Everyone in Singapore considers themselves some sort of culinary expert—but only when it comes to eating and not cooking, of course. Despite the fact that posting food pictures has gone out of style in most other countries, Singaporeans are still going strong, and on any given day I get to look at pictures of anything from some celebrity chef’s creation to plates of char kuay teow.
Unfortunately, being a foodie in Singapore is getting more and more expensive. While the actual inflation rate over the last five years has been about 4%, real inflation is significantly higher, which means those date nights at overpriced restaurants are getting a lot less affordable.
Still, it’s almost impossible to separate a Singaporean from his food. Singaporeans are already some of the biggest spenders on eating out in the region, and with shopping and eating being the most popular national past-times and, arguably, the only things to do in this country, depriving the Singaporean foodie of his grub would be doing him a grave injustice.
Here’s how to continue your exercises in food appreciation without going completely broke
1. Minimise unplanned meals
As a foodie, you’re going to spend a significant chunk of your income eating out. You might have a penchant for researching restaurants online before making that all-important booking, or perhaps you’re the type who wants to be the first to try the food at hip new restaurants. All these meals are planned and contribute to the pleasure of being a foodie.
But there are many other meals you will partake in over the course of the week that do not give you as much pleasure. There are the hurried lunches you gobble down while being jostled by other office workers hovering around your table. There are the mediocre dinners eaten at random restaurants because you were too lazy to cook.
In order to avoid spending a completely insane amount on food each month, minimise the number of unplanned and unenjoyed meals you have. By all means, continue to enjoy that weekly meal at a painstakingly researched restaurant. But in between, prepare your own dinner or take lunch to the office.
If you’re really that big of a foodie, those substandard meals are probably sucking away at your life force, anyway. When you do eat out, make it count.
2. Become a connoisseur of hawker food
If you get a real kick out of sampling good food, don’t forget that you’re not confined only to atas restaurants with dress codes! Singapore’s rich culinary heritage lies in its hawker food, so turn your attention to our local offerings and save a ton of money at the same time, since a hawker meal costs 3-5 times less than a mid-range restaurant meal.
In fact, getting your hands on some of the best hawker dishes in Singapore can be just as challenging as getting a seat at an exclusive restaurant. That should satisfy foodies who are obsessed with exclusivity. For instance, if you want to eat Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre, you’ll have to start queuing early in the morning, since it sells out pretty damn fast.
3. Search for deals on Groupon
Hardcore foodies in Singapore are all signed up to Groupon’s mailing list. You can find some pretty good deals on Groupon now and then, although there are also a lot of duds. For instance, fans of chilli crab got to enjoy a hefty discount at Mellben Legend Seafood earlier this year.
4. Sign up for The Entertainer
The Entertainer mobile app is to foodies what Tinder is to singles (or not). The app gives you 1-for-1 mains at a very long list of restaurants covering all types of cuisine for all budgets.
Atas foodies will jump at the chance to snag 1-for-1 mains at relatively pricy places like Fat Cow and Kinki, while fastfoodies can enjoy discounts at places like Yoshinoya and Maki San.
5. Use the right credit cards
If you’re going to spend a large amount of money dining out, look for a credit card that will reward you for doing it.
Instead of trawling through every single credit card’s website, check out MoneySmart’s comparison tool for dining credit cards. Here are a few that might interest you.
AMEX Platinum credit card – All card holders get a Palate Membership, which gives you up to 50% off at mid-range to high-end restaurants including Alkaff Mansion, Pepenero, Shima and The Marmalade Pantry. You also get a Far Card Classic Membership which gets you discounts at restaurants at the Fairmont and Swissôtel, as well as 50% off other restaurants under Amex Selects Dining (includes TungLok and Indochine restaurants).
OCBC 365 credit card – Get 3% cash back when you dine on weekdays, and 6% cashback when you dine on weekends.
ANZ Optimum World MasterCard – If you pick Dining as the category you want to receive cashback for in a particular quarter, you get 5% cashback whenever you eat out.
6. Learn to cook proper food at home
Many Singaporean foodies confess that their cooking skills are just one step away from an emergency call to SCDF. That’s a pity, as knowing how to cook something other than instant noodles does heighten your appreciation of what you put into your mouth when you eat out. I firmly believe it is Singaporeans’ lack of cooking skills that makes some terribly mediocre restaurants able to get away with spectacularly overpricing their food.
Learning to cook on your own also clues you in to which dishes are difficult to make and deserve a hefty price tag, and which ones are a rip off. For instance, if you’re given the choice between a $30 steak and a $20 spaghetti carbonara, if you’re smart you’ll choose the former, because the latter is super easy to make and consists only of bacon and eggs or cream.
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