We gave ourselves a budget of $2.50 and below for every meal, and were left well-fed and pleasantly surprised.
With the increasing standard of living in this city, it is comforting to know that a tasty, substantial meal may still be had for no more than a few dollars. Those that made the cut are complete meals, a filling (sometimes healthy) plate of the best-budget eats in Singapore. Read and eat on.
BAK CHOR MEE | Heong Huat Fishball Noodle, $2.50 | A humble bowl of noodles, in soup or tossed dry with minced meat and other ingredients, is one of the simplest hawker meals that one may find for $2.50. At Ghim Moh Food Centre, Heong Huat Fishball Noodles serves a portion packed with ingredients and lots of bite. Choose from different types of noodles: mee pok, mee kia or kway teow. The dry noodles are evenly coated with sauce and come topped with fishcake, fish dumplings, minced meat and fish balls. Fried shallots and fried bits of lard add some sinful texture to the noodles. The accompanying soup is less salty than most we have tried. (Address: Block 20, Ghim Moh Road, #01-50, Ghim Moh Food Centre | Opening hours: Daily 5.30am-2pm)
BLACK CARROT CAKE | Delicious Fried Carrot Cake, $2 | We were hoping to get a snack-sized portion at $2.50, but this is what we got: a filling portion of radish-cake chunks well-tossed and covered with black sweet sauce, big pieces of sweet omelette and fat beansprouts with their tails on. Score! (Address: Block 85, Redhill Lane, #01-33, Redhill Food Centre | Opening hours: Daily 7.30am-2pm)
CHAR KWAY TEOW | Fried Kway Teow Fried Oyster, $2 | Not a massive plate, though this char kway teow (fried flat noodles) more than makes up for its size in flavour. It is an oily plate of sticky-sweet, dark kway teow full of wok hei (a trait of a good stir-fry dish that gives off an "aroma" of the wok's heat). There are chunks of egg, fat beansprouts, slices of fishcake, and – we weren’t expecting this – plenty of hum (blood cockles). Leave the vinegar-infused chilli sauce on the side – it mars the otherwise spot-on dish. (Address: 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-08, Tiong Bahru Market | Opening hours: Daily 10am-10pm)
WHITE CHICKEN RICE | Fook Seng Goldenhill Chicken Rice, $2 | This stall's regular plate of chicken rice ($2; premium, $3) comes with Hainanese-style white chicken that is slightly gamey in taste and texture. There is a mild sesame oil fragrance to the sticky rice, and the sourish spicy chilli sauce brings all the elements together beautifully. We think this is one of the best plates of chicken rice in Singapore, and feel lucky to be able to have it for such an affordable price. (Address: 37 Jalan Rumah Tinggi, #01-429 | Opening hours: Daily 9am-7pm)
ROAST CHICKEN RICE | 88 Chicken Rice, $2.50 | This is one of the stalls at Ghim Moh Food Centre that has long queues, and at $2.50 for a plate of roast chicken rice, we can see why. The portion is generous with a suitable meat-to-rice ratio. The meat is succulent with a silky (albeit, a little oily) soy sauce coating. Expect fluffy, well-seasoned rice and vinegar-infused chilli to complement it. (Address: Block 20, Ghim Moh Road, #01-20, Ghim Moh Food Centre | Opening hours: Daily 10am-8pm)
CHWEE KUEH | Jian Bo Shui Kweh, eight pieces for $2.40 | This “water cake” (direct translation for chwee kueh) is topped with chye poh (preserved radish) that is sweet, nutty (we reckon it is in part because of the sesame seeds) and on the dry side (not a bad thing). The cake, made of steamed unflavoured rice flour, is soft and smooth, while the chilli is not overpowering, working beautifully into the salty and browned chye poh. (Address: 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-05, Tiong Bahru Market | Opening hours: Daily 6.30am-11pm)
HAINANESE CURRY RICE | Beach Road Scissors Cut Curry Rice, $2.40 | A plate of pork belly rice for under $2.50? It exists. We ordered the smallest portion of plain rice (available at $0.50, $0.70 or $1), asked for the tau pok (beancurd, $0.50) and the pork belly ($1.40), and still walked out quite full. The servers gave two sauces – the starchy, slightly spicy curry sauce, and the mildly herbal dark sauce in which the tau pok was steeping. What a good, quick, flavourful meal. (Address: 229 Jalan Besar | Tel: 98261464 | Opening hours: 11am-3.30pm)
LAKSA | Sungei Road Laksa, $2 | This Jalan Besar stall’s headlining dish is one of the last few – if not the only – places in Singapore that still keeps its laksa gravy gently heated in an aluminium pot over charcoal fire. Some say this results in a smokier aroma, we reckon that the spread of charcoal results in an even heat. The laksa isn't visually impressive – it comes in a small bowl, with merely a few slices of fishcake, and isn't rich and creamy because there isn't much coconut milk. What it does have is a lovely fragrance and a generous amount of fresh hum (“blood cockles”). All of these for $2. (Address: 27 Jalan Berseh, #01-100, Jin Shui Kopitiam | Opening hours: 9am-6pm, except first and third Wednesdays of the month)
LOR MEE | Lor Mee 178 and Ma Bo Noodles, both $2.50 each | Even without the usual braised egg, and ngoh hiang (five-spiced minced meat rolled in beancurd skin), this stall's sticky, slurp-worthy dish helped put Tiong Bahru Market on the map. Although at $2.50, you won’t get the frittered nuggets of shark meat, the bowl of “braised noodles” (lor mee in Chinese dialect) is full of flavour, thanks partly to the add-on minced garlic topping. It is also crunchy in texture from the deep-fried batter, and hearty from its medium-thick, flat egg noodles. If you’re looking for the condiment-laden version, the most value-for-money dish we’ve found is at Ma Bo Lor Mee at ABC Brickworks Food Centre. For $2.50, you get a generous portion of noodles topped with ngoh hiang, fishcake, fish fritters, braised meat and a whole braised egg. Now if only the sauce was less cloying. (Address: Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-58 | Opening hours: Daily 10am-10pm); (Address: ABC Brickworks Food Centre, 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-139 | Opening hours: Daily 9am-8pm)
MEE REBUS | Mee rebus with a whole egg! The slightly spicy, sweet and nutty sauce over nicely cooked yellow noodles is loaded with textures. Selamat Datang Malay Food at Adam Road has mushroomed into two stalls, with Selamat Datang II now at Old Airport Road Food Centre (#01-34). At the last row closest to block 43, there are plenty of Malay stalls, but this one peddling $2.50 mee siam, mee soto ayam, soto ayam, lontong and mee rebus is a gem.
NASI PADANG | Istimewa Nasi Padang, $2.50 | Yes, you have to tell the makcik (Malay for “Madam” or “auntie”) that you have only $2.50 to spend and risk holding up the line a little longer, but she will do her best to scramble for the most filling and varied plate. During our visit, she piled on the rice and gave an egg, a plump bergedil (fried potato patty), stir-fried green beans and less-oily-than-most sayur lodeh (vegetables stewed in coconut milk curry). With so much flavour, we didn't mind that the plate was vegetarian, nor did we mind the food coma that came later in the afternoon. (Address: 28 Hoy Fatt Road, #01- 24, Stall 3 | Tel: 96301272 | Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10am-3pm, or until food runs out)
PRAWN NOODLES | Prawn Noodles/Laksa/Yong Tau Foo, $2.20 | It’s the prawn noodles soup you want: the sweet, dark soup is almost herbal, a little peppery, warm. Pictured above is the smallest size. The $3 version is considerably bigger, served in a melamine bowl. Our order holds just-cooked noodles in a styrofoam bowl, topped with three pieces of halved-prawns, plenty of fishcake and a small handful of fried onions. The broth tastes like a much sweeter, more rounded bak kut teh (pork ribs and spices soup) without the pork ribs. (Address: #B1-08 Comcentre Cafeteria, 31 Exeter Road, Comcentre | Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8am-2pm or until food is sold out)
ROTI PRATA | Sin Ming Roti Prata, two pieces for $1.80 | You could have the "coin prata" at six pieces for $3.50, though the regular prata is equally good, and not just because of our cost constraints. The dough used is the same. For the regular prata, the sweet-salty-buttery dough is fluffier inside, but equally chewy, and crisp on the outside. Bonus points for being one of HungryGoWhere's Hawker Heroes. (Address: 24 Sin Ming Road, #01-51 Jin Fa Kopitiam | Tel: 64533893 | Opening hours: Daily 6.30am-6.30pm)
TEOCHEW PORRIDGE | Shi Le Yuan Teochew Porridge, $2.50 | You have to be specific with the stallholders when you order: the porridge or rice ($0.30 per portion), stewed peanuts ($0.50), vegetables ($0.70), and meat ($1) shouldn’t bust your budget. We accidentally picked the daily vegetable special of broccoli with goji berries ($1), so we busted our budget by 20 cents, but the meat – minced pork with fermented beans – was just what the constraints and the non-watery porridge needed. For $2.50, we were able to tuck into a myriad of flavours and textures that were further accented by the chilli sauce, fermented beans and garlic-chilli-vinegar sauce. This did not leave us too full to resume work, too. (Address: Blk 85 Redhill Lane, #01-41, Redhill Food Centre | Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10am-2pm)
THOSAI | Heaven's Indian Curry, $2 | Heaven’s is famous for serving the rare South Indian snack putu mayam (vermicelli served with grated coconut and sugar), although for a more filling meal, the thosai (crispy pancake) is our choice. For $2 you get not one, but two pancakes served with sambhar (lentil curry) and tomato chutney. The thosai is not as ghee-laden as those served in Little India’s many eateries; this is a lighter and less-crisp version, mimicking the kind made in South Indian homes. The sambhar is perfectly spiced and well-balanced in flavour. Although we did miss the coconut chutney (usually served with thosai), at these prices, we could not ask more. (Address: Block 20, Ghim Moh Raod, #01-20, Ghim Moh Food Centre | Tel: 94290431 | Opening hours: Daily 6am-2pm)
VEGETARIAN INDIAN FOOD | Annalakshmi Janatha (Central Square) and Annalakshmi Janatha (Amoy St), $2.50 | "Annalaskhmi" is the goddess of plenty and these restaurants run their operations by the ethos atithidevo bhav (Sanskrit for "the guest is God"); the guest is therefore welcome to pay as much as they wish or are able to do so at this social enterprise. The generous restaurants serve North and South Indian homecooked dishes via a menu and a rotating buffet counter. This restaurant group with two locations under its belt was named one of our top 52 best buffets in Singapore, but of course, please pay them more than $2.50 if you are taking the all-you-can-eat buffet. It's only good karma. (Address: 20 Havelock Road, #01-04, Central Square | Tel: 63399993 | Opening Hours: Daily 11am-3pm, 6pm-9.30pm);(Address: 104 Amoy Street, #01-01 | Tel: 62230809 | Opening Hours: Mon 6-10pm; Tue-Sun 11am-10pm)
YONG TAU FOO | Zhen Ji Yong Tau Foo, $2.40 | This is one of our most treasured finds: pick any six items, including the noodles or rice, and each item is 40 cents. Of the minimum of five items you have to order (excluding the noodles or rice), one may be substituted for more noodles, if you’re really that hungry. We asked for the soup version. The sweet, light broth is made by simmering soy beans which are also served to the customer. (Address: #02-66, Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Road)
BUBUR AYAM | Geylang Serai Nasi Ayam bubur ayam, $1.50 | We did a double-take at the price of this Indonesian-style bubur (rice porridge). For $1.50, this breakfast dish that is more like a Teochew muay (porridge) than the Cantonese congee (the rice grains are still formed but soaking in a soupy, starchy broth) offers flavour for your buck(-and-a-half). It resembles plain porridge at first glance but do not be dissappointed. The bubur is chock-full of shredded chicken and preserved vegetables that are hidden under the surface. Versions of the buburayam we have tried in Indonesia come topped with keropok, pieces of fried dough, chilli, peanuts and spring onions. Admittedly, this is a simpler, home-styled version.
KACANG POOL | Kacang Pool Mustafa, $2.50 | Found at the mecca of Malay eats – Geylang Serai market and food centre – this stall has only one item on the menu, the kacang pool. For the princely sum of $2.50, you get a shallow bowl full of bean soup and a hunk of crusty bread to sop it up. Originating from the Middle East, this is a delicious and hearty vegetarian soup made up of coarsely blended kidney beans, water and spices, topped with sliced onion, chilli and a fried egg. We like the coming together of flavours, reminiscent of Indian-style dal (lentil soup). The egg should be broken up and stirred into the stew for a richer taste. The bread helps to soak up every last drop and ensures a filling meal. Sedap siol! (Malay for “real delicious”!)