Seriously Broke? Best Local Meals for Under $5!


Ryan Ong



There are times when money just isn’t available. Maybe you forgot your ATM card. Maybe you just got mugged. Maybe you bought Skyrim and, by logical conclusion, haven’t had a job in two months. Whatever the case, there’s no need to break out the rat traps yet; Singapore is a haven for the hungry. So if you’re down to almost begging, or you’re just the worst miser this side of Asia, here are some local meals for under $5. No bets on their nutritional value though.

1. Yong Tau  Foo

There are more Yong Tau Foo stalls in Singapore than there are banking scams in Nigeria. You can find one of these in practically every food court, hawker stall, and canteen.


Yong Tau Foo
I want my soup, salad, entrée, and main. And find a way to put it in one bowl.


In case you’ve never eaten this (arrived yesterday did you?) it’s noodles, soup, or sometimes rice with…things. Bits of vegetables, eggs, tofu with fish, etc. You just pick what you want, chuck it in a bowl, and they’ll cook it. The standard price is 50 cents per piece, and you usually have to pick at least 7 pieces.

If you’re starving and you’ve only got $5, here’s what you do: get the yellow noodles (more substantial) and eat it with soup. It’ll expand. When picking the bits, grab nothing except eggs, fried tofu, and fried dumplings. No vegetables. If you’re brave, grab three eggs. It’ll feel like you hit the buffet table at Sizzler. Face first.

I suggest the Kopi Tiam at Plaza by the Park. It’s not the best, but it’s smack in the middle of town. If you work in the City Hall area, that’s the cheapest meal you’re likely to get.


2. Canteen Food

Drop by select campuses or office canteens for super cheap food. Favourites are places like NUS, or Kou Fu at SMU. Also try industrial parks (like Alexandra Techpark). And I’m not condoning it, but I know people who “make inquiries” at Secondary schools…only to hit their subsidised canteens on the way back out.


Chicken Rice
70% of the reason I work here.


A classic is the $2.50 chicken rice in some canteens. We have this at MoneySmart’s canteen (Ayer Rajah Crescent). You can also find it at the NUS Engineering canteen, and the Zion Road Food Centre. To make the most of it, add another $2.00 for more chicken (request it). Believe me, the $4.50 chicken rice in these canteens is more than the $4.50 chicken rice in most hawker centres.

Canteens also feature god-awful but filling Paos. These buns are chucked in a steamer, where they’re ignored until they take on the properties of soggy cardboard (as opposed to the China made ones, which are soggy cardboard). Grab three big ones for around $4.50, and if you bite into something hard, spit it out without looking.

Hey, it’s filling you isn’t it?


3. Economy Rice (AKA Curry Rice)

In any hawker centre, the economy rice store is probably the cheapest (next to Yong Tau Foo).

Pick out the set meals; you can usually get a “2 Veg, 1 Meat” deal for under $4.00. Use that leftover dollar to pile on long beans or mixed vegetables, which make for a more than decent meal. An old trick is to ask to for multiple sauces; it’s free, and tricks your taste buds into thinking you have more food than you actually do.


People eating economy rice
“Look like random leftovers? Which part of ‘economy’ do you not understand?”


Go for the tofu or steamed egg, which are rich and filling. Forget the fish and the cheap meat dishes, like spam or fried fish fillets; those can take you past the $5 mark, and won’t be as satisfying.

The oldest and most famous of these is the Beach Road Scissor-cut curry rice. A note about hygiene: one of their claims to fame is that an ancestor used the same scissors to snip the meat. And I’ve never seen them wash it. Just saying. But this is possibly the most delicious (and visually unappetizing) meal you will ever have for under $5.


4. It’s All About Mee

Mee Siam, Mee Soto, Mee Rebus…all variations of a basic concept: noodles in excessive gravy or soup.

These three dishes, along with Lontong (rice cakes) tend to appear together. They use the same basic ingredients, so where you find one, you’ll find them all. These are one of the few dishes to still average $2, and they’re more filling than they look.


Mee Siam
After adding even more sambal, I realized I could do without the tofu, chives, egg, prawn, noodles, lemon, and gravy.


If you’re starving and you’ve got $5, go for a double dose. Order mee soto and mee siam, for example. It should only come to $4 or $4.50. Be sure to eat it spicy; the combination of hot soup and chilli will fill you up in minutes. A pretty popular place for this is Havelock Cooked Food Centre (Do let me know if you find any other kind of food centre). The mee dishes are light on MSG, come in bowls twice the size of my head, and cost under $2.


5. Oyster Omelette

It’s getting harder to find oyster omelette for under $5, but it’s out there. This artery bursting snack originated in China, and should probably take up a chapter in a cardiologist’s textbook. But this is the most filling meal you’ll get for under $5. Eat one, and you may even end up skipping dinner.


One serving of cardiac arrest
Of course it’s healthy. Look, there’s vegetables.


These are fried oysters mixed into scrambled eggs, with liberal doses of flour batter. A one-person portion is between $3.50 – $4.50. Anything above $5 is meant to be shared, or you might die. There are also healthier versions of this: Some hawkers let you request less oil, which is the funniest thing I’ve heard outside of a George Carlin routine.

An old trick is drink Horlicks with oyster omelette. This was used to provide energy for a work day…back when “work” meant pulling rickshaws for overweight British tourists.

Newton Food Centre will get you some of this for $3.50. Look for stall 65, which has been in operation since electric lights were a novelty.

Image Credits:
Charles Haynes
avlxyz (Mee Siam)
David Sifry

What are your favourite foods for when you’re broke? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.