SG Must-Try Foods: OFW on a Budget Edition

Singapore, a culinary paradise, offers an exciting array of dishes that blend the flavors of various cultures. For OFWs and budget travelers, savoring these delights is essential for an authentic Singaporean experience. This guide includes the must-try foods when on a budget and those for the ultimate “shiok” experience, ensuring your palate enjoys a diverse and satisfying culinary journey.

must-try foods in SG
Credits: uncorneredmarket / Flickr

Singaporean cuisine is celebrated for its incredible diversity and rich blend of flavors, drawing influences from Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other Asian culinary traditions. It’s a true reflection of the multicultural tapestry of Singapore. The cuisine is known for its variety of street food and hawker fare, as well as its fusion of spices, herbs, and cooking techniques.

In terms of cost, Singaporean food caters to a wide range of budgets:

  1. Budget-Friendly Options: Street food and hawker centers are the heart and soul of Singaporean cuisine, offering delicious and affordable meals. Dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Laksa, and Roti Prata provide fulfilling and authentic experiences at relatively low prices, typically ranging from SGD 3 to SGD 10. These venues are where you can enjoy a variety of local dishes without spending a lot.
  2. High-End Dining: On the other end of the spectrum, Singapore also boasts a vibrant scene of fine dining and upscale restaurants. These establishments offer a more luxurious culinary experience, with modern interpretations of traditional dishes and international cuisine. Here, prices can range significantly higher, reflecting the gourmet ingredients, sophisticated cooking techniques, and often, the ambiance and location.

In this guide, we’ll introduce both categories to cater to any visitor in Singapore, whether you’re a budget traveler looking to enjoy the rich street food culture or someone seeking a more upscale dining experience. This way, regardless of your budget, you can fully immerse yourself in the diverse and flavorful world of Singaporean cuisine.

1. Chicken Rice

A National Favorite: Chicken Rice is a staple, featuring steamed chicken and fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth, served with chili sauce, soy sauce, and cucumber slices. Available at most hawker centers and food courts, a plate costs around SGD 3-5.

How to Enjoy this Best: Savor every component of the dish separately at first to appreciate their individual flavors. Then, mix a bit of chili and soy sauce with the rice and chicken for a burst of flavor. Pair it with a light soup or a side of greens for a balanced meal.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre is renowned for its tender chicken and flavorful rice.

2. Roti Prata

Flaky Indian Flatbread: Roti Prata, a crispy and flaky Indian flatbread, is usually served with curry or dhal. A versatile and affordable dish, you can enjoy it for SGD 1-3 at most hawker centers and food courts.

How to Enjoy this Best: Eat it hot and fresh off the griddle. Tear the Roti Prata with your hands and dip it in curry or dhal to enjoy the mix of textures and flavors. Pair it with a teh tarik (pulled tea) for a complete local experience.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Mr. and Mrs. Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata at Joo Chiat Place offers arguably the best Roti Prata in town.

3. Nasi Lemak

Coconutty Delicacy: Nasi Lemak is a Malay dish consisting of coconut rice, fried chicken wings, fried anchovies, peanuts, and sambal chili paste. It’s a hearty meal priced around SGD 3-5, available at most hawker centers.

How to Enjoy Best: Mix the sambal chili paste well with the coconut rice for a uniform flavor. Enjoy each component of the dish in one bite for a harmonious blend of flavors and textures. A cold drink like lime juice can complement the rich flavors.

Where to Get This Dish: Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak at Adam Road Food Centre serves a highly sought-after version.

4. Hainanese Curry Rice

A Comforting Mix: This dish includes steamed rice, braised pork, curry chicken, and various side dishes. Hainanese Curry Rice is a comfort food staple, typically priced at SGD 3-5.

How to Enjoy Best: Try each part of the dish separately to appreciate the distinct flavors. Then, combine them in one bite to enjoy the harmony of the curry, rice, and meats. A tangy side dish like pickled vegetables can enhance the experience.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice in Tiong Bahru offers a traditional and flavorful experience.

5. Laksa

Spicy Soup Heaven: Laksa is a spicy noodle soup with rice noodles, coconut milk, and toppings like shrimp and fish cakes. A bowl costs around SGD 3-5, offering a flavorful and filling meal.

How to Enjoy this Best: Stir the soup well to mix all the ingredients. Savor the broth first to appreciate its complexity, then enjoy the noodles and toppings. A spoonful of sambal can add an extra kick if you like it spicier.

Where to Get This Dish Best: 328 Katong Laksa, with its rich and spicy broth, is a must-visit.

6. Satay

Grilled Delight: Satay, grilled meat skewers served with peanut sauce, is a popular snack. These skewers are budget-friendly, costing SGD 0.70-1.50 each, and are found at most hawker centers.

How to Enjoy this Best: Dip the skewers in the peanut sauce for an added flavor dimension. Alternate between the meat and the accompanying cucumber and onion to cleanse your palate. A cold beer or iced tea pairs well with the grilled flavors.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Lau Pa Sat, particularly during the evening when Satay Street comes alive.

7. Kaya Toast

A Sweet Start: Toasted bread served with kaya (coconut jam) and butter, this dish is a breakfast favorite. Available at coffee shops and food courts, it’s priced around SGD 1-2.

How to Enjoy Best: Enjoy it with a cup of local coffee or tea for a traditional Singaporean breakfast. The toast should be eaten while still warm to appreciate the creamy texture of the kaya and butter.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Ya Kun Kaya Toast offers a consistently good version of this breakfast staple.

8. Bak Chor Mee

Savory Noodle Dish: This noodle dish features minced pork, mushrooms, and other ingredients, offering a satisfying meal for around SGD 3-5.

How to Enjoy Best: Mix the noodles well with the sauce and ingredients to evenly distribute the flavors. Savor the blend of textures from the minced pork, mushrooms, and noodles. A bowl of soup on the side can balance the dish.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane is famous for its Michelin-starred Bak Chor Mee.

9. Char Kway Teow

Stir-Fried Specialty: A stir-fried noodle dish with flat rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, and more, Char Kway Teow is a flavorful street food priced around SGD 3-5.

How to Enjoy Best: Enjoy it fresh and hot for the best texture. The key is in the balance of flavors, so mix the ingredients well. A dollop of chili can add extra spice if desired.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre is highly recommended.

10. Fish Head Curry

A Bold Choice: Fish Head Curry, a spicy dish with fish head, vegetables, and spices, is a unique delicacy. It’s a bit pricier at around SGD 10-15 but worth trying for its bold flavors.

How to Enjoy Best: Start by tasting the curry sauce with some rice. Then, venture into the fish head, exploring the different textures and flavors. A side of plain rice or bread can help mellow the spiciness.

Where to Get This Dish Best: Muthu’s Curry on Race Course Road is famous for its Fish Head Curry.

Pro Tips for Your Singaporean Culinary Adventure

1. Explore Hawker Centers

  • Why It’s Essential: Hawker centers are not just food hubs, they are cultural landmarks offering a glimpse into Singapore’s culinary heritage.
  • What to Do: Try to visit different hawker centers as each has its unique specialties. Also, look for the longest queues – they often lead to the most popular and delicious stalls.

2. Portion Sharing

  • Maximize Variety: Sharing allows you to sample a wider variety of dishes, which is ideal in a place with as many culinary options as Singapore.
  • How to Do It: Order a few different dishes with your travel companions and try a bit of everything. This way, you can taste more without filling up too quickly or overspending.

3. Local Insights

  • Get the Inside Scoop: Locals know the best spots that might not be in guidebooks. They can also advise on what dishes to try at specific places.
  • How to Ask: Don’t be shy to strike up a conversation with locals at hawker centers or ask staff at your accommodation for recommendations. Singaporeans are generally proud of their food culture and happy to share tips.

4. Time Your Visits

  • Avoid Peak Hours: Some popular places can get extremely crowded during lunch and dinner times. Visiting during off-peak hours can mean shorter queues and a more relaxed dining experience.
  • Plan Ahead: Check opening hours as some popular stalls might close early once they’ve sold out.

5. Hydration is Key

  • Stay Refreshed: Singapore’s hot and humid climate means it’s easy to get dehydrated, especially when indulging in spicy foods.
  • What to Drink: Try local drinks like sugarcane juice, lime juice, or barley water, which are not only refreshing but also part of the local food experience.

6. Be Adventurous with Your Choices

  • Expand Your Palate: Singapore offers an array of unique flavors and dishes. Dare to try something new or unfamiliar – you might discover a new favorite.
  • Experiment Safely: If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, ask about ingredients before trying something new.

7. Use Food Apps

  • Digital Assistance: Apps like HungryGoWhere, Burpple, or the Michelin Guide app can provide up-to-date reviews, opening hours, and even directions to the best food spots.
  • Customized Search: You can filter searches based on cuisine, location, or price range, making it easier to find exactly what you’re craving.

8. Embrace the Full Experience

  • Beyond Food: Pay attention to the atmosphere, the aromas, and the sounds in the hawker centers and restaurants. The environment is a big part of the dining experience in Singapore.
  • Cultural Respect: Be mindful of local dining etiquettes such as queuing and cleaning up after yourself at hawker centers.

By following these enriched tips, you’re not just going to enjoy the vast array of foods Singapore has to offer; you’re immersing yourself in a vibrant culinary culture that is an integral part of the city’s identity. Enjoy every bite and every moment of your culinary journey in Singapore!

BONUS! [When You’re in the Mood for ‘Shiok’ and Care Less for Budget]

Singaporean cuisine is not just about satisfying hunger; it’s about experiencing ‘shiok’ – a term that encapsulates sheer delight and profound satisfaction. For those moments when budget considerations take a backseat to indulging in culinary ecstasy, Singapore offers an array of dishes that are a must-try. Here, we highlight some of the best Singaporean foods that are worth every penny for their ‘shiok’ factor.

1. Chili Crab

A National Treasure: Singapore’s chili crab is not just a dish; it’s an experience. Juicy crabs in a thick, sweet, and slightly spicy sauce – it’s messy, fun, and utterly delicious. A meal at a renowned place like Jumbo Seafood or Long Beach can be pricey, but the taste is undeniably ‘shiok’.

Estimated Cost: Expect to pay around SGD 50-80 per crab, depending on the size and the restaurant. At popular spots like Jumbo Seafood, the price can be at the higher end, but the ‘shiok’ experience justifies the cost.

Want to know what we’re talking about? Check out this TikTok clip of an Australian vlogger trying out Singapore’s renowned chili crab. You’ll be in for a treat!

@allen.fu88 Literally took a flight to eat this one thing. Are you a singapore chilli crab fan or black pepper crab fan? Anytime I get a chance to go singapore, there is nothing I crave more than this meal 🦀🤤  #exploresingapore #whattoeatsingapore #singaporefood #singaporechillicrab #jumbochillicrab #traveltok ♬ original sound – Allen Fu | Entrepreneur

2. White Pepper Crab

Spicy Indulgence: If chili crab is the king, white pepper crab is the queen. The combination of fresh crab with a robust white pepper sauce is a taste sensation that’s worth the splurge. Visit Pepper Crab at No Signboard Seafood for this spicy treat.

Estimated Cost: Similar to chili crab, the cost for white pepper crab ranges from SGD 50 to SGD 80 per crab. Dining at renowned places like No Signboard Seafood might be a bit pricier, but the flavor and experience are unparalleled.

3. Singapore Sling

Iconic Cocktail: Enjoying a Singapore Sling at its birthplace, the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, is a ‘shiok’ moment in itself. This classic cocktail, though on the pricier side, is a part of Singaporean history and culture.

Estimated Cost: A classic Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar can cost around SGD 30-35. While it’s more expensive than your average cocktail, sipping this iconic drink in its birthplace is a unique experience.

4. Fine Dining at Marina Bay Sands

Sky-High Dining: For a ‘shiok’ experience with a view, dining at one of the celebrity chef restaurants at Marina Bay Sands, like CUT by Wolfgang Puck or Waku Ghin by Tetsuya Wakuda, is a must. The combination of exquisite food and breathtaking views is unmatched.

Estimated Cost: Dining at celebrity chef restaurants like CUT by Wolfgang Puck or Waku Ghin can range from SGD 100 to SGD 500 per person, depending on the restaurant and the chosen menu. The combination of gourmet cuisine and a stunning ambiance makes it worth the expense.

5. Durian Desserts

For the Adventurous: Durian, the king of fruits, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. For a luxurious take, try durian desserts at upscale establishments like Goodwood Park Hotel, where the creamy, pungent fruit is transformed into decadent cakes and pastries.

Estimated Cost: Durian desserts at upscale establishments like Goodwood Park Hotel can range from SGD 10 for a small pastry to SGD 50 for a more elaborate dessert. These luxurious treats offer a unique taste of Singapore’s most famous fruit.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the must-try dishes for a first-time visitor to Singapore?

First-time visitors should try Hainanese Chicken Rice, Laksa, Chili Crab, Char Kway Teow, Roti Prata, Satay, Nasi Lemak, and Kaya Toast. These dishes offer a taste of Singapore’s diverse culinary heritage.

2. Are there vegetarian options available in Singaporean cuisine?

Yes, many hawker centers and restaurants in Singapore offer vegetarian options. Dishes like Roti Prata can be served with dhal (lentil curry), and there are also numerous vegetarian stalls serving dishes like Vegetarian Laksa or Nasi Lemak with plant-based ingredients.

3. How much should I budget for food per day in Singapore?

A budget of SGD 20-30 per day can cover meals at hawker centers and food courts. If you plan to dine in mid-range restaurants or try more expensive dishes like Chili Crab, you may need to budget more.

4. Is street food in Singapore safe to eat?

Yes, street food in Singapore is known for being clean and safe. Hawker centers are well-regulated and maintain high standards of hygiene.

5. Can I find international cuisine in Singapore?

Absolutely. Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, and you can find a wide range of international cuisines, including Chinese, Indian, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Italian, and more.

6. What are some tips for navigating hawker centers?

Look for stalls with longer queues as they are usually popular for a reason. Bring cash as not all stalls accept cards. Be prepared to share tables with strangers, which is common in hawker centers.

7. Are there any unique Singaporean drinks I should try?

Definitely try local drinks like Teh Tarik (pulled tea), Kopi (local coffee), Bandung (rose syrup with milk), and Sugarcane Juice. Also, a Singapore Sling is a must-try cocktail at its birthplace, the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel.

8. How can I find the best places to eat in Singapore?

Use food apps like HungryGoWhere or Burpple for recommendations and reviews. Also, don’t hesitate to ask locals for their suggestions, as they often know the best spots and hidden gems.


Singapore’s food scene is a treasure trove for food enthusiasts, especially for those on a budget. These dishes not only offer a taste of local culture but also do so without straining your wallet. Enjoy these culinary delights and make your Singapore experience truly unforgettable.

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