Picturebook/Long Read: Meals in Singapore

Picturebook AND Long Read, because I’m a pedantic writer and I hate you all[1]. Okay, quick updates with my personal lifegoings:
– I have free time. A stupid amount of free time, because it’s the break week before finals (Reading Week), then I’ll have one final next week and two the week after. I thought I liked the quarter system at UCI better than the semester system here until now.
– There’s still stuff on my to-do list (find an honors thesis research adviser for next quarter, plan my schedule for next quarter, get caught up in Python so I don’t get schooled when I take the last course of an introductory programming series for my minor next quarter after a few months’ break from learning to code), but at least I’ve finished some stuff already (find housing for next quarter, calculate and update my parents on my budget for trips and this semester’s expenditures). Since I’m a 4th-year, I’m a little anxious about returning home and having to deal with my impending graduation/gap-year planning.

Enough about me–it’s time to talk about meals I’ve had here, because three posts about food culture in Singapore already isn’t enough. So as a primer, Singapore has maybe a dozen or so dishes that could be considered famously Singaporean, some of which I’ll show here and some of which’ll just be mentioned. To summarize Singaporean cuisine, even though I’d be painting with a broad brush here: it’s not very oily, it’s very saucy and soupy, it welcomes but doesn’t overly embrace spices and spiciness, and it borrows a hella lot from other cultures, especially Peranakan (Chinese-Malaysian-Indonesian hybrid) cuisine. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Peranakan cuisine is Singaporean cuisine.

Prices are listed, but as an overview, SGD$1.00 = USD$0.80. So eating out at NUS canteens (what cafeterias are almost exclusively called here) and hawker centre stalls (which have similar pricing, though I’d argue the school canteens are slightly cheaper) is generally cheap, unless you’re eating out everyday (compared to cooking at home), which UCEAPers kind of have to do. If you’re going to a sit-down restaurant, a foreign casual chain restaurant, or a cute hipster-like café, food is going to cost way, way more (think SGD$12 for burritos–or actually, don’t think about it, you’ll sleep better at night that way).

Enough text–picture time. Most of the following are my favorite things to eat on a day-to-day basis (excluding rice with vegetable side dishes at the Mixed Veg Rice stall, forgot to take a pic of that). It’s why almost all of these are canteen food at the National University of Singapore rather than outside “street” centre food (which, again, is comparable in selection). This is more a representation of what I eat rather than the totality of what’s available to eat; I tend to pick cheaper options.

Figure 1.1: Kaya toast, kopi, and eggs           Figure 1.2: Egg tart and Congee (porridge)
IMG_4118[1] IMG_3569[1]

Figure 1.1 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Coffee Stall
Kaya toast combo, pictured: SGD$2.10 (USD$1.70)
Kopi = Malaysian for coffee, which I may’ve mentioned already, and is actually (my opinion only) more popular than tea here.
Figure 1.2 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Dim Sum Stall
Egg tart, part of selection of dim sum snacks: SGD$0.70 (USD$0.55)
Congee, only available for breakfast: SGD$1.50 (USD$1.20)

Figure 1.3 – Taiwan Noodle                             Figure 1.4 – Su Udon
IMG_3934[1] IMG_3938[1]

Figure 1.3 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Noodle Stall
Taiwan Noodle: SGD$3.00 (USD$2.40)
There are multiple dishes named “taiwan noodle” with different interpretations, most including shredded braised pork. This is just with peanut sauce (another hard-to-find-outside-of-Asian-culture food item), which tastes really good with sliced cucumber, peanuts and carrots.
Figure 1.4 Canteen: FASS’s (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) “The Deck”, Japanese Stall
Su (“simple”) Udon: SGD$2.20 (USD$1.75)
So udon isn’t Singaporean food, but it is one of the cheaper hot meals you can get here (considering that I can’t cook for myself).

Figure 1.5 – Pattaya Fried Rice     Figure 1.6 – Hainanese Chicken Rice

IMG_3958[1] IMG_3590[1]
Figure 1.5 Canteen: FASS’s “The Deck”, Roasted Delights Stall downstairs
Pattaya Fried Rice: SGD$4.00
This is probably my favorite dish in Singapore. Fried rice overlaid with bits of seafood (including octopus) overlaid with an omelette, then served with light chili sauce.
Figure 1. 6 Stall: Chicken Rice Stall at some mall food court (I’ve lost track of which one, sorry–I think Bugis Junction, one of the largest malls in Singapore)
Hainanese Chicken Rice: $4.50 (note: you can find it as low as SGD$2.30 on-campus)
Chicken rice is Singapore’s official national dish! It’s deliciously flavourful here even if you’re used to eating the Chinese style of poached/roasted chicken, which is less oily than American-style rotisserie. It’s served with a salty soup that I grew up drinking–different than your Campbell’s chicken, now that I think about it, though I can’t explain why–that Craig disdainfully calls “chicken water”.

Figure 1.7 – Fish & Chips and Egg Salad        Figure 1.8 – “Mushroom Noodle”
IMG_3568[1] IMG_4008[1]

Figure 1.7 Canteen: FASS’s “The Deck”, Western Food stall
Fish & Chips: SGD$3.00 (USD$2.40)
Egg Salad: SGD$1.40
Western food is actually pretty cheap outside of sit-down and chain fast-food restaurants, given that a meal like Figure 1.7’s at an American sit-down restaurant (maybe of slightly higher quality with the sides) would cost upwards of USD$7. That being said, Singapore has a unique idea of Western food that’s similar to Hong-Kong-café-style dishes–every Western stall I’ve been to, on or off-campus, characterizes Western food as fried fish, grilled chicken/beef/lamb, cheesy (*disappointing-impostor-cheese, tyvm) fries, coleslaw, cold baked beans, corn, mixed vegetables, baked potatoes, iceberg-lettuce salad, spaghetti, and creamy or tomato soups. I’ve never found mashed potatoes, burritos, burgers, grilled fish, grilled cheese, salads without iceberg lettuce[2], pizza, sub sandwiches, or hot dogs at a Western stall, though one can get burgers/pizza/sandwiches at international fast-food chains.
Figure 1.8 Canteen – Science Faculty’s “The Frontier”, one of two noodle stalls
Mushroom Noodles: SGD$2.00 (USD$1.60)
Despite the fact that this is the only dish from the Science faculty canteen pictured, the food stalls at the Sciences are actually my favorite ones on-campus, since most of their dishes are cheap (<SGD$3/USD$2.40) and to my tastes. Also, button/portobello[3] mushrooms are way less common than enoki mushrooms or shiitaki mushrooms here.

Figure 1.9 – That Kim K. photo everyone’s giving her free publicity about on Facebook
Figure 1.10 – Chicken Katsu
IMG_4123[1] IMG_4124[1]

I’m just kidding, that’s Mushroom U-Mian in Figure 1.9.
Figure 1.9 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Ban Mian Fish Soup Stall
Mushroom U-Mian: SGD$3.00 (USD$2.40)
More specifically, the mushroom u-mian (“thin noodles”) here is a sub-variety of Ban Mian, aka noodles in soup–in this case, specifically fish soup. Usually served with some leafy green vegetables (resembling kai-lan, I think?[4]), a raw egg cracked in it halfway through cooking, and topped with dried anchovies.
Figure 1.10 Canteen: Flavours/Foodclique at UTown, Japanese Stall
Chicken Katsu: SGD$4.00 (SGD$3.20)
Again, definitely not exclusive to Singapore, but definitely delicious. Singaporean food centres are the only places I know where you can walk in and find four different kinds of rice being served at nearly-adjacent stalls–mushy, pasty Indonesian rice (maybe drowned in a mild, creamy yellow chicken curry), Indian basmati rice (including the spiced rice dish biryani), traditional slightly-nutty Chinese jasmine rice (sometimes with curry sauce or soy sauce), and chewy, short-grained, lightly-vinegared Japanese bento-style rice (sometimes with mayonnaise or teriyaki sauce).

Figure 2.1 – SEA-exclusive Cup Noodles     Figure 2.2 – Sandwich Vending Machine

IMG_3432[1]IMG_3564[1]

So sometimes I get up after noon, have a light breakfast or a heavier brunch with fruit (SGD$0.50-SGD$1.00 or USD$0.40-$0.80 for a fruit serving, e.g. honeydew or watermelon sold by the slice, or watered-down but blended-to-order fruit juices, around SGD$2.00/USD$1.60), and don’t eat lunch until 3pm or ever (not a good habit). I’m not hungry for dinner until 9 or 10pm on some lazy days, at which point most canteens on campus–including the two in University Town (my housing area) within walking distance–are closed.

I have a few options at this point: a plain convenience-store sandwich (SGD$2.50-$3.50/USD$2.00-2.80), ramen (around SGD$1.20/USD$0.95; I buy a cheaper brand than what’s pictured in Figure 2.1–that was just to show off more Singaporean dishes the flavours were based off of, like chilli crab and laksa), a microwaveable-plain-burger-in-a-bag (SGD$2.50/USD$2.00, BBQ beef or chicken with surprisingly decent cheese and mushrooms), and a TV-dinner vending machine meal (SGD $3.50-$5.00/USD$2.80-4.00). Yerp, they have hot meal vending machines. Pictured in Figure 2.2 is a hot-sandwich vending machine (SGD$2.30-2.80/USD$1.85-2.25), but that’s located at the Central Library on-campus, too far away for a late-night snack.
I’ll usually get one of those with an apple or banana or cherry tomatoes and probably some extra slices of bread with kaya jam, all bought from the convenience store (or Fairprice-brand market, though the closest is on the 2nd floor of the Kent Ridge MRT station, which is a 20-minute daytime bus ride away).

Overall, my food budget works out to approximately SGD$10/day, sometimes less or more, which is slightly more expensive than my diet back in Irvine (formerly mostly consisting of noodles, cereal, oatmeal, omelettes, fruits and fruit juice, TV dinners, lots of random carby snacks, tofu, frozen and fresh vegetables, grilled cheese/quesadillas and veggie-meat/PB&J sandwiches, and eating out ~three times a week)[5].

Not pictured or mentioned: Many other key Singaporean dishes like char kay teow (which is almost just like beef or seafood chow fun as known in Chinese cuisine–stir-fried soy-sauce noodles), mee/nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice and noodle, respectively), bee hoon (fried thin noodle), oyster omelette, fish head curry, and nasi lemak (coconut rice dish with cucumbers, peanuts, chili, a fried egg or small omelette, anchovies, and a fried chicken wing). Also, the Mixed Veg Rice stall (which is like even-cheaper Chinese takeout minus heat lamps, so your food’s cold if you go during non-peak hours), the Korean food stall, Indian cuisine, which I mentioned in my previous post is mostly Tamil.

For other dishes I missed: Wikipedia’s Singaporean cuisine article is arguably better than this entire post, but….uh…they don’t have prices and pictures of NUS canteen food, and I do. So…heh?

Moving swiftly on from spontaneously-developed inferiority complex, ideas in mind for upcoming blog posts, not in order:
– Encore post where I insert pics of/discuss topics I’ve covered then took more pictures of/learned more about later (if I don’t ninja-edit instead, that is–I’m making this blog an ongoing project where each post is considered unfinished until the entire blog is)
– The Arts Culture in Singapore
– Political History and Demographics of Singapore
– Tips for future UCEAPers
– Singlish
– The Flora and Fauna of Singapore
– General Landscape/Sidewalk/Day-to-day pictures of Singapore
– Obligatory Self-Growth Reflection Post

Conclusion: Food is awesome here. And I say this as an Asian-American kid who grew up disliking Asian cuisine, as an armchair-nutritionist who can complain about the lack of vegetables in most stall food, and finally, as a student who sometimes grew tired of the food here but also knows that she’ll miss it. Dearly.

[1] ❤ I’m kidding. I write because I want to, and rarely, because I need to, but if you’re reading through my crap you have a special place in my heart, even if I don’t know about it. There’re lots of things in our hearts we don’t know about.
[2] On a completely random note, and at the risk of sounding like a crunchy neo-health-craze hipster, I really miss kale.
[3] Fun fact: portobello, portabella, and portabello are all commonly used. Poor “portobella”.
[4] Despite the fact that I grew up eating Chinese food, I still don’t know the names of maybe 25% of them. Even for the ones I do, I know their names in Cantonese, which is a much less common dialect than Mandarin (which Singapore uses for labelling their dim sum, even though dim sum was originally Cantonese). Example: woah, they have the delicious, crispy long salty donut that I’ve always liked at dim sum, you jah gwai, but I guess it’s actually called youtiao here. Cool.]
[5] Vegetarian diets, contrary to what some people think, aren’t necessarily healthy. They can be incredibly healthy, and even quick and healthy if you combine frozen pre-cooked food and fresh, simple-to-prepare food OR cheap and healthy if you take care to stock up on rice/beans/frozen vegs/etc., but a lazy, frugal/broke college student with limited time to prepare meals is going to be consuming a lot of carbs and processed food.

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