On a recent trip to Singapore, I found myself facing the dilemma that most women face when in another country: Should I go for the shoes, or should I treat myself to breakfast?
Let me explain.
It was the annual sale in Singapore, and there was no way that I was going to miss it. Friends who had gone during the previous years had raved about their finds, and their impressive hauls strengthened my resolve to try it. Let me tell you, a few hundred thousand miles couldn’t keep me away from any good sartorial finds, especially if there was a massive sale.
Armed with just carry-on luggage to make room for all the things that I’d bring back to my tiny apartment, I confidently took the plane to Singapore. One thing kept bothering me though. Friends told me that a trip to Singapore was not gonna be cheap. The accommodations were expensive, the food was expensive, basically everything was going to cost me a lot. And get this—a teeny, watery drink would set me back by at least $30. It was beyond ridiculous, but I guess not so much in Singapore. Since sin taxes were high in this country, I figured that I could do without some margaritas during my stay. But what’s a girl to do about food?
If there’s one thing that is universally true, it is that breakfast food costs less than other kinds of food. I figured that I would have to be very creative when it comes to feeding little ole me. So a plan was hatched, and I decided to subsist solely on breakfast foods while I’m in Singapore. Breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner… you get the picture. Now I could be really cheap and buy a box of cereal and graze on handfuls whenever I’m feeling peckish, but that would be a cop-out. Instead, I’m going to find the cheapest breakfast foods (or things that could pass for breakfast foods) in Singapore.
Here are all the breakfast foods that I ate during my stay.
1. Kaya Toast
I love toast, I really do. I could live on it—just give me a jar of peanut butter or Nutella and I’m all set. So when I heard about kaya toast, I knew I had to have some of that. Basically, its toasted bread slathered with a custardy coconut jam. It satisfied my need to have something sweet on my toast, so bonus points for that. Plus, it comes with two very runny eggs, and a cup of very thick coffee, sweetened with condensed milk. All the sweetness was probably enough to put anyone else in a sugar-induced coma, but not me. And the fact that it’s only $2.00 made the whole meal even sweeter.
2. Nasi Lemak
Cost: about $1.50
I wanted to go traditional, so I asked some of the hotel staff what I should eat that was yummy yet cheap. A few of them enthusiastically recommended nasi lemak, and they told me that I should go to a hawker center to get the best nasi lemak. A hawker center is sort of like a food court where one can get cheap eats. It sounded like my kind of place, so I went.
I found out that nasi lemak is basically a big pile of rice cooked in coconut milk, and this mound is placed at the center of the plate. There were hard boiled eggs, cucumbers, peanuts, dried anchovies and sambal surrounding this tiny island of rice. Now, I’m not used to eating rice in the morning, I find it too heavy for me. But one bite of that coconut milk-laced rice changed the way I looked at breakfast. Plus, I found that it gave me more energy to shop during the day, so that was good.
3. Carrot cake
So I thought that this was gonna be like the carrot cake that my Aunt Maude used to make. Sweet, studded with walnuts and frosted with some sweetened cream cheese. Boy, was I wrong!
Upon closely inspecting a carrot cake, it didn’t contain any actual carrots. Its rice flour and grated radish mixed together, then formed into little cakes and steamed. Then, these are cut up into little pieces and fried with a bit of preserved turnip, soy sauce, fish sauce, egg, garlic and spring onions.
I eyed these cakes and took a careful bite. I was surprised at how much I liked it. Who knew that radishes could taste so delicious? It may not be Aunt Maude’s carrot cake, but I liked it just the same.
4. Cantonese-style porridge, or Chok
Cost: $2.00 for a bowl of plain porridge
I wanted to try something else that had rice in it, so I went to the hawker center again to try chok, or Cantonese-style porridge. The creamy consistency reminded me of oatmeal, but this was more interesting. For $2.00, you get a bowl of rice porridge with some chopped up scallions, then you can add other ingredients for a minimal cost. I chose some pork, fried garlic, and I hunted up a hard-boiled egg to add to the mix. It was comforting, and if it was raining, I’d probably go for this dish. As it was a hot morning, I was sweating bullets while I finished my bowl of porridge, but that was a minor concern.
5. Fried Noodles
Cost: $1.00 for the noodles
Called Economic Fried Bee Hoon, it was originally the poor man’s breakfast because the meal consisted of simple fried noodles. I wanted to dress up my noodles and fancy it up a bit, so I added a fried egg, some crispy beancurd skin and luncheon meat slices to my order, which came to less than $2.00 total. Though it was a bit oily for my taste, it wasn’t that bad. A squeeze of lime juice would have probably balanced the dish.
6. Teochow Pancakes
Cost: $0.75 per slice
For dinner, I wanted to have something light, so I went with the Teochow pancakes. Imagine a pancake, cut into triangles and filled with crushed roasted peanut. It’s the closest thing that I could get to a peanut butter sandwich. Other fillings like red bean paste, grated coconut, cheese and chocolate were available, but I opted to get the traditional version with the roasted peanut filling. It was very light on the tummy, and I even bought a few more to munch on in case I got hungry at the hotel. They weren’t bad at room temperature, but of course they’re best when hot.
7. Roti Prata
Before leaving Singapore, I decided to have one more meal in the hawker center. I thought about getting kaya toast again but then I spotted this flat bread. There were many variations of the dish, but I chose to eat it simply as it is, with just some sugar on the side and a cup of thick coffee. The Roti prata was crisp on the outside, and airy and flaky on the inside. It was simple, yummy, and cheap—everything I was looking for in a meal.
So these seven dishes were all that I ate during my two-day shopping spree in Singapore. I couldn’t believe that all the food cost me just a little over $11.00, so that left me with a lot of spending money for shoes, bags and clothes. I think I overdid it just a wee bit because when I arrived in Singapore I only had a carry-on bag with me. I left Singapore with three more bags, and a good gastronomic experience.
Now that’s what I call a good bargain.