SINGAPORE - Hawker food is synonymous with good, cheap fare that fill the stomach without breaking the bank. Twenty-five hawkers selling some of Singapore's best known dishes were recently highlighted by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for their ability to keep prices low despite rising costs.
Here are five of them who have caught the hearts, and stomachs, of Singaporean foodies, and where you can find them.
Le Gong Noodle House Blk 216 Market and Cooked Food Centre, Bedok North Street 1 #01-38
Le Gong Noodle House has been operating out of its hawker stall in Bedok North for the past 30 years but in recent years, it has had to remove some items, such as minced meat noodles, from its menu.
The costs of raw materials, such as mushrooms, has increased over the years, but the stall has kept the price of its fishball noodles at $2.50.
There are at least three other stalls in the food centre selling fishball noodles, with prices ranging between $2.80 and $3.50.
"We try not to increase our prices," said Mr Teng Beng Khit, who runs the stall with his wife. "Our long-time customers have been supporting us for many years. We want to keep prices affordable for them."
"We do not earn as much as before, but it is enough to get by."
Despite more food places popping up here, cheap food options are a rare find. "You cannot find such prices at food courts or hawker centres here," said customer David Chew, 42. "It is hard to find a stall that doesn't compromise on its quality despite rising costs."
Hajmeer Kwaja Muslim Food Maxwell Food Centre 1 Kadayanallur Street #01-103
Hajmeer Kwaja Muslim Food has been a mainstay in Maxwell Food Centre since its inception, being one of the original stalls to open there in 1986.
Its founder, Mr Omar Khathabh, died last year. His son and grandson continue to run the stall.
Mr Omar's godson, Mr Mogan, 66, who works at the stall, said: "We try not to increase prices, because this is a hawkers centre. We want everyone to be able to come and eat our food."
"The last time we increased prices was three years ago - by about 50 cents for rice dishes, and 10 cents for prata. That was when prices for ingredients increased and we had to break even."
Regulars swear by its mutton briyani, as well as its mixed rice dishes. Its nasi briyani of all varieties - chicken, mutton and fish - is one of the cheapest in Singapore at $4.50.
Said regular customer Mr Anil Goswami, 38, who works in the entertainment industry: "There's a variety of good food choices. The taste is awesome and always constant, and they never compromise on ingredients."
Deen Restaurant Lavender 803 Food House 803 King George's Avenue #01-146
Mr Sequ Jamaldeen grew up at his parents' Indian Muslim food stall in Lavender, and has seen all the changes in the area.
"There are more food places here compared to the past," said Mr Sequ, 36. "Customers now have many options. They can easily find other places to eat."
To keep long-time customers coming back, the stall, which offers Indian Muslim fare such as roti prata and mee goreng, has not changed the prices for most of its items the past 10 years. The price for a plain roti prata is $0.80, one of the lowest here.
"The costs are increasing, but we are still maintaining our prices," said the stall assistant, adding that rental for the stall has increased to $6,000, up from about $5,000 two years ago. "Some of our customers have been with us for close to 20 years."
The stall typically sees some 50 to 60 customers at lunchtime. It has recently resorted to creating its own curry masala blend, rather than purchasing from suppliers.
It is not easy, said Mr Adnan Nan, a long-time customer of the stall. "They are facing a tough time, especially with rising costs. But they always find a way to overcome their challenges."
Fei Zai Mixed Vegetable Rice Porridge Maxwell Food Centre 1 Kadayanallur Street #01-03
For sheer value, no other stall beats the ubiquitous mixed vegetable rice, or cai peng, stall.
Fei Zai Mixed Vegetable Rice Porridge was pointed out by the Case survey as being one of the cheapest mixed vegetable rice stalls in Singapore. A plate of rice with two choices of vegetables and one meat will set you back $2.50.
When The Straits Times visited the stall lunchtime on Monday, the queue grew steadily during the hour, snaking down three stalls.
Owner Edmund Li, 31, has yet to raise prices since he opened it seven years ago.
"Costs have gone up, but we have lots of regular customers," said Mr Li, who runs the stall together with his parents. "We had to switch to cheaper ingredients in the past, but we're doing well.
"We still make about 30 to 40 per cent profit," he said.
Financial analyst Rachel Poh, 26, visits the stall for lunch regularly, citing the cost and wide spread of dishes as the main draws.
"There's wide variety, and the food is tasty. They also have new dishes every week," she said.
Mr Li said variety was key to keeping his customers coming back.
"People will get sick of the same few dishes," he said. "We either change the way we cook the food, or we rotate the types of dishes we have."
Delicious Cooked Food Kallang Estate Market and Food Centre Blk 17 Old Airport Road #01-07
At $2.50, IT manager David Lim considers his lunch of curry rice, long beans, cabbage and pork cubes an affordable meal.
"Gone are the days when you can find hawker food at such a good price," said the 28-year-old, adding that the same lunch would cost about $4 at other stalls. "It is not easy to find cheap food options as in the past. These stalls are fast disappearing."
To cope with rising costs of raw materials and rent, Delicious Cooked Food at Old Airport Road has been raising prices. A plate of mixed vegetables rice with two vegetables and one meat was $2.30 two years ago, but has since gone up to $2.50. But the stall hopes to maintain the price the next few years.
"We are not here to earn big bucks. We are okay as long as we can earn a decent income," said stall helper Hoo See San, 72. "This is an old estate. Our prices have to remain affordable. If not, the residents here would find it hard to accept."
Do you know of any good and cheap hawker fare? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to dine cheap
Case highlighted five stalls with competitive prices for each dish, including fishball noodles and chicken rice. The prices do not include take-away charges, and Case says there may be other stalls that sell the dishes at competitive prices.
Click on the markers to see the full name and address of the stalls.
* Note that this refers to prices for rice with two vegetable dishes and one meat dish.
SOURCE: CONSUMER ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE | STRAITS TIMES GRAPHIC: LIN ZHAOWEI