“So, where do you guys go to eat?” I asked my good friend, Z, who works as a chef in the City Hall area.
My occasional Google searches for cheap food in the area either turned out the so-called budget meals in the malls, which usually cost about $10 to $15 before GST. Either that or places with questionable food quality that weren’t that wallet-friendly anyway.
What better way to find out than to ask someone — and a chef at that — who works in the area and has to eat there, day in and day out, six times a week.
Before he could answer, I wondered aloud: “Got cheap food meh?”
“$5 and below that kind?”
“Yes,” he said. “Meet me for lunch and I’ll show you where I eat.”
And that’s how this article came into being.
First stop: Mr Chicken Chop @ Koufu SMU
I meet Z at his workplace and we make the five-minute trek (because the sun is blazing hot) to Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Li Ka Shing Library Building. His hungry colleague has come along and the two ravenous men are telling me about this Western food stall (Mr. Chicken Chop) that allows them to carbo-load for $5 or less.
Western food below $5? Super-filling? In a prime area like this? You’ve got to be kidding me. Even the coffee shop below my HDB flat tries to sell me chicken chop at $5.50 or even $6.
We take the escalator down into the belly of SMU and step into the air-conditioned comfort of Koufu.
It’s 3 pm. The food court is bustling with life and there are queues at certain stalls, including the one that Z is pointing to.
“That’s the Western food stall we always eat at. You can pick two sides; for us, we usually choose spaghetti and fries, mashed potato and fries, or mashed potato and spaghetti. We don’t recommend the coleslaw.”
I order the fish and chips with mashed potato and coleslaw anyway ($4.50).
True enough, the coleslaw is quite dry and tasteless, in comparison to the smooth mashed potato with gravy. My fish is crisp and perfectly fried, a generous helping. Z gives me a taste of his spaghetti and I immediately feel like a kid again, thanks to the sweet tomato-y sauce on it. His chicken cutlet is big and juicy as well; and he’s upgraded his fries to cheese fries, just 50 cents more.
I’m so full after the meal that I have to heave myself off the plastic chair and tell Z that I can only “eat with my eyes” at his other recommendations. The guys, too, are stuffed but look very satisfied. They spend the whole day on their feet preparing food and cooking for diners, so I think they deserve a good meal.
But the most awesome thing about this stall? Everyone, including members of the public, enjoys student price. If you are really on a shoestring budget, the cheapest items on the menu are a helping of a la carte cheese fries at $2, followed by a plate of chicken Bolognese spaghetti at $3.
Mr Chicken Chop @ Koufu SMU
70 Stamford Road, #B1-26/28, Li Ka Shing Library Building
Mon to Fri 10.30am to 7pm
Second stop: Chang Cheng Mee Wah @ Waterloo Street
From one food court chain to a coffee shop chain.
Since we are at SMU, it’s just a relatively short walk to Chang Cheng Mee Wah Coffeeshop at Waterloo Street, near Bras Basah MRT.
Behold, its signature economy mixed rice stall that, as Chang Cheng Group proclaims on its website, numbers 116 islandwide.
The usual combinations are displayed on the signboard: 1 Meat 2 Veg from $3.50, 2 Meat 1 Veg from $4, and even 2 Veg 1 Seafood from $4.20. Not too shabby. Who knew you could eat cai png here for below $5?
Although it’s become a common sight in many coffee shops, the Group says it uses less salt in its dishes, which is healthier.
Yup, this stall has all the bells and whistles of a well-equipped cai png stall: an array of colourful dishes, a handful of staff working on preparations for the dinner crowd, and even favourites like sweet & sour pork, porridge and even curry chicken on the menu.
I also note that patrons are mostly chowing on fare from Leong Yeow, which shouts on its signboard: Famous Waterloo St. Hainanese Chicken Rice Branch.
Do you eat this? I ask Z, but he isn’t a big fan of chicken rice. “It’s supposedly famous,” he shrugs.
Maybe I will try this the next time I’m here.
Chang Cheng Chinese Vegetables Rice @ Chang Cheng Mee Wah Coffeeshop @ Waterloo Street
Stall no. 9, 261 Waterloo Street #01-29
Daily 10.15am to 9pm
Third stop: Eleven Finger (Eu Kee) Scissors Curry Rice
“Aaaaaaunnnnntieee!” Z calls out eagerly to the stallholder, who breaks out in a smile. “My friend is here to take photos,” he tells her and she nods, smiling like it’s a normal occurrence but without airs. And it’s true, for her stall is featured on quite a few famous blogs.
I’ve actually eaten here on a few occasions with Z, who really loves this stall. It’s much better than the one at Beach Road he says, as that one is now manned by foreigners and the standard has fallen.
With the copious amounts of curry the kindly auntie heaps onto the plate, the yellow platter just looks like a mess, although a delicious one at that.
Z’s favourite combo is called “Lao Kuan” or “old pattern” in Chinese. It consists of a fried egg, pork belly, pork cutlet and stewed cabbage, for just $4.50. And he loves it because it is both very satisfying, with the slightly spicy curry, the homely old-school flavour, the nice auntie and the double portion of meat. In fact, he will eat here every day if he could.
Another combo is called “Da Si Xi” or “big four happiness” in Chinese. Instead of the fried egg, this is replaced with a chicken wing, yet another portion of meat. And the platter only costs $5.
If you plan to DIY, other dishes available include ngor hiang and tau pok.
Actually, I can’t eat a full portion here. Usually, I will order “very very very little rice” and it’s just right for me. Just behind Bugis+ as well, so you can duck in later for the air-conditioning.
This coffee shop also houses other tasty eats, such as New Rong Liang Ge Cantonese Roast Duck Double Boiled Soup, which always sees long queues.
Eleven Finger (Eu Kee) Scissors Curry Rice
Block 269B Queen Street #01-235
Daily 11am to 7pm (or until sold out)
Stall might be closed if owners go on holiday or take a break, look out for the white sign on the storefront
Fourth stop: Supreme Pork Chop Rice
I first ate here when I was an intern over 10 years ago, and Z first dined at this stall when he was only in secondary school. This was when Supreme Pork Chop Rice was located at Shaw Towers’ old food court, before it moved a few times around the area, before settling at its current location at Bulkhaul House.
Actually, I didn’t know the building’s name until I started writing this article. I only knew it as the corner building with Supreme Pork Chop Rice’s eye-catching red signboard and stairs that would lead me to the haven of cheap and good food.
Z eats here at least once every fortnight as the prices are still well within budget.
The signature pork chop rice/chicken cutlet rice costs just $4.30 and is served with a side of colourful carrot-pea-corn or pickled vegetables. There are a variety of other dishes with varying carb options (mantou, spaghetti, chips and fried rice).
On the way, I also spotted the famous YY Kafei Dian, but Z says he ate there once with colleagues and they paid about $8 per person. Shaking his head, he says: “Expensive.”
Supreme Pork Chop Rice
#B1-01 Bulkhaul House, 67 Beach Road
Mon to Sat 8am to 8.15pm closed on public holidays
Fifth stop: Minced Meat Noodle @ Coffee Express 2000 (Bras Basah Complex)
It constantly amazes me that this stall is always open so early. Z says that he sometimes eats this for breakfast, for he really enjoys his bak chor mee (from $3.80).
I’ve tried it before and it is a very decent, albeit oily, a bowl of noodles. The sauce is slightly sweet and thick, reminiscent of a shallot chutney, and very fragrant.
Other items on the menu include fishball noodles (from $3.80), Teochew dumpling noodle (from $4.30) and the pricier mini wok noodle (from $5).
The nondescript stall may sound like a given in hawker centres and markets, but hey, this is City Hall we are talking about here.
Minced Meat Noodle @ Coffee Express 2000 (Bras Basah Complex)
231 Bain Street, #01-79 Bras Basah Complex
Daily 7am+ to 8pm+
Read also: 52 Ways to Save Money in Singapore
Last stop: Tian Xin Wanton Noodle
Another of Z’s favourite stalls (you can tell he likes noodles and meat) is Tian Xin for its wanton mee and platter of deep-fried wanton.
As expected, he and the auntie manning the stall are on friendly terms.
Char siew wanton mee is priced from $4, same goes for the fishball noodles, dumpling noodles, laksa, Ipoh horfun, minced meat noodle, shredded chicken mushroom with macaroni and lor mee. There are also porridge options from $3, dumpling soup and fried goodies. A platter of 25 pieces of fried wanton costs $5, and he usually orders this to share with his colleagues.
Do note that Tian Xin will soon be shifting from its current location (last day 15 Sept 2018) and will open at The Adelphi #02-07 on 15 October 2018.
There are other tasty options to be had at The Adelphi too, such as Tony Cafe, which is known for its fried chicken wings… but somehow Z says nothing appeals to him at The Adelphi and he usually eats up eating elsewhere.
Fussy eater, this chef. But it’s good for people like me, who want something cheap yet palatable in this part of Singapore.
Tian Xin Wanton Noodle
Last day: 15 Sept 2018 @ Sidewalk Food, Excelsior Shopping Centre
5 Coleman Street
Daily 9am to 9pm
Reopening: From 15 Oct 2018 @ The Adelphi
1 Coleman Street
Likely Mon to Sat 9am to 8pm, and maybe Sunday too, says the stall owner