SINGAPORE - With costs of ingredients, utilities and operations going up, many food sellers have raised their prices.
Prices for a bowl of noodles at hawker centres now start at $3.50, $4 or higher.
But there are still hawkers offering substantial meals for $3 and cheaper.
From Xiang Kee Yu Yuan Mian Tang's ingredient-packed Teochew noodles to 63 Laksa's $2.50 laksa, complete with cockles, The Straits Times tracks down seven great eats you can get for $3 and under.
1. 63 Laksa
Where: 01-20, 20 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Road
Open: Tuesdays to Fridays, 8am to 3pm; weekends, 8am to 2pm. Closed on Mondays
Priced at $2.50, the laksa here comes in a small ceramic bowl served piping hot and brimming with a punchy gravy, scissor-cut thick beehoon, crunchy beansprouts, fishcake strips, a dollop of housemade chilli and four perfectly blanched cockles. A sprinkling of laksa leaves completes the bowl.
Stall owner Ng Yik Kelly, 51, stirs and scoops the simmering gravy with such finesse that the surface of each bowl is not rimmed with an unappealing layer of oil.
The gravy itself is less spicy as Mr Ng wants to cater to seniors and children who cannot take the heat. Much of the laksa's flavour comes from his housemade chilli paste, redolent with dried prawns.
Mr Ng, who opened his stall in 2015, originally sold his laksa for $2, before increasing it to $2.50 in 2017.
He does not offer a larger size, so customers with bigger appetites typically order a second bowl.
Despite escalating food costs, he is holding off increasing prices so as to not burden his customers from the lower-income group. His cockles costs about 20 cents each, but he has no intention to do away with this ingredient.
"I will not skimp on my ingredients. I would rather adjust the price of my laksa accordingly," he says.
Even if he does increase prices in the future, $2.80 a bowl is the limit, he assures.
2. 339 AMK Carrot Cake
Where: 01-14 Chong Boon Market & Food Centre, 453A Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10
Open: Tuesdays to Sundays, 6am to 2.30pm. Closed on Mondays
For $3, enjoy a plate of no-frills old-school carrot cake at its charred best.
Stall owner Tan Bak Siah, 56, fries his carrot cake with panache and copious amounts of chai poh (preserved radish) and egg.
The black carrot cake - which is the wet type with lashings of black sweet sauce in the mix - offers a creamy mouthfeel. This version is available only on weekdays till 10.15am. It is not available on weekends.
The white carrot cake comes with crispy edges. Its housemade chilli boasts a fiery kick, which explodes slowly in the mouth after the first bite.
Pro tip: Go on weekdays when Mr Tan has more time to cook the carrot cake in small batches.
3. Xiang Kee Yu Yuan Mian Tang
Where: 01-130 Cheng San Market & Cooked Food Centre, 527 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10
Open: Tuesdays to Sundays, 5 to 11am. Closed on Mondays
Known for its generous use of quality ingredients, this stall sees a constant queue, starting from 7am.
But the line moves fast, with wait times averaging 10 minutes, as stall owner Sim Peng Yang, 55, and his wife Susan Loh, 54, are assisted by two other employees.
The $3 bowls of dry noodle and kway teow noodle soup they dish out come with the same combination of ingredients - one meatball, two fish balls, minced pork, one fish dumpling, three slices of fishcake, three slices of braised mushroom, and two divinely tender and powdery slices of pork liver.
The stall uses chilled pork and liver, which are delivered fresh every morning. The chilli paste is made in-house from dried chilli, hand-peeled shallots and more.
The pork lard cubes, cooked for two hours in housemade shallot oil, are addictive. The kway teow noodle soup tastes homemade.
Those used to heavily seasoned food may find the flavours mild. But there is a natural sweetness to the broth made from large pork bones.
Mr Sim has been running the stall for 30 years, after taking over from his father who used to sell noodles at the now-defunct Lim Tua Tow Market in Upper Serangoon.
He is unwavering in using fresh ingredients and has not cut down the portions for each bowl.
The last time he increased prices was eight years ago, from $2.50 to $3 for the basic noodle bowl. For now, he is stoically absorbing the increased food costs.
Madam Loh says: "Some of our regulars feel bad that we have yet to increase our prices, so they 'upgrade' their own orders by having the $4 or $5 bowls instead of the $3 one."
4. Hup Kee Delicious Food
Where: 02-15 Bukit Merah Central Food Centre, 163 Bukit Merah Central
Open: Mondays to Saturdays, 5.30am to 2pm. Closed on Sundays and public holidays
Fuel up with a hearty breakfast or early lunch at Hup Kee Delicious Food, which offers a hefty nasi lemak set for $3.
The spicy chilli paste is made from scratch with plenty of dried prawns, onions and tangy tamarind.
The set comes with a glossy sunny-side-up with a liquid centre, a crispy chicken wing, and a dusting of ikan bilis and nuts, all friedin-house. The coconut rice is made from premium Thai jasmine rice, which makes this set a steal.
For an even cheaper andhealthier breakfast, grab a bowl of peanut porridge ($1.50), which comes with braised nuts and fishcake strips.
For $2, you get a breakfast of chee cheong fun and yam cake.
The savoury sweet dark sauce is made in-house and infused with pandan leaves.
5. Chuan Tong Prawn Noodles
Where: 01-29 Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, 51 Hougang Avenue 9
Open: Wednesdays to Mondays, 8am to 8.30pm. Closed on Tuesdays
Since Ms Peng Xiuqing, 53, started her stall five years ago, she has yet to hike up the price of her $2.80 basic prawn noodles.
Why? Most of the orders for this basic bowl come from seniors and children.
The bowl includes one-and-a-half fresh black prawns, four slices of fishcake, a mix of noodles and beehoon, kang kong and beansprouts.
The prawn broth is packed with the flavours from large pork bones and prawn shells.
Her larger bowls, topped with big prawns and pork ribs, cost $4 and up.
6. Lao San Kway Chap
Where: Stall 5, 01-1196, 232 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
Open: 8am to 8pm, Fridays to Wednesdays. Closed on Thursdays
The stall may specialise in kway chap, but regulars in the know go for its Pig Organ Soup ($3). The price has not increased in the last 15 years. Rice is sold separately at 60 cents a bowl.
The soup, a flavour bomb, comes with three pieces of small intestines, one piece of powder intestines, three slices of pig stomach, pork belly, lean pork, pork liver, as well as a tomato wedge, some salted vegetables and two meatballs.
The broth is made from salted vegetables and pig head bones. It is further steeped with flavour from the other cuts and offal that go into the kway chap.
7. Bread Magic
Where: 01-1761, 122 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
Open: Sundays to Fridays, 7.30am to 8.15pm; Saturdays, 7.30am to 6.30pm
Buy any three buns at Bread Magic for $2 or get one for 90 cents.
Mr Wong Kam Shing, 50, and his wife Lo Li Jen, 49, bake the old-school buns from scratch every morning.
Popular picks include the coconut bun, red bean bun, yam bun, salted mung bean bun, curry potato bun, otah bun and ham chin peng bun with red bean filling.
The soft, fluffy bread comes with a generous filling.
Three buns are enough for a simple meal if you do not feel like eating rice or noodles.
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