Eating Cheap in Singapore

All the stories I had read about Singapore had to do with food. Life there revolves around eating (or maybe it revolves around business, but that’s not exactly what I’m interested in). I’ve been to Malaysia and Indonesia, so I knew some of what to expect on this trip — the flavors of curry, coconut, and lemongrass, mixed with the spices of the Asian subcontinent and international influence.

I planned on eating my way through Singapore, though the plan was to eat on the cheap because I didn’t want to spend money I wasn’t making. It’s an expensive place to visit and live, but the food in working-class establishments is affordable, which suited me just fine.

Nasi Goreng Kampong
Nasi Goreng Kampong

Not the variety I had hoped for around my hostel

As I arrived late in the day, I wanted to grab a quick bite to eat and get some sleep to enjoy the cooler morning for sightseeing. There wasn’t much near Pine Hostel — I wandered around and saw mostly Chinese food at rundown open air restaurants. After all my years in China and my most recent stint in Taiwan, I wasn’t interested in Chinese food (though it looked to be spicier and more interesting than the variety I get in Taiwan). I settled on an outdoor food court because I was too tired to walk farther — I ordered Thai food that was pretty good considering the mediocre Thai-style dishes I’ve tried in Taipei. It even came with the stall owner sharing a beer with me — he was happy to know I enjoyed my $3 meal.

Maggi goreng
Maggi goreng

Taking in the Indian flavors of Singapore

After a long day of wandering around the city, which involved walking much farther than I had expected, I ended up in Little India. It wasn’t far from my hostel, which made it convenient for dinner, also I hadn’t had Indian food in a long time. As I was tired and didn’t feel like eating in a more crowded restaurant, I found what was probably one of the dirtier restaurants in Singapore — the food was all pre-made to choose from (not that I knew what anything was). I ordered a plate full of whatever the server recommended (I never know what to order at Indian restaurants, so that seemed like the best route) and a beer.

little india singapore
Dinner in Little India

After finishing my meal and relaxing with my beer, I began talking with people at the table next to me and I was invited to join. I met a few young Singaporean journalists who knew there was no money in journalism but still wanted to enter the world of media.

They ordered more food and beer to share and we split the bill in the end. Somehow I paid less than my original meal and beer should have cost. There may have been a discount to the meal as well because one of the guys eating with us was the owner of the restaurant (a young “retired” lawyer who decided he’d rather have a small restaurant).

little india singapore
Remains of our feast in Little India

Singapore’s hawker stalls!

On another day I took the advice of my friend Tom and headed to Old Airport Road Food Centre and Shopping Mall. There’s a great variety of food in this food court. Unfortunately, because I was there for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral, many of the food stalls were closed. Still, I managed to find my fill of laksa (quite possibly my favorite food from the region). I also tried the maggi goreng, which is a spicy fried noodle dish with vegetables — it wasn’t overly spicy, but it did build on my tongue as I ate.

old airport road singapore
Food court at Old Airport Road

Although I had enough for lunch, I still had a small bite at this Indian stall on the end (there were no other food stalls open near this one). I had never tried dosai, but for less than S$2, I was willing to give it a go. It’s more of less an empty crepe with some sauce to dip it in.


I also got to enjoy kopi-o halia (coffee with ginger without milk) for S$1. I’ve never had coffee with ginger before, and it certainly took a little getting used to, but I was tempted to order more after finishing my cup. If it wasn’t so hot in Singapore, I probably would’ve ordered another.

Laksa singapore

Mall food courts aren’t all bad

On my last day in Singapore, after wandering the streets for hours just admiring the city, I ended up at a mall food court along Orchard Road. That’s where I found a delicious dish of sambal stingray. It wasn’t like the grilled banana leaf stingray I had years earlier in Penang, but it was still great. It was spicy, and the stingray flesh is meatier than most fish (the bones are also rather large). It was more food than I needed after exhausting myself in the midday heat, but it was also a delicious send-off to Singapore.

sambal stingray
It’s possible to find affordable food in Singapore

I was disappointed that I didn’t come across a restaurant that had chili crab (I must’ve been looking in the wrong places). But it’s just one more reason to head back to Singapore.

What are some of  your favorite foods in Singapore? What should I eat when I return?

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