It is undeniable that Singapore is known for great food. For all the talk about how the city-state is sterile, expensive, and without flavour, naysayers have to concede that this tiny Southeast Asian country, known as the Little Red Dot for its placing on the world map, is chockfull of strange and wonderful tastes. The dishes here may not be as famous as Thai food and not as intricate as Japanese cuisine, but they pack a certain punch those who have tried them won't forget in a hurry. The third in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of popular tea-time snacks under $3. If traipsing around under the hot sun is making you crave an afternoon pick-me-up, go ahead and order up one of these goodies, available at most hawker centers or coffee shops.
Epok epok (for the sinful eater)
Pronounced: ae-poke ae-poke
Budget: $0.70 to $1.50
Commonly known as a curry puff, this traditional Malay snack is spicy, heaty, and addictive. Some call it the Asian version of a Calzone. Curried potatoes, onions, chopped chilli, hard boiled eggs, and chicken are enclosed within a deep-fried pastry of made of flour, salt, and butter. The result is a crispy, greasy, and extremely satisfying snack that even young kids (with a taste for spice and adventure) love. A popular variation is the sardine puff, where canned sardines are used instead of chicken. Most stalls sell both types. To differentiate, look out for a coloured dot on the pastry—red indicates curry and green, sardine.
Putu Mayam (for those who like it sweet)
Pronounced: Poo-too Mai-yum
Budget: $1.50 to $2.50
Those with an affinity for clean, simple foods will enjoy this. Rice flour mixed with coconut milk is made into vermicelli-like noodles that are steamed with pandan leaves for additional aroma. It is then served in palm-sized portions, with freshly grated coconut and date palm sugar. The plain taste of the steamed flour is a perfect accompaniment to the crunchy coconut and sugar. The sweetness level can be personalized as the coconut and sugar are served separately from the main item. It is a simple dish that everyone from the young to the old can enjoy.
Chee Cheong Fan (for those who love variety)
Pronounced: Chee Chi-ong Fun
Budget: $1 to $1.60
There are endless variations of this dimsum snack, but the basic version is made of corn, tapioca, and rice flour. These flours are steamed, rolled into thin tubes, and have a thick, sweet gravy poured over it. Some places also serve it with prawns, char-siew (a sweet barbequed meat), scallions, fried onions, sesame oil and chilli sauce. It is a very light, easy-going dish that makes a great breakfast item, midday munchie, or late night summer snack. If you find a stall that serves it with different toppings, try all of them, for they taste very different and you may feel neutral about one but love another.
Steamed bun (for vegetarians and more)
Budget: $0.80 to $1.80
Same as with the Chee Cheong Fan, there are many types of steamed buns. The usual suspects: char siew bao (a sweet, charred pork filling), da bao (which means big bun, and filled with pork, cabbage, egg, scallions), lian rong bao (a sweet lotus paste), dou sha bao (red bean paste, similar to the Japanese azuki bean but in a jam form). Vegetarians can ask for the zhai-bao, usually filled with a delicious mish-mash of local vegetables cooked to a stew-like consistency. Depending on if you want a sweet or savoury snack, just a tiny bite (usually the sweet buns are smaller) or have a rip-roaring appetite (go for the big bun), a well-stocked bao stall will be able to cater to your every whim.
Mi Chaim Kueh (for the pancake lovers)
Pronounced: Me Jee-arm Ku-ae or mee-ann jee-ann kow
Budget: $1 to $2.50
Imagine a super-thick and gummy pancake, filled with crunchy crushed peanuts and topped with another layer of the uber-chewy pancake—that's what this snack is like. Instead of just a limp, flour-y mix, the pancake is moist and slightly yeasty. A well-made pancake has lots of little holes for air, and a crispy, slightly charred exterior. Insist that yours is made fresh upon order, or run the risk of it tasting flat and cardboard-like. Nowadays, new-fangled flavours like chocolate, blueberry and kaya (coconut jam) are available, but always try the original crushed peanut filling first.