What To Eat In Singapore: Lunch Under $5

By Sia Ling Xin,
April 13, 2014
Mee Soto Ayam
Courtesy LittleBellevueKitchen

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter.

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 second in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of local lunch choices for under $5. Visiting a new country can get a little daunting and tiring as you traipse up and down the sunny streets—still, look forward to lunch, for you will always be able to find something that will perk you right up.

Mee Soto Ayam
Pronounced: Mee So-toe Ah-yum (for the picky eater)
Cost: $4
This dish of yellow noodles in a mildly spiced chicken broth is the perfect choice for a fuss-free meal. Topped with shredded chicken (ayam means chicken in Malay), beansprouts, and fresh coriander, it tastes fresh and clean. The dish is also a major crowd pleaser—everyone from young kids to grandpa and grandma can appreciate this light and flavourful soup. Mee Soto Ayam is also a common breakfast dish, if you feel like loading up first thing in the morning.

Hainan Chicken Rice
Pronounced: Hai-Nan-Jee-Faan (for every single visitor)
Cost: $3.50
This is hand's down Singapore's most famous dish, no matter for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This dish of sliced poached chicken served atop fragrant white rice was even on the royal menu when Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton visited the city-state two years ago. Properly executed, the chicken meat should taste springy, and the skin smooth with a thin layer of gelatine that makes the dish all the more sinful. The star of the dish is always the rice—cooked with pandan leaves, garlic, and chicken broth, it's fragrant, silky, and delicious. It's the perfect meal that won't leave you breaking out in sweat on a hot day.

Minced meat noodle (for the pasta lovers)
Pronounced: Bak Chor Mee (Bahk-Chore-Mee)
Cost: $3.50
Skinny yellow noodles go surprisingly well with morsels of minced meat, silvers of pork liver, braised mushrooms, and the tastiest of all guilty indulgences: crispy pork lard. Usually served with a small bowl of fish ball soup and a leaf of raw green vegetable, this dish relies heavily on a well-made sauce. Various options include: dark (sweet black soya sauce), chilli or tomato sauce (depending on whether you want it spicy) or white (sesame oil). The first few are heavier on the palate; those who love aglio olio would love the last preparation method.

Nasi Briyani (for the adventurous spice lover)
Pronounced: Na-see Bree-yarn-nee
Cost: $4 to $6.50 depending on what you add
Extremely fragrant, highly exotic, and perfect for when you're in the mood for a hearty meal. Basmati rice is cooked with a variety of herbs such as cinnamon, saffron, and lemongrass, and the result is a plate of orange-and-yellow grains that look like the sunset and tastes just as glorious. Its slightly spicy tang goes great with a side order of fried chicken. If you're bent on having this, order a cold drink to bring down some of the heat.

Lontong (for the vegetarian)
Pronounced: Long-tong
Cost: $4.50
Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike should check out this traditional Malay dish. Rice is tightly wrapped in banana leaves, boiled, cut into small pieces, and drenched with a mild vegetable curry. The vegetables—usually carrots, beans, and potatoes—are cooked until extremely tender. Sometimes, hard-boiled eggs and bean curd are also added into the mix. Together, they form a whole meal in a bowl of delicious curried stew—especially perfect for rainy days.

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What To Eat In Singapore: Breakfast Under $5

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. 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 first in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of local breakfast choices for under $5. You won't be able to resist them even after stuffing your face with your hotel's breakfast buffet. Kaya Toast (for the sweet tooth)Pronounced: Kar-yah breadBudget: $1.50 to $5 depending the set you orderKaya is a jam made from coconut milk, pandan leaves, eggs, and sugar. It is sweet, sticky, and extremely fragrant. Kaya is typically served between two slices of toast, squashed in between with a slab of margarine. The margarine is not presented as a mere spread; it shares the centerstage with the kaya jam with its smooth richness balancing out the grainy texture of the kaya jam. They go surprisingly well with two soft-boiled eggs you can order from the same stall. Roti Prata (for the pancake lover)Pronounced: Row-tee Pra-taBudget: Around $1 per pieceA savoury pancake made of flour and vegetable oil, Roti Prata can be served with curry, sugar, or plain. Some may like the 'egg prata' which is thicker and chewier. Your best bet is to order one plain and another with an egg, and try them out over curry and sugar. The humble piece of fried dough also comes in spruced up variations: with cheese, chocolate, or even ice-cream, for the adventurous. Nasi Lemak (for the hungry ones)Pronounced: Na-see Ler-makBudget: Around $2 to $5 depending on the ingredients you addWhite rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves yields a fragrant, almost sweet rice. While the ingredients involved sound similar to the Kaya toast, the taste is much different. This is a traditionally Malay dish. Commonly served with fried ikan bilis (fried anchovies), a boiled egg, and sambal—a sauce made of shrimp paste and other spices—it makes a fortifying meal for any time of the day. Popular accompanists include fried chicken, fried fish, or stewed beef. Chwee Kueh (for those on a diet)Pronounced: Chee-wee-Kayh-ayeBudget: Around $1.50 for four piecesSteamed rice cakes that essentially taste like gruel in a viscous, jelly-like form, this simple dish can get strangely addictive if done right. The plain cakes are topped with preserved chopped radish and a chilli sauce that add an instant zing. Those who cannot take the heat can cautiously ask for chilli on the side. Chwee Kueh is best when served piping hot from the steamers. Vegetarian bee hoon (for the vegetarian)Pronounced: Zhai-mee-feenBudget: $1.50 to $4 depending on the ingredients you addWhen Singaporeans opt to go vegetarian due to religious festivities, the vegetarian beehoon stall sees a huge boom in business. Brown vermicelli lightly fried forms the body of the dish. Other items such as vegetarian char-siew (a sweet, red mock meat), stewed potatoes and peas, or vegetarian curry, are popular add-ons. There are countless vegetarian side dishes to accompany the vermicelli, so if you are unsure, ask the stall owner to choose two or three of the most popular for you.


Paradise on a Budget: The Gili Islands

Imagine a remote tropical island paradise with warm turquoise waters, white sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, and coral reefs teeming with marine life. Three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia, are a veritable lotusland for backpackers, beach lovers, and serenity seekers alike. While not easy to get to (the only way is by boat), once you arrive at the Gili Islands, there's nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenery. Of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most populated. Known as the "party island," it has a flourishing nightlife while simultaneously maintaining a laidback bohemian vibe. Closest to the mainland and the second smallest of the islands, Gili Air offers a mix of solitude and service. The smallest and most secluded of the islands, Gili Meno, is known as the "honeymoon island," attracting fewer tourists than the other two islands and thus making it the ideal place for those seeking peace and quiet. Originally a backpacker mecca, the Gili Islands (or simply the Gilis) are gaining notoriety with tourists of all budget levels, with increasingly more luxury options, particularly on Gili Trawangan. However, these remote islands are still an affordable destination, remaining a popular stop on the backpacker circuit. Limited budget? No problem. There's plenty to do (or not do) on the Gili Islands for little or no money. Do nothing at allIdyllic beaches, crystal clear water, and no motorized vehicles on any of the islands make it easy to do nothing at all. Relax on the beach, splash around in the water, or spend your days swaying in a hammock with a Bintang beer and a good book. Walk, bike, or cidomoAs motorized vehicles are not permitted on the island, the only ways to get around are by foot, bicycle, or cidomo (horse and cart). You can easily walk or bike around any of the islands in a few hours or less. However, it might take a little longer if you add beach time, swimming, and snorkeling stops to the agenda. Bicycles can be rented from numerous beachside kiosks and cost around Rp. 20,000 (only $2 USD!). If you're looking to do as little physical activity as possible, a cidomo tour around Gili Trawangan costs around Rp. 150,000 ($13 USD). Dive and snorkelSpend the day enjoying the Gilis' impressive marine life. Come face to face with green sea and hawksbill turtles, bumphead parrotfish, manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, and blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. With more than 20 different dive sites around the islands, there is something for every level of diver. For something different, muck dive and explore the islands' macro life, deep dive a Japanese wreck, or freedive without an oxygen tank. There are plenty of dive operators on the islands, and a price agreement across all the islands ensures you will get a fair price. All divers pay a one-off reef tax of Rp 50,000 (about $5) to the Gili Eco Trust, which works to protect the reefs. For those who want to remain closer to the surface, rent some snorkel gear and explore the coral reef straight off the beach. Masks and fins can be rented from numerous places along the beach for about Rp 30,000 ($3 USD). If you'd like to go further afar, contact one of the dive shops to arrange a boat trip to snorkeling spots nearby. The cost ranges from Rp 60,000 ($6 USD) to 150,000 ($13 USD). Be prepared to negotiate. Enjoy a magical sunsetAt the end of a long day enjoying tropical island scenery, head to the west side of your preferred island, pick a comfortable spot on the beach (in the sand or at the bar), sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting on the horizon. And after the sun goes down...For night revelers and merrymakers, the fun begins at sunset. Parties abound, especially on Gili Trawangan. After watching a glorious sunset, head to one of the many beachfront bars playing chilled-out live or electronic music. As the night progresses, let your ear guide you to the action. Dance under the stars at Surf Bar's monthly Full Moon parties. Or, if you're lucky, you might even catch a world-renowned DJ playing a free set at one of the island's many venues. And don't worry, it's always free to enter. This article was written by Marianne Comilang, an adventurer filled with wanderlust. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she traverses across continents and can proudly say she has set foot on every one (except Antarctica). If she isn't writing, editing, and strategizing to make others look good, she is probably teaching yoga or posting on her blog This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in providing off-the-beaten-path travel tours to Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia.


What's Your Dream Trip?

We've got dream trips on the brain—I realized my dream of visiting Paris last year when I went on Contiki's London & Paris Plus Paris Extension tour, and will finally realize my dream of seeing Machu Picchu when I go on the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures in a few weeks. Dream trips were also the theme for our March/April digital issue of Budget Travel magazine (now available on, in the Apple App Store, on Google Play, and for Nook and Kindle). To get into the spirit of things, we asked several of our staff members to share their dream trips—here's what they said: "My husband and I honeymooned in Turkey. I dream of going back to take the blue cruise through the Mediterranean Sea." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "Rafting through the Grand Canyon." —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Hot air balloon ride through Cappadocia, Turkey!" —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "My dream trip would be a week on a private island!" —Ruthie Kaposi, Digital Project Manager "An epic round-the-world adventure where I'd start with a road trip from NY to CA, then fly to Buenos Aires, Sydney, Cape Town, Dubai, and end in Paris, where I'd stay." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "Someplace tropical and mountainous, where you can explore the terrain unguided, like Hawaii. I like to choose my own adventure!" —Chad Harter, Lead Developer "I've always wanted to go to Egypt, take a Nile cruise, and fully immerse myself in the history and culture!" —Jennifer O'Brien, Associate Account Manager "In honor of our special wedding anniversary, my mind and heart are in full dream mode for a romantic and extended Mediterranean cruise." —Maureen Kelley Stewart, Advertising Account Manager "To eat my way through Italy." —Dustin Gontarski, Compass Marketing Now it's your turn: we want to know what your dream trip is! Have you already done it or is it an epic adventure you've been planning and thinking about ever since you were a kid? Tell us all about it!


How to do Singapore on a Budget

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. Singapore is known to be tiny, modern, and insanely expensive—especially next to her Southeast Asian counterparts. While $50 USD is more than enough for travellers to live like a prince in nearby countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, the same amount is barely enough for a hotel room in Singapore. Still, with street food even Gordon Ramsay raved about, impeccably safe streets, and a location that makes it ideal as a stopover hub, there's no reason to give this city-state a miss. Yes, it is possible for those travelling on a budget to enjoy Singapore, just as the locals do. Here's what you need to know. Get better rates with an ez-link cardThe ez-link (easy-link) card is a type of stored value card for public transit use, similar to the Oyster card in London. The cards have a first-time cost of $12, of which $7 can be used to pay for public transport, and $5 is non-refundable. Having an ez-link card eliminates the tiresome process of digging for enough change for a bus ticket or trying to calculate how much each train journey costs as you would when buying per-trip tickets. Most importantly, it offers better rates than cash payment, so the non-refundable $5 is easily set off. At the end of the day, you save yourself the hassle of figuring out transport costs, and you get a souvenir card that truly represents life in Singapore! Enjoy hawker foodWhen choosing to dine in a coffee shop or a hawker centre, go where the locals go. There are many open-air establishments that are coffee shop style, but one look at the clientele—chockfull of foreigners with garish decorations—and you know it is a tourist trap. A meal in a hawker centre—inclusive of main, drink, and dessert—should always give you change back from $10. The eateries along the Chinatown shopping alley may seem authentic, but you will be hard pressed to find locals dining there. Makansutra Gluttons Bay offers great views and is near the Esplanade theatres, but the dishes there tend to be pricier as well. Instead, head to places where you see locals congregating. Chinatown Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, or any neighbourhood hawker centre will do nicely. Come during a festive public holidayDuring festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Thaipusam, there is so much more to see, hear, and eat. During Chinese New Year, for example, dancers and celebrities put up free performances for the public in areas like Chinatown. Street vendors also offer free samples of their festive goodies in a bid to rev sales up. It is a good chance to see Singapore is a less sterile, worker-bee state, as well as capitalize on all the free food and performances going around. Free museum daysMuseums under the National Heritage Board have free admission on public holidays, which makes even more sense to plan visits around festive periods. Alternatively, plan your museum visit around the periods of free or discounted admission to save money. Many museums are located in convenient areas that travellers would be probably passing by when sightseeing, such as the National Museum of Singapore, which is within walking distance from the popular Orchard Road/Dhoby Ghaut shopping stretch. In this case, why not just pop by for a quick and free look? Choose your hotel wiselyThere is no need to splurge and spend $300 a night on a fancy hotel, even though some offer incredible views and rooms. Room standards in Singapore are decent, so even a budget hotel or hostel is safe and clean. Opt for hotels in Little India, Tanjong Pajar, or Chinatown—the locations are easily accessible, there are a wide range of prices and room types to choose from, and it is fun checking out the nightlife in these areas. If you do not want to miss out on the island fun Sentosa can offer, just make a day trip there after stocking up on food and drink from nearby shopping mall Vivocity. Hotel and food prices on the upscale island can burn a hole in any backpacker's worn pocket. A day in Singapore is not going to come as cheap as a day in a neighbouring country, but it is not going to be exorbitant either. There are bargains and great discounts to be had here and they are not hard to find—simply do as the locals do, and go where the locals go. Those who plan to spend their money wisely will wonder why anyone ever complained that the Lion City is expensive when it has so much to offer on the cheap.