The GIANT Cheapo Guide to Chinese Food in Singapore

With over 60,000 hawker stalls in over 100 hawker centres island-wide, it’s easy to pack a dinner for one on the way home from work. After all, local favourites like chicken rice, char kway teow, and hokkien mee, typically cost only $3 to $6 per person.

However, the costs do add up. When there are more people to feed, it becomes much more economical to simply cook for yourself. Take Bak Kut Teh for an example; it typically costs $6 and up for each serving. If you have the basic kitchen staples like cooking oil, salt and rice, our Bak Kut Teh recipe below will only cost you $3.48 per serving.

Check out this selection of affordable local recipes and easily half your food expenditures!

 

Hokkien Mee (Serves 3 to 4)

Ask any Singaporean about the best local Chinese food and you’re bound to hear about hokkien mee. While this dish is rather common at hawker centres, few stalls can perfect the humble hokkien mee. Multiple rounds of frying are needed for the noodles to absorb as much broth as possible, and hawkers are limited by cost and time pressures.

Ingredients:

Seasoning:

  • 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 pinch of pepper
  • 1 dash of sesame oil

Step 0.5: Save the prawn heads
Wash prawns and remove the heads. Pop the heads in a container and store in your freezer for future dishes that call for richer flavours.

Step 1: Make prawn stock
On high heat, fry the prawn heads with a little oil until fragrant. Boil the fried prawn heads in the chicken stock for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Step 2: Prepare the seafood
Clean and cut the squid into rings and tentacles. Blanch the prawns and squid in boiling water.

Step 3: Scramble the eggs
Fry the chopped garlic in a little oil until fragrant. Scramble the eggs in the garlic and oil.

Step 4: Fry the noodles
Add the yellow noodles and rice vermicelli. Fry on high heat until the noodles begin to sear a little, then add a third of the prawn stock.

Step 5: Continue condensing the prawn stock
When the noodles are nearly dry, add another third of the prawn stock. Cover the wok and braise the noodles on medium low heat for 5 to 7 minutes.

Step 6: Finishing touches
Stir in the prawn, squid, and chives. Then, add the remaining stock and fry until suitably dry. Serve with sambal chili and lime.

 

Chicken Rice (Serves 6)

A fusion of Hainanese and Cantonese cultures, chicken rice is considered Singapore’s national dish for good reason. While its tastiness is undisputed, it’s mild enough to be eaten regularly. Though it’s a Straits Chinese food staple, it can easily be made halal, making it accessible to the majority of our food-loving population.

(A) Ingredients for Hainanese chicken:

  • 1 entire chicken (1-1.2 kg, completely defrosted or fresh)
  • 3 L water (enough to submerge the whole chicken in a pot)
  • 5-6 slices ginger (1 thumb-sized joint)
  • 1 basin ice water
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil

(B) Ingredients for rice:

  • 300-360 g uncooked white jasmine rice (roughly 3 plastic rice cups full)
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 700 ml chicken stock
  • 6 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 thumb-sized joint ginger, grated
  • 8 pandan leaves (to be folded into 2 bundles)
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt

(C) Ingredients for spring onion oil (Optional):

  • 6 stalks spring onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 10 tbsp oil

(D) Ingredients for dipping sauce to pour over the chicken (Optional):

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine (Also known as Hua Tiao Chiew or Shaoxing Wine. Omit for halal version)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp chicken stock

(E) Other condiments and garnishes (Optional):

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 stalk parsley
  • Dark soy sauce to drizzle over the rice when serving

(F) Ingredients for chili sauce:

  • 3 tbsp garlic chili sauce
  • 2 tbsp chicken stock
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • Juice from 1-2 limes
  • 1 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp sugar (optional)

(G) Necessary kitchen supplies:

  • Coarse salt for cleaning the chicken
  • Tall, slim cooking pot that can hold a whole chicken
  • Toothpicks
  • Chopsticks

Step 1: Prepare the vegetables
Clean and slice the cucumbers, then refrigerate. Cut off the white sections of the spring onions and set aside. Chop up the green sections and refrigerate. Next, wash and tie the pandan leaves into 2 bundles. Peel and cut 1 knob of ginger into 6 slices. Peel and grate the second knob of ginger. Peel and chop up 12 cloves of garlic.

Step 2: Wash and prepare the rice
Wash the rice and soak for 20 minutes, then drain dry for another 20 minutes and set aside.

Step 3: Clean the chicken
Remove all feathers and innards from the chicken. Rinse and scrub the entire chicken with coarse salt to remove the smell, including the cavity of the chicken. Then, cut off all the fat and set aside for later use. Chop off the feet; you can add it to the pot when you cook the chicken. Fold the wings backwards to create handles, making it easier to remove the chicken from the pot later. DO NOT cut off the head and neck.

Step 4: Stuff the chicken
Insert the ginger, the white sections of the spring onion, and 1 bundle of pandan leaves into the cavity of the chicken. Use the toothpicks to seal the stuffing inside the cavity.

Step 5: Cook the chicken
Boil the water in the tall pot on high heat. Once boiled, grab the chicken neck and dunk the entire chicken in the boiling water 3 times. (This is to seal the flavour in the chicken.) Then, submerge the entire chicken and put the lid on. Wait for the water to boil again (3 to 7 minutes), then turn the heat down to low. Leave the pot to simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Keeping the lid on, leave the pot to stew for another 35 minutes.

Step 6: Blanch the chicken in ice water
Prepare a large basin of ice water. Once the chicken is cooked, wedge chopsticks under each folded chicken wing and lift out of the pot. Then, submerge the entire chicken in the ice water for about 20 minutes.

Note: Remove 3 cups (700 ml) of chicken stock for the rice and set aside 2 tbsp of chicken stock for the dipping sauce, then save the rest of the pot. You can freeze and use it for other recipes, or to cook the next round of chicken rice.

Step 7:  While the chicken is chilling, cook the rice
Fry the chicken fat in 3 tbsp of cooking oil to extract the chicken oil. Discard the crispy pieces of chicken fat once they turn golden brown. Add in half the chopped garlic and grated ginger; fry until fragrant. Immediately add in the washed rice and 1.5 tsp of salt, then mix well.

Transfer the rice mixture to a rice cooker, then cook per normal with the remaining bundle of pandan leaves and 3 cups of chicken stock. When cooked, remove the pandan leaves and gently fluff the rice with chopsticks.

Step 8: While the rice is cooking, rub the chicken with 2 tbsp sesame oil and set aside.

Step 9: Sauces

  1. Optional: Prepare the garlic and spring onion oil
    In a sauce pan, heat up 10 tbsp of oil over high heat. Add in the remaining half of the garlic. Once the garlic turns lightly brown, evenly pour the entire pan of oil and garlic over the spring onion. You should hear a sizzling sound and smell the aroma of the spring onion.
  2. Optional: Prepare the dipping sauce
    Add the following into a bowl and mix well: 1 tbsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine (aka Hua Tiao Chiew or Shaoxing Wine), 1 tsp sugar, 2 tbsp chicken stock (from the pot)
  3. Optional: Prepare the chili sauce
    Mix the following well in a bowl: 3 tbsp garlic chili sauce, 2 tbsp chicken stock, 1 tsp white vinegar, juice from 1-2 limes. If preferred, add: 1 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp sugar

Step 10: Serve
When the rice is ready, the chicken should be ready to serve. Line a plate with the cucumber slices. Remove the stuffing, then chop the chicken into pieces and arrange on top of the cucumbers. (Carving a chicken is a bit of an art—learn the basics here!) Pour the dipping sauce over the chicken, or just serve it on the side with the soy sauce, chili sauce, and spring onion oil.

 

Bak Kut Teh (Serves 4)

A fuss-free throwback to the days where Singaporeans had little wealth, this Chinese food classic has a good story to share with the young ones. To complete the meal, cook a pot of rice and pull out some standard Chinese pickles.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg of pork meat on bone
  • 1 head white garlic (rinse but do not peel or separate cloves)
  • 1 tbsp black soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 750 ml water
  • A pinch of salt/MSG, to taste
  • 1 packet of Bak Kut Teh spice mix, 30-40g

Instructions:
Boil the water in a pot. Rinse the meat. When the water boils, add the meat, garlic, and spice mix into the pot. Boil on medium heat for 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue boiling until the meat is cooked.

 

Ban Mian (Serves 2)

A typical Chinese food craving Singaporeans get, especially during the monsoon season, is for ban mian. The ultimate local comfort food, this dish is perfect for those rainy days where you need something warm and satisfying. The typical flat noodles used for ban mian can be swapped out for mee hoon kueh, especially if you prefer a chewier texture.

Ingredients for stock:

  • 1.2 L water
  • 1 cube chicken stock
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • A pinch of salt and pepper

Other ingredients:

  • 200 g minced meat (pork/chicken)
  • 1 tsp corn flour
  • 1 tsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • A pinch of salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 20 g ikan bilis, washed and patted dry
  • 1 bunch chye sim or any leafy green vegetable
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp fried shallots
  • 2 tbsp chopped spring onions

Ingredients for mee hoon kueh:

  • 300 g plain flour
  • 120 ml water
  • 1 egg
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Substitute for mee hoon hueh: 250 g ban mian.

Step 0.5: Make the dough for mee hoon kueh
Sift the flour, and add in egg, salt, and oil. Knead the mixture, adding water gradually until it forms a soft stretchy dough. Roll into a ball, cover with cling wrap, and set aside for 1 hour.

Step 1: Marinate the minced meat with salt, pepper, sesame oil, and cornstarch.

Step 2: Separately fry the shallots and the ikan bilis.

Step 3:
If making mee hoon kueh, quickly pinch the dough into small flat pieces. (Tip: Use low-medium heat and make 1 serving at a time.) If using ban mian, blanch the ban mian in boiling water and set aside.

Step 4: Make the soup and cook the meat
Dissolve the chicken stock cube in a pot of boiling water. Turn the heat up to high, then add the marinated meat in small chunks. When the meat floats to the top, stir the water to create a gentle vortex before cracking the eggs open one by one and into the eye of the vortex to poach; doing so helps the egg stay in one piece. Scoop one egg each into a serving bowl.

Step 5: Cook the vegetables and the noodles
Add in the vegetables. After 1 minute, add in the ban mian/mee hoon kueh and stir well to prevent sticking. Cook for 4 to 7 minutes, seasoning to taste. Then, serve into the bowls, garnishing with the ikan bilis, shallots, and spring onions.

 

Char Kway Teow

An import from the Teochew people of Guangdong province, char kway teow (literally “stir-fried flat rice noodles”) is a Chinese food fave regularly whipped up in woks across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even Brunei. While Penang has its own version of the dish, Singapore’s char kway teow is sweeter, darker in colour, and uses thicker rice noodles.

Ingredients for chili paste:

  • 1 oz seeded dried red chilis, soaked in water
  • 2 fresh red chilis, seeded
  • 3 small shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp oil
  • A pinch of salt

Ingredients for char kway teow sauce (mix and blend well):

  • 5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1½ tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp fish sauce
  • Scant ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 dashes white pepper powder

Other ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp oil or lard
  • 12 shelled prawns, submerged in ice cold water plus 2 tbsp sugar for 30 minutes
  • 1 lb fresh flat rice noodles, completely loosened and with no clumps
  • 1 lb bloody cockles, shelled
  • 2 Chinese sausages, sliced diagonally
  • 1 bunch fresh bean sprouts, rinsed with cold water and drained
  • 1 bunch Chinese chives with about 1 inch of the bottom section removed and then cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs

Step 1: Make the chili paste
Finely grind the chili paste ingredients in a food processor. Stir-fry the paste with 1 tsp oil until aromatic. Set aside.

Step 2: Clean the wok, heat to dry, then add 2 tbsp oil/lard and turn the heat up to high. When the pan smokes slightly, add in the half the chopped garlic. Before the garlic starts browning, add 6 prawns and half the sausage slices. Stir with a spatula.

Step 3: Cook the noodles and eggs
When the aroma of the Chinese sausage is released, add half the bean sprouts then half the flat noodles. Add 2½ tbsp of the char kway teow sauce into the wok and stir vigorously to blend well. Push the noodles aside, then add a bit of oil in the empty half and crack an egg in. Break the egg yolk with the spatula and stir to blend with the egg white. Cover the egg with the noodles and wait for about 15 seconds.

Step 4: Finishing touches

If desired, add ½ tbsp (or more) of chili paste and some cockles into the wok. If not, continue to stir-fry till the egg is cooked. Add chives, do a couple of quick stirs, then and serve immediately.

Cooking at home can be very simple and affordable. All you have to do is learn from our cheapo recipes, and join GSSC for the latest promotions!

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