Friday, February 1, 2013

Food In Singapore is (mostly) cheap.... is expensive however (and seafood traps abound).

Consider this a cautionary tale.

Having just returned from a week in Singapore I thought it might be a good idea to talk about some of the food there.  While it's true that Singapore is a business center (as opposed to a tourist 'destination') the wife and I found plenty to see and do (and eat).  The good news is, the variety of cuisine is only slightly exceeded by it's (high) quality.

A Coconut, no lime.

A ChinaTown Meal
The most talked about place for cheap eats in Singapore is ChinaTown. More specifically, the "hawker" stands found on Food Street where you can get almost anything.  However, on the second level of one of the ChinaTown markets you find a host of hawker-like storefronts serving the same thing.  Not that the hawker carts are bad (they're very good) but the lines are typically shorter in the food court, the prices are just as low (the coconut above was S$2, the sugar cane juice was S$1 and the noodles you see were S$3) and their are more tables and chairs at which to sit.  You also find better signage in the food court:
Not as well known, or sought out, by visitors are the Indian restaurants in (Yup) Little India.
Curried Goat and sides
The wife ordered this curried goat dish and I got basically the same thing (substitute fish for goat) with two Indian teas and two orange drinks for S$13 all-in.  This is Southern Indian food so you eat it with your fingers, although (pictured) they do provide forks for those not used to digging in finger-tip style.  The wife and I went in full force with our fingers, which were stained turmeric red for a day after the meal despite washing them.

There are also cheap eats on Arab St. (not pictured) but, be aware that most places there do not serve beer or wine due to Islamic restriction:
And they mean it.
Oddly enough, there are pubs and bars in the district so it's not a total alcohol free zone.

Finally, the seafood.  A word to the wise, be careful when dining out on "local" seafood. A quick trip to Trip Advisor illustrates why.  Forum Seafood looks nice from the outside, they have fresh seafood in tanks that look inviting:
Seafood at Forum
Once you get in however the uniqueness is gone.  Their prices, showing S$33 for Chili Crab for instance, are based on 100g serving sizes.  Even 1/2 an Australian King Crab is going to run around 600g - 1kg.  That's over S$180 (US $ around 140) per dish. Unfortunately, the wife and I didn't read the online reviews and fell victim to the high-price trap at Forum.  Our final bill, for Chicken Satay, one beer, one wine Geoduck clam and Chili Crab was S$450.  Ouch.  The dishes were good, but not near that good.  Only when we walked out did I notice the "per 100g" on the price signs in print that you had to lean forward and squint to see.
Chili Crab
The point is that you can get good seafood at a reasonable price by listening to the locals. Jumbo seafood came highly recommended, as did a handful of other restaurants. We found a local restaurant while wandering around.  Were I a good travel blogger I'd remember the name, but it wasn't in the Quay areas. While I recommend you go by Forum and take a picture of their fish tanks, I would not recommend eating there due to the price.  There are horror stories of people paying S$800 on a meal for two so in retrospect we got off lucky. (except for the ribbing and "that was stupid" comments I'm sure to get from some of my savvy traveler acquaintances that is)

While food can be had (mostly) cheap, alcohol prices are killers.  A local Tiger beer goes for S$10 at the least, and import beer is even more.  Wine by the glass is a minimum of S$12 and mixed drinks can run anywhere from S$16 - S$50+.  The Singapore Sling runs around S$20-S$36.  Most of that is taxes, it's the same for tobacco products, and you won't find cheap beer at the many 7-elevens around town either.  We saw a sign for a 24-pack of Tiger on sale for around S$200. When I first saw it I thought it was a mis-print.

All in all, despite the obvious setback at Forum, I enjoyed my dining experiences in Singapore, and it's not really fair to say I didn't enjoy the food at Forum because the crab and clam were delicious. If anything, it was a rather expensive lesson.  Just pay attention to the prices, moderate your drinking, and you will get out of there fairly cheaply on the food front.  This is good because most of your money is going to the hotels, which are very expensive as well.

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