Singapore food culture is arguably one of the richest and most diverse in the world. A melting pot of ethnic and racial groups, a Singapore food itinerary is likely to include cuisine influenced by South Asian, East Asian and Eurasian cultures.
Cheap and good restaurants in Singapore are not difficult to find if you know where to look or have a personal recommendation. But in our opinion, some of the best food comes from the street. Hawker food stalls and Singapore’s food centres strip away the stuffiness and pretentiousness usually associated with fine dining and Michelin stars. Simple yet flavoursome and cooked with love, a plethora of Singapore hawker dishes have now gained a Michelin plate, attracting hordes of voracious diners keen to get a bite. Fortunately, for you and your wallet, Singapore street food markets offer the opportunity to eat the cheapest Michelin-star awarded meal in your life! Check out these 7 dishes which all come in under SGD $10 each. Kind to your bank balance but not to your waistline.
SINGAPORE STREET FOOD - MARKETS & MICHELIN STARS
1. Hua Kee Chicken Rice
If the line is long, the food is probably worth the wait. And if the stall has recently been awarded a Michelin Plate, then you wait in that line. We visited Hua Kee Chicken Rice stall on a Friday when lunchtime was in full swing. Located at Redhill Food Centre, this Singapore street food market is a short 5-minute walk from Redhill subway station.
You can instantly feel the community vibe here. Hua Kee Chicken Rice is easy to spot if you’re walking from the subway station so make sure to join the queue straight away as past diners have reported a wait of 30 – 45 minutes on their busier days! With only two items on the menu, you don’t need to waste time thinking about what you’re going to order. And by keeping the menu short, it means that local favourite Mde Tan has had over 50 years to perfect her chicken rice recipe. Unfortunately, Mde Tan was absent during our lunchtime visit but we recognised her son Mr Jay Lim who served us the famous Chicken Rice dish.
For SGD $5, you receive a serve of perfectly steamed chicken, a bowl of steamed rice and savoury broth garnished with spring onions. The broth reminded me of a marrow soup my mother has always made with chicken bones which we usually eat during winter with steamed rice. I wasn’t far off, learning later that the liquid is a mixture of light soy sauce and chicken stock used to poach the chicken. The homemade chilli sauce is also a favourite and was thoroughly enjoyed by Bevan. All in all, Hua Kee Chicken Rice may not look like much and for some, it may not even taste like much. For us, the Chicken Rice is a shining example of savoury cooked simply and cooked well.
THE HERO DISH
CHICKEN BREAST & RICE - SGD $5
2. YY Kafei Dian
Our search for weekend brunch fare was unfortunately unfruitful but the silver lining was that our detour led us to YY Kafei Dian. The establishment keeps the nostalgia of the old Singaporean coffeeshop alive, serving traditional Hainanese fare including their renowned kaya buns and kaya toast. We selected kaya toast and two iced coffees (kopi – traditionally brewed coffee served with condensed milk). The toast is thick, warm and perfectly crispened. It is served with butter and kaya – a sweet-ish condiment made up of sugar, eggs, coconut milk and pandan. If you’re still hungry, order a freshly baked kaya bun. Soft and fluffy on the outside, the buns have a generous filling of kaya, made with coconut and egg jam.
There’s a strong sense of community at YY Kafei Dian. Circular tables inside host three-generation families, jovially sharing bread and eating together. Place your order at the counter and wait until your order is called. Waitresses wearing squinned t-shirts and Nike slides shuffle around delivering drink orders. There’s no pomp or flair here despite being surrounded by 5-star hotels and we hope that YY Kafei Dian retains this essence and character for years to come.
THE TRADITIONAL BREAKFAST FOOD
KAYA TOAST - SGD $3
3. 168 CMY Satay
I have a peanut allergy, so I am always wary of eating satay dishes, particularly if the peanut sauce hasn’t been adequately separated from the grilled meat. But I’m glad I decided to give this Singapore hawker dish a chance.
We visited 168 CMY Satay on a Friday late in the afternoon. By this point, there was no queue but the hawker stall had run out of chicken for the day. Requesting for the satay sauce to be served separately to the grilled meat, we ordered a serve of pork satay to share (minimum 10 skewers per order at SGD $0.60 each). As the satay is cooked to order, the meat arrives hot and tender. I don’t know what they use to season and marinate the meat but it is sweet and more-ish. Bevan described the peanut sauce as a bit chunky and rather mild but a solid accompaniment to his skewers. Two thumbs up for us and next time, we’ll each get our own serve!
SATAY CHICKEN, PORK OR MUTTON - SGD $6
4. Liao Fan Hawker Chan Chinatown
We’re all familiar with the underdog story. The protagonist comes from nothing and then is elevated to stardom on a fast trajectory after being recognised as the first hawker stall in the world to be awarded one Michelin Star. Chan Hon Meng probably never imagined that his humble soya sauce recipe would earn Michelin fame and the lauded hawker now has restaurants throughout Singapore and overseas. Thankfully, it seems that fame hasn’t gone to this man’s head and the focus remains on cooking and serving delicious Singapore street food.
We ate at the Chinatown restaurant and ordered the famous Soya Sauce Chicken Rice. The generous serve of chicken, braised in his signature soya sauce and accompanied with a bowl of rice, beans and cucumber slices remains a best-seller. And in staying true to his hawker roots, the prices have miraculously remained low (SGD$ 6 for our dish). The serving we ate tasted good, certainly satisfactory in serving size and flavour. We tend to hold a level of scepticism when dining at places that have reached a certain cult-level status so perhaps it was the environment which made the experience feel somewhat less authentic. Even so, the fact that we are able to eat Michelin star-rated food at this price is not a factor we will complain about, making this eatery an easy contender for the list of “cheap and good restaurants in Singapore”.
CHEAPEST MICHELIN STAR MEAL
SOYA CHICKEN AND RICE - SGD $6
5. Mr & Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata
Over in the Katong/Joo Chiat district, this hawker stall dishing up Indian fare appears somewhat of an oddity next to its contemporaries selling other South-East Asian cuisine. But the reputation of their crispy roti prata has spread far as diners usually have to wait at least 30 minutes before eating.
We rocked up at 12.30pm on a Saturday afternoon worried that we would miss out on crispy roti before closing time but during our visit to Singapore, we learned that these opening times are rather fluid than definitive for most hawker stalls. We ordered a cheesy roti and banana roti and drank iced coffee and iced lemon tea while we waited 45 minutes for our food. Lunchtime is always a good time to sit and people watch and we were not left short of entertainment during our wait. Each roti prata is SGD $3 and if you don’t order any other curries, it arrives with a mild curry dipping sauce. The roti is light, crispy and not oily or greasy. It’s a small portion so the perfect snack. If you’re wanting a more substantial meal, we’ve read good reviews of their mutton curry.
CHEESE ROTI PRATA - SGD $3 EACH
6. 328 Katong Laksa
Another food-success story from the Katong district of Singapore, flame-haired Lucy Lim showed that relentless hard work can pay off. Beating Gordon Ramsay in a Hawker Hero challenge helps with publicity too. But even before Gordon came along, Lim has ensured that her laksa is always made with ingredients following the strictest quality standards.
328 Katong Laksa contains thick rice vermicelli noodles, shrimp, cockles, curry leaves and coconut milk. Bevan took one for the team and ate this dish given his love for spicy food. Singapore food culture has certainly been elevated thanks to this creamy and spicy soup dish so for those who prefer their food with a bit of kick, laksa should go on your Singapore food itinerary.
LAKSA - SGD $5
7. Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle
This hawker stand was just around the corner from our Airbnb and the last place we ate. Our meal did not disappoint us so it was such a satisfying feeling to finish our Singapore food adventures on a high. No doubt, locals have tried to keep Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle a secret but with its shiny Michelin star, the foodies come sniffing. Attracting crowds for its signature bak chor mee (noodles with minced pork), we can attest that the 40 minutes wait was well worth it.
For SGD $8, the pork is presented in various ways in your bowl – meatballs, minced meat, stuffed in pocket dumplings and thinly sliced – and sits on a bed of noodles. One type of noodle is super thin, reminiscent of what you see in two-minute noodle packets. The other is thicker like ribbon, reminding me of Italian tagliatelle. The broth is silky smooth and leaves the perfect amount of tingly spice on the lips. Washed down with a bottle of Tiger beer, we can vouch that this Singapore hawker dish is not one to be missed.