing jobs I did came with the perk of getting to eat the school lunch if I so wished. I ended up eating it fairly often, partly because I was always surprised by what the kids were served. They had rice porridge with seafood, braised pork belly, and bamboo salads. I would eat them and think back about the disgusting chicken fried steak and cold hamburgers I was served in school. -X


Thank you for this post. Asia is not known for obesity; do you think these meals could play a role in that?


This is great! Just this morning my husband (a 4th grade teacher) and I were discussing a project he's doing with his students (a survey of school lunches) and he'll be showing them this post today.

Eurasian Sensation

It's sobering to compare those lunches with what kids are eating in the Western World. Your point about fish-based soup is well made, but in particular I find it hard to envision Western kids eating all those vegetables for school lunch, when they could have fries, coke and candy instead.

Doddie Householder

Here in Korea, public schools provide lunch (and milk for recess - only milk. The kids drink it and have no other snacks with it). But lunch is wonderful as the chinese metal tray lunch pictured above. There is only one set of lunch for all and it costs about $2 per child per day. For smaller schools, the lunch is provided for free. But for big schools like with 500 or more students, the parents have to chip in.

Lunch menu usually have some soup (usually kimchi jjige or dwenjang jjige [soybean stew] or soybean sprout soup). There there are about 2 vegetable side dishes, the generic cabbage kimchee and some form of protein (tofu, fish cake, pork, etc). Dessert is always fruit. My eldest son loved his school lunches, while the youngest has to bring packed lunch since the red pepper spice that prevades most of the dishes doesn't agree with his tummy.

In the Philippines, lunches are brown bag lunches.


In China, college cafeterias are cheap since they are subsidized by the government. That's why a lot of people who have already left college still go to there to eat.


Another great article!!! I love this!! you guys should also do army lunches from around the world. Having eaten quite a few american school lunches, there are days when i starved myself & run home just for vietnamese food. The richest country in the world that america is..have lunches that are so unfathomable, and sometimes bare minimum to that saying.."eat to live, not live to eat".

Mila Tan

I'm reading this lovely article eating my breakfast of oatmeal, kiwi fruit and yogurt. I would gladly give it up for a bowl of laksa.
My only comment regarding Chinese lunches (school or in the diners around most cities) is the soup usually tastes like dishwater. I know they're meant to cleanse the palate after something oily and heavy, but I do wish they'd add some salt and pepper to it. Oh well.
I think I'll go make your tomato egg for lunch today, and top it with some fried chillies.


Apollo is not a candy bar. It's a slice of (dry) cake with chocolate frosting.

Odd. Many Malaysian lunches consist of nasi campur - rice with fish/chicken/beef/tofu and veggies. You should feature that as well.


what a creative post idea! it caught my attention because i've just recently had a chance to enjoy malaysian cuisine and man how tasty is that!? i love asam laksa! if i had a choice tho, i'd probably opt for chinese meal #1. mmmm, RICE



SleeplessInKL - I didn't try the Apollo bar so thanks for the description. Nasi campur was available and I shot that as well. That was the image that ran in the magazine (so I can't post it on the blog)

Annie@house of annie

I remember when I was in school, we always had many choices. I remember buying two bowls of noodles in primary school--each one only 30 sen (not even 10 US cents)--one would be fried beehoon and the other would be curry mee. I would eat up all the noodles in the curry mee, then toss the fried beehoon into the curry soup and eat that up too. What a pig! Hahahahaha...
In another school, they had the most amazing nasi lemak. The rice was rich with coconut and that was my favorite thing (along with a snack of some curry puffs) to get. I would even sometimes go back after school just to buy some of their wonderful nasi lemak to eat at home.
Oh, the list goes on--yong tau fu, fried noodles in all their varieties, mixed economy rice...I guess our canteen food wasn't too bad (though I also remember us complaining about cleanliness and other things while there).
Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


Wonderful post. US Cafeterias could learn a thing or two from China it seems. My school lunches were never that colorful (spent my childhood in the NY 'burbs).


My favorite lunch during my high school days in Penang was the economy rice (nasi campur). Even though it's called economy rice, it always ended up being more expensive than buying a bowl of noodle. I liked mine with curry chicken, mixed vege and a fried egg on top...yummmmmmm....

Danielle @ Bon Vivant

This post made me nostalgic for the meals I had in school (I grew up in Singapore). 12 years of cafeteria food and I never had a bad meal, which is why it's fascinating for me to see what American kids are being served for school lunches.


WOW... These lunches look delicious! Especially compared to American school lunches.... Below is a blog I check daily about a teacher eating the American school lunch and documenting the lunch everyday.

Can you believe American school children are eating this kind of crap? http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/


Wonder what Jamie Oliver thinks of these school lunches? Be interested to see what he’s got to say.

Fatty food don't create obesity, I don't think, it's the attitude towards food, how you eat it that matters. I can't see what's so healthy about a school lunch if kids don't like it and refuse to eat it. Nor could I see what’s wrong with a big juicy burger as long as you don’t eat it everyday.


Oh, I love this post! It brings back wonderful memories -- and how many Americans look back fondly upon their school lunches? I think that speaks volumes on the matter -- my former schoolmates and I can still wax lyrical about the assam laksa, the chee cheong fun, the nasi lemak in our school canteen, whereas my (American) husband curls his lip in distaste at the memory of his school lunches (greasy cardboard pizza, leathery hamburgers).

Glad the magazine ran the image of nasi campur, because at least in my day, Malaysian kids ate TONS of vegetables -- leafy greens, ladies' fingers, brinjals, cabbage, cauliflower, you name it. The idea that kids didn't like veggies was unknown to us (in fact I didn't know that kids were said to dislike vegetables until I moved to the US in my teens), although I get the impression that the easy availability of American fast food has changed Malaysian kids' tastes. Back in the '80s, I remember friends of mine actually complaining to their mothers if the meal didn't include enough veggies. "No veggie ah? Like that how to eat rice?"



Wow I would have loved to have eaten anything like this at my school. Food in schools in England in the 70's was not very good, actually it was damn right awful. It got worse in the 80's with too much fried food .

Shawn Vegas

The food looks so much healthier then what I eat on a day-to-day basis. Great photos by the way.

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