Free meals in Little India

Vengadeshwaran Subramaniam

If you walk past Veerasamy Road in Little India at 5.30am on any day, you will notice about 20 people waiting outside a light-blue coloured shophouse.

From about 50 metres away, you can see the signboard: Krishna's Kitchen. It has a tagline: The Free Food Point.

Sisters Chandralatika Devi Dasi, 55, and Gandhini Devi Dasi, 53, turn up at the shophouse much earlier. They prepare breakfast for about 500 people, who are served from 6.30am to 9am.

Pongal, curd rice or sambar rice form the main dish. It comes along with hot tea, dates or fruits.

From 9am, volunteers join in to help with various tasks such as cutting and washing vegetables, cleaning the kitchen, packing food and transporting items.

They also lend a hand in preparing lunch - white rice, potato sambal, sambar or tamarind gravy and two types of vegetables - which is served from noon to 2.30pm to about 500 people (the number can go up to 700 on Sundays).

When it is hot, Krishna's Kitchen serves buttermilk. On cold days, it is spicy curry with chillies.

Most importantly, it provides meals which have a homely touch.

Since April last year, the kitchen has been serving breakfast and lunch to about 1,000 less-fortunate, needy and financially-challenged people daily.

It also delivers food to Sunlove's old folks' homes at Whampoa, Depot Road and Hougang on weekdays.

"Not many organisations feed the hungry free, especially providing nutritious food," said Mrs Gandhini.

"We maintain the quality of our food. We do not use much oil or salt and we serve healthy, freshly-cooked vegetarian food.

"People from different backgrounds come here to eat. Some have problems. We aim to relieve their problems with our food."

Mr M. Govindaiah, 37, an employment pass holder from Andhra Pradesh, agreed.

"In most hotels they serve food that was cooked two or three days before or frozen food that is heated up. At Krishna's Kitchen, you get freshly-cooked food.

"To me, this is not just food, it's prasadam (religious offering)."

Krishna's Kitchen is a charity which depends on donations.

According to Ms Latha Govindasamy, 50, its public relations executive and a volunteer, the kitchen's fame has spread to various parts of India.

"When migrant workers come to Singapore, they don't get their salary until after the first month," she said. "They have to initially spend from their own pockets. So they come to our kitchen to eat.

"A decent meal outside would cost at least $3. They save money by eating here and use it for other immediate needs."

When the migrant workers become financially stable, they usually donate essential groceries, such as rice, flour and vegetables, to the kitchen, said Ms Latha.

It puts up a list of items that are required at the eating space for potential donors to view.

Secular, non-affiliated charity Willing Hearts has been donating groceries to Krishna's Kitchen regularly. The kitchen also has a tie-up with SG Food Rescue, a non-profit organisation with a mission to reduce food waste.

SG Food Rescue's volunteers, who number about 500, collect unsold vegetables - which are usually thrown away - from Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and deliver them to Krishna's Kitchen and other eateries around the island. They also collect left-over food from Krishna's Kitchen and other eateries and distribute them to the needy.

"We realised that Krishna's Kitchen can handle a large quantity of vegetables, so we donate as much as possible," said Mr Daniel Tay, the co-founder of SG Food Rescue.

"The vegetables are cooked properly at the kitchen. The food there is delicious and we are glad to help distribute it. We have been working together for nearly a year."

According to National Environment Agency reports, food waste is among the five largest sources of waste in Singapore. Moreover, food waste has increased by 30 per cent over the last 10 years.

"Krishna's Kitchen is part of the zero-waste master plan," said Ms Latha.

"We do not throw away any food that we cook. We distribute it to the needy with the help of volunteers."

Mrs Chandralatika, Mrs Gandhini and other volunteers at Krishna's Kitchen believe in the philosophy that nobody should go hungry.

This thought led to the creation of the kitchen which was spearheaded by Mrs Gandhini's husband, Mr Lee Chee Seng. He initially invested in it and now volunteers run it.

They pay the rent and electricity bill and deal with other expenses from the donations the kitchen receives.

Said volunteer Ms Valerie Ou Yong, 54: "I try my best to help out whenever I am free because I know that the two sisters often have to do all the work themselves. There are many who eat and just leave without giving anything back.

"Some donate 10 cents or 20 cents which we appreciate because it comes from the heart. But people should practice the culture of giving back.

"If a country is like that, we will be okay."

 svenga@sph.com.sg