If eating out is getting to be a too-expensive affair in Singapore, these four hawker places keeping to their price lists from the early days should be good news to you. Here are the eats and where to get ’em:
RICKSHAW NOODLES - $1
It was a dish that was popular amongst rickshaw pullers in the early days of Singapore.
Rickshaw noodles, a simple dish of noodles in a clear broth, is considered a rare gem nowadays.
Fortunately, this heritage food still exists at Zhong Guo Jie Re Shi (Rickshaw Noodles) at Maxwell Food Centre.
Helmed by Madam Soh Pho Tee, 70, the stall has been around for about 73 years. Madam Soh said: “My mother used to own a stall at China Street, and she raised six kids with this business. She started in 1943 and in 1978, moved to Maxwell.”
For $1, you get a bowl of steaming noodles, paired with broth made from shrimp and vegetables.
She also sells mee sua, and fried beehoon and kuay teow – all of which also go for $1.
Customer Niklaus Teo, 19, said: “I like their mee sua soup. The broth is really tasty.”
Madam Jansci Chong, 64, a finance assistant, said: “I visited the stall from when I was in my 20s. Noodles used to be 30 cents then.”
Madam Soh has raised her prices gradually in the last four decades. It went from 80 cents to a dollar earlier this year, in June. “I had no choice, the prices of my supplies were going up,” she said.
But the $1 dish is still drawing the crowds.
Madam Judy Kwan, 64, a travel agent who works nearby, said: ” I always come to Maxwell in the morning to have breakfast before work. The taste of the noodles and soup is unique, you cannot find it elsewhere.” She said she ate there twice or three times a week.
Madam Soh said in Mandarin she wants to hold on to the price as long as she can for her long-time customers, who have become like friends. “My regulars come from far and near, I am happy when I see them.”
CHAR KWAY TEOW – $2
His noodles may have been lauded by CEOs in The Business Times, but that’s no excuse to increase prices, says owner of Tiong Bahru Char Kway Teow, Mr Tay Soo Lan, 86.
He fried his first plate of stir-fried rice noodles on a push cart in 1954, when he was 24 years old.
He said: “My first selling location was at Kampong Bahru, then I slowly moved to Kim Pong Road, and eventually Tiong Bahru Market. That was in 1968.”
Mr Tay has since passed on the baton to his daughter, Madam Tay Li Hwa, 60, and her husband, Soh Kin Sing, 65.
What has not changed since 1990 is the price of the dish: $2.
Madam Tay said: “We want to provide an affordable dining option for housewives or kids who usually visit us during teatime.”
The stall enjoys queues through most of the day. The no-frills char kway teow had a moist and springy texture. It had a generous portion of bean sprouts and was rich in flavour.
The stall operates from 11.30am to 9.30pm. It closes on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
CHICKEN RICE - $1.50
Mr and Mrs Edwin Tan have held off raising prices for their chicken rice since 2012.
Mrs Tan, 47, told The New Paper that they took over from Mr Tan’s father 13 years ago: “Back in 1996, we used to sell the chicken rice at $1, then we went up to $1.50 in 2012 due to rising costs.”
The couple run 820 Hainan Chicken Rice at Block 823A, Tampines St 81.
They sell an average of about 600 plates a day and earn about $5,000 a month. They don’t need any more than that, they say adamantly, and added that they preferred making sure food was kept economical for their long-time patrons.
For $1.50, you can opt for roasted chicken meat, or have roasted pork, char siew, or white chicken with your rice.
And they certainly have their fans. Madam Goh PK, 50, a regular, said: “It’s different from others as it is economical and delicious too. My children grew up eating it and they love it.”
KOPI O (BLACK COFFEE WITH SUGAR) - 50 CENTS
While a cup of coffee usually goes for 80 cents to a dollar at hawker centres and coffee shops here, one stall in Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre is offering a cup of traditionally brewed kopi O for just 50 cents.
It’s not on the published price list, but there are plenty of regulars who are in the know and visit Nam Hong Coffee Stall. When sampled, the coffee was robust and satisfying.
Madam Ong Ah Hong, 47, said: “All I hope to do is to bring joy to my customers.”
She said she does not believe in stinting on the quality of the coffee powder, despite the low pricing.
Prominent food blogger Maureen Ow, better known as Miss Tam Chiak, noted that it is rather unusual for hawkers to price so low.
So why does Madam Ong choose to sell it at 50 cents?
Nam Hong Coffee Stall, which was started in the 90s, has been a labour of love for Madam Ong and her husband, Mr Khor Ah Peng, 54.
The couple have, over the years, earned many loyal regulars, many of whom are elderly people living in that area. There are also foreign workers in various worksites who enjoy the cheap cuppa.
When we visited, one worker was spotted buying multiple bags for his colleagues. He said shyly that he had travelled specifically to the food centre from his worksite to get the cheap coffee.
There was a constant stream of customers at the stall. One of the patrons who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, said her father was a regular at the stall for many years.
These days, she buys two cups of coffee, one for herself, the other for her father, and her father can always tell if the coffee comes from Nam Hong or otherwise.
Madam Ong said: “We don’t mind earning less. We just want our customers to be happy.”
The stall is open from 6am to around 8pm or 9pm. They have Sunday afternoons off.
This story was originally published in The New Paper.