Got money to burn? Consider these ridiculously overpriced versions of local Singaporean food. Or not.
When it comes to local food, Singaporeans are incredibly lucky. Despite constant price hikes, we still eat well for a low price. The friendly neighbourhood coffee shop or mall food court is always available.
But don’t be too quick to presume that these places are all cheap. After trawling the news, we’ve uncovered some spectacular examples of expensive Singaporean food:
1. Sin Huat Eating House
Sin Huat Eating House, located at 659 Geylang Road, has two claims to fame. The first is that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has endorsed the place. The second is Singapore’s notorious “food Nazi”, Chef Danny Lee.
Chef Lee is no stranger to controversy. From ratings websites like Hungry Go Where to private food blogs, he’s famous for barking orders at customers, and being blunt. He came into the spotlight as the subject of a Yahoo article.
One of the diners, a Ms. Gelene Ong, complained that she and her family of six were charged S$421 for dinner. The breakdown was:
- Crab Bee Hoon (S$130)
- Scallops (S$50)
- Gong Gong, or Dog Conch (S$50)
- Prawns (S$77)
- Frog Legs (S$78)
- Vegetables ($12)
Other costs came from drinks, peanuts, and wet towels. Note that, while crab bee hoon is one of the more expensive local dishes, the typical price is about S$50 to S$70.
Ms. Ong also complained they were pushed to order Cheng Yu (Parrot Fish), although they declined. The price for the Cheng Yu would have been around S$120 per kilo.
Ms. Ong added that there was no menu. However, Chef Lee told reporters that there was no need for one as his customers were regulars and knew the prices. He also would not have changed the prices had he been asked for a menu.
Food blogger Gastronaut, who brought an eight person party, did not get away unscathed either (the bill came to S$649). Trip Advisor reviewers rage about the price (giving Sin Huat one star) while Hungry Go Where gives two stars and a price estimate of S$86 per head.
Mind you, all this is in a somewhat run-down coffee shop, so don’t imagine the five-star prices come with a five-star ambiance.
Nonetheless, Sin Huat Eating House continues to do a brisk business. Most people seem to agree that the food is good, despite the nearly non-existent service and crazy prices. Maybe it’s proof that if you’re good at your job, nothing else matters – and Chef Lee is very good.
2. The Infamous Sungei Kadut Zi Char
We don’t have the address for this one, as the Straits Times’ SoShiok report was nice enough to obscure the name. However, we do know for a fact it’s in the Sungei Kadut industrial zone, in Woodlands. The restaurant made the news in December last year when a customer paid S$731.30 for a meal for 20.
Granted, 20 people is a lot, but we’d point out that’s still about S$36.50 per head. Most of us start complaining when our coffee shop meals break the S$3 mark. Nor is the food on Chef Lee’s crab bee hoon level; this is just a typical zi char (mixed items) eatery.
The clincher, however, was the seafood hor fun. In most places, S$7 for hor fun is about the limit of acceptability. The Sungei Kadui zi char stall charged S$97 for two plates (S$48.50 per plate). The bill was photographed and shown in the report, where it was described as “special” hor fun.
According to the eatery, the special hor fun was more expensive because it used premium ingredients like scallops and abalone. The store was also quick to point out the menu has since changed, and a new chef has taken over. We assume the old one has now retired on his yacht.
3. Newton Circus
Newton Circus earned a reputation for being full-blown tourist trap 7 years ago. In March 2009, American visitor Mr. Mike Rigby, his wife, and four friends were charged around S$500 for dinner.The offending stall, No.43, charged them S$169 for four crabs, S$19 for half a chicken, and S$15 for baby squid.
The main cost came from eight tiger prawns. Now these are expensive, at around S$6 per 100 grams. But the weight of eight tiger prawns would usually come to just S$52. The tourists were charged over S$200.
The hawker later had his license suspended for overcharging. However, Newton’s high prices had now been exposed.
In June this year, the Straits Times reported that prices in Newton Circus continue to be significantly higher compared to other coffee shops. There were online complaints about a stall selling prata kosong (plain prata) at S$2.50 per piece, whereas the usual going rate is about S$1.40 to S$1.80.
A follow-up survey showed that seven stalls in Newton Circus charged prices that were beyond the usual rates. Overpriced foods here include chicken rice at S$4 to S$5 (usually S$3), chicken briyani at S$5.90 to S$7 (usually S$5), and fishball noodles at S$4 to S$4.50 (usually S$3).
While Newton is nowhere near as bad as seven years ago, it’s still heavy on the wallet. Maybe it’s the big expatriate crowd that allows it to happen.
4. Chong Pang Nasi Lemak Stall
Okay, this one is technically in a food court, but Nasi Lemak is still a coffee shop food.
Chong Pang Nasi Lemak is the name of a stall at VivoCity Food Republic. It drew attention in February this year when Ms. Adeline Sze alleged she had been charged S$20.40 for a plate of economy rice.
The contents of the meal? One chicken wing, one ngoh hiang (or maybe a spring roll), a steamed egg, two vegetables, and some other sort of meat. In most cases, a S$6 plate of economy rice can get you all that (and some might complain about the price even then). This one was set to be a record-breaker.
A reporter from The Online Citizen did a bit of digging however, and revealed the dish was from Chong Pang Nasi Lemak. It was not an economy rice stall. It wasn’t an “economy” anything, given the price. The reporter ordered a meal with one chicken wing, two types of vegetables, steamed egg, and rice. The price was S$13.
Other websites like Stomp show complaints going back to 2008. Various forums and threads mention the stall, with the most common complaint being that a three dish meal (chicken, vegetable, and egg with rice) was at least S$9. Judging by recent reports, it would seem they’ve responded to complaints by raising the prices even more.
The next time you’re in VivoCity and have S$13 to S$20 to burn, consider a cafe instead. You’ll probably get more food, and even save a bit of money with rebates from a dining credit card.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.