The ‘Lion City’ of Singapore is one of the most modern cities in Asia and is famous for being an expensive city to live in. Therefore, most travelers assume that Singapore is an expensive tourist spot. This is true if you compare it to most of the surrounding Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam… However, daily necessities such as food are actually very affordable – especially if you know where to go!
If you’re wanting to get the most out of the rich Singapore food scene, discover must-try Singaporean dishes and eat at the best hawker centers in the city, then read on! This article was written by Singaporean local, Rax Suen, who reveals all his Singaporean food secrets!
Read more: (opens in new tab)
Singapore is a foodie’s paradise. Its prominent international influence combined with a rich multiracial society has resulted in a wide range of cuisines shaped by different cultures.
Most travelers stop in Singapore for just a few days because of the size and the perceived cost of traveling there. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide enough time to try all of the diverse and tasty dishes that Singapore has to offer.
Where To Find Cheap Food in Singapore:
Two generic rules apply when looking for cheap food in Singapore.
- Food in residential neighborhoods tends to be cheaper than the food in central or business districts (and obviously tourist hotspots).
- Food in buildings without aircon is generally cheaper. This means you can find lower prices in hawker centers than air-conditioned food courts in shopping malls.
Hawker Centres are the go-to food haunts for locals. Prices are affordable, and there is a wide selection of stalls to choose from. Most of the time, these stalls also sell a plethora of other vegetarian dishes whereby you can order a plate of rice and pick out food that you like to accompany it.
Basically, the beauty of the hawker center is that everyone can get whatever they like and still eat together. If you are in a group, you can even buy multiple dishes and share them. Great for budget-conscious travelers, great for your tastebuds, and great for bonding with others.
Another unexpected place to find cheap food is actually in the metro stations. A few years ago, the city upgraded the ground level of many metro stations to incorporate shops and extra facilities. Most of the time, you can find the food stalls here selling convenient and easy-to-go food (think 7/11). Favorite Singaporean dishes chicken rice and carrot cake can sometimes be found here at budget prices.
All in all, the food in Singapore is a very local affair and you’ll really want to sink your teeth into as much of the tasty stuff on offer as you possibly can! If you’re planning to get a taste of Singaporean food on your trip, here are some cheap and filling dishes that you will want to make note of…
10 Must-Try Dishes in Singapore!
1. Chicken rice
Chicken rice is a common staple dish in Singapore, and you can be sure to find it in almost every hawker center or food court. There is normally at least one stall selling this dish.
You usually get a choice between steamed white chicken or roast chicken and both are awesome, depending on your preference. The succulent meat is served on steamy, fragrant white rice, which is sometimes cooked with chicken broth, giving it an enhanced taste.
Most chicken rice stalls also have very good garlic chili sauce and dark soy sauce on offer. These are the most common condiments that go with the dish. Some stalls even serve the chicken rice with a bowl of simple soup.
Singapore’s famous chicken rice dish can be considered a safe bet. You’ll never go too wrong with it!
2. Roti Prata
When considering Indian food, Roti Prata must be one of the first, if not the first, to spring to mind. It is a popular meal choice for both breakfast and supper, but there is no bad time to eat Roti Prata. Some also have it for lunch or even as a snack.
These crispy ’pancakes’ are made with a skillful flipping technique and are paired with yummy curry to make a lip-smacking meal. There is no standard type of curry required and different flavors are available for selection, often including veggie-based ones, making this a great option for vegetarians. However, always check with the stall owner before ordering to be safe.
Roti Prata also comes in different flavors. Plain or “kosong” is the default. You will always find at least one egg option. And there can be more fancy versions like egg and cheese, onions, or even including chocolate. You can also enjoy this crispy delight with just plain sugar.
3. Nasi Lemak
Moving on to Malay cuisine now, Nasi Lemak is well-loved by locals. It is rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves, paired with roasted peanuts, ikan bilis (crispy anchovies), cucumbers, and usually fried chicken wings or fish.
It also comes with the signature sambal chili that gives it all a kick. You should know by now that Singaporeans do love a good chili sauce!
Some stalls offer customization of side dishes with things like luncheon meat (aka spam) and various other meats that they may have available.
4. Vegetarian BeeHoon
Not forgetting our vegetarian friends, the vegetarian bee hoon is a very fulfilling and economical meal made out of vermicelli noodles, a bunch of vegetables, and meat alternatives.
It is usually loaded with four or five types of vegetables and mock meats meant to resemble duck or pork. But don’t worry, these are vegetarian.
In Mandarin, it is called 斋米粉(zai mi fen), and the word 斋 usually refers to vegetarian food.
Most of the time, these stalls also sell a plethora of other vegetarian dishes whereby you can order a plate of rice and pick out food that you like to accompany it.
5. Fried dough stick and soybean milk
This is a very famous pairing, so much so, that there’s even a song all about soybean milk and fried breadsticks being the perfect match. It is called 豆浆油条 and is by the famous Singaporean Mandopop singer JJ Lin.
Fried dough sticks and soybean milk make for the perfect breakfast. Soybean milk is easy to find from the drink stalls at hawker centers. You will normally see a whole tub of it at the front of the stall if it is something that they offer.
Most stalls that sell soybean milk will also sell a black grass jelly drink. You can order each drink separately, or you can follow the trend and mix both together.
Fried dough sticks are not quite as easy to find. These are literally sticks of dough deep-fried in oil and blown up into a fat, twin-stick of tasty goodness. You tear them into two pieces and dip them into soybean milk. This is a good food to share.
Dough sticks are found on the fried food stall if there is one. This stall also sells all kinds of deep-fried delights that are great for breakfast with soybean milk or a grass jelly drink. The grass jelly drink is said to relieve the heaviness that fried food brings with it.
6. Carrot cake
No, I’m not referring to the traditional cake that you find in cafes. Although it has cake in the name, it isn’t a cake as you imagine.
This carrot cake is actually made out of rice flour and fried with garlic, egg, and preserved radish. l It is eaten as a fulfilling meal, rather than a dessert.
Carrot cakes are available in white and black. If you buy a black one, the chef has fried it with sweet soy sauce, making the dish sweeter than its white counterpart.
Satay is Singapore’s version of grilled meat on sticks. It is extremely popular among locals and makes for a great appetizer. The portion per stick is not huge, which means you can easily pop 10 at a time. Beware because this can be one of those “once you pop, you can’t stop” things.
There are different meats available, but the most commonly used are chicken, beef, and mutton. Satay is best enjoyed with a fragrant peanut sauce that really brings out the flavor of the meat. Make sure to ask for the sauce unless you are traveling Southeast Asia with a nut allergy!
For lovers of spicy food, laksa is the dish to try. You will find different styles of laksa as you travel across Southeast Asia, and there’s always a debate to be had on where you can find the best.
Laksa is a Peranakan style of wheat noodles with a fragrant, spicy soup base. The soup is made from coconut milk, shrimp paste, and a whole bunch of spices, including lemongrass and turmeric. It is often served with prawns, fishcakes, and taupok (dried tofu), amongst other ingredients.
Some stores specialize in laksa, and interestingly, the dish is traditionally served with a spoon. This is rare in Singapore because noodle dishes are typically consumed using chopsticks.
9. Char kway teow
This is a Chinese-inspired dish that is commonly eaten as a filling breakfast in Singapore, originally created to feed laborers who needed a lot of energy (in the form of fat) for their hard workday. Apparently, Anthony Bourdain is a big fan of this meal, although, due to its high content of saturated fat, he does say it’s “literally one of the unhealthiest breakfasts you can have.” (Featured in Parts Unknown, Singapore episode – definitely worth a watch!)
Char kway teow is made with flat rice noodles, blood cockles, prawns, and sometimes Chinese sausage or crispy pork fat, all stir-fried together in pork lard at a sizzlingly high heat with soy sauce, chili paste, garlic and topped with Chinese chives and bean sprouts. Unhealthy – yes. Delicious – yes! Must-try – definitely!
10. Chili Crab
We have saved the most famous until last! Internationally, chili crab might be one of the most well-known Singaporean dishes. In fact, it was listed at number 35 in the World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods by CNN Go and is often promoted as one of the national dishes by the Singaporean Tourist Board.
The dish is usually made with mud crab that has been stir-fried in a tomato-chilli sauce that is both sweet and spicy. It’s definitely one of the messiest dishes to eat in Singapore and unfortunately, not the cheapest, so you might want to treat yourself to the dish just once during your time in the city.
Apparently, the dish dates back to 1956 when local food vendor Cher Yam Tian and her husband Lim Choo Ngee started selling stir-fried crabs from their food stall. The dish became so popular that they opened a restaurant in 1962 called Palm Beach Seafood and the rest is history.
Top Places to Eat in Singapore
- Lau Pa Sat: Also referred to as Telok Ayer Market, this food market is located in a building that dates back to the 19th century! Situated in the Downtown Core of Singapore. If you visit Lau Pa Sat, don’t miss the incredible satay sticks which many claim are the best in the city.
- Burnt Ends Restaurant: Located in Chinatown, this barbecue restaurant is commonly touted to be one of the best high-end restaurants in the whole of Asia. It is so highly acclaimed that it has even earned itself a Michelin Star and has a spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list! If you’re a meat-eater and your budget will stretch, you won’t want to miss this place!
- Old Airport Road: This hawker center is hugely popular with locals and serves some outstanding dishes for a steal of a price! All the food is pretty incredible and there is something for everyone from stir-fries, curries and noodle soups. We recommend checking out the mouthwatering Char Siu.
- Singapore Zam Zam: Singapore Zam Zam was first opened in 1908, making it a long-standing choice for locals craving Indian cuisine. Do not miss the Murtabak which is a type of stuffed pan-fried bread.
- Newton Food Center: Located in Newton Singapore, this popular hawker center was marketed by the Tourism Board in Singapore as a tourist attraction. The campaign painted the food center as a great place to sample authentic Singaporean cuisine, something our Facebook community knows to be true!
Singaporean Food: Eat Local!
These dishes and snacks just scratch the surface of the Singaporean food scene. Although Singapore is known for being an expensive place, you can often find these popular local dishes across the city for an affordable price.
There is nothing better than filling your stomach and experiencing the culture at the same time without breaking the bank. If you only have limited time in Singapore, remember not to waste the opportunity munching down on random Western food. Try the local dishes!
Rax Suen | NomadsUnveiled | ChatwithNomads
Rax is the creator behind nomadsunveiled, a travel and remote work blog. He is passionate about perspectives and hosts the travel podcast ChatwithNomads to see the world from the eyes of other globetrotters and digital nomads. Rax has been traveling for more than a decade and shares his experiences to lead a remote life.
South East Asia Backpacker Newsletter
Keep up to date with the latest travel news. Be the first on the plane when travel opens up.