As Singapore prepares to host the first World Street Food Congress - showcasing the best cuisine from trucks, vans and hawker stalls around the globe - we take a look at the finest the city has to offer in affordable dining.
Eating out is everyone's favourite pastime in Singapore - one subject that enthusiastically unites the country's diverse population of Chinese, Malays and Indians.
Restaurants are open around the clock, and most of the time are packed to bursting point, serving some of the most delicious and varied cuisines in Asia.
Although this tiny island state now has a host of expensive gourmet venues linked to some of the world's most famous chefs, at its core is a vibrant culture of street food at very affordable prices. Singapore's love affair with hawker cuisine will be celebrated from 31 May to 9 June at the inaugural World Street Food Congress, a 10-day festival where 37 vendors from 10 countries will roll up to serve their dishes at the F1 Pit Building and Paddock, 1 Republic Blvd, at Marina Bay on the south-east of the island - including taco stands from Mexico, food carts from Malaysia, mobile kiosks from India and gourmet food trucks from the US, as well as participants from the host country and elsewhere.
As well as the street chefs and stalls, there will be food writers and street-food specialists, including American TV chef Anthony Bourdain and Claus Meyer, the co-founder of Copenhagen's Noma restaurant, three-time winner of the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards. The event will also host the first World Street Food Awards, intended to raise global awareness of the genre.
To whet your appetite, here's our pick of 10 of the best spots in Singapore to find great affordable food, from the hawker food centres, to the food courts of Chinatown, curry houses of Little India and cafes of Kampong Glam.
328 Katong Laksa
Katong is Singapore's old Peranakan neighbourhood, where the blending of Chinese ingredients with Malay spices and cooking created nyonya cuisine. It also forms part of the name of "328 Katong Laksa". This friendly coffee shop, run by a former beauty queen serves one of the best laksa soups you'll find - a delicious mix of spicy lemak coconut milk, prawns, cockles, tofu, beansprouts and noodles. A bowl costs S$4 (about £2) and hungry customers can also order traditional otak otak, a fish paste steamed in banana leaf, or nasi lemak, rice with crunchy anchovies, peanuts, cucumber and a wicked sambal sauce. There are lots of food shops along the road, selling sticky kueh cakes and barbecued honey-glazed pork.
• 51 East Coast Road, on the junction with Cylon Road, near the Hotel Grand Mercure
Little India, to the east of Orchard Road, is one of Singapore's liveliest quarters, with scores of reasonably priced restaurants, cafes and shops selling colourful silks, fragrant incense and glitzy bangles. Andhra stands out because of its psychedelic exterior - a kaleidoscope of garish colours. And though the speciality here is south Indian vegetarian dishes, it is also known for its Hyderabadi biryani, Mysore mutton (cooked with green chillies and coriander), a spicy fish pulusu (baked with tamarind and raw mango), and the great Singaporean favourite - fish-head curry (never a cheap dish, around £11). Main courses and vegetarian set menu from £4.
• 41 Kerbau Road, +65 6293 3935, andhracurrysingapore.com
The sign outside may read "Thye Chong Restaurant since 1941", but the Chinese owner of this ancient coffee shop has long leased out the premises to Muslim chefs, who make arguably the island's best chapatis. Two aged gentlemen share rolling and cooking duties, turning out a piping hot flatbread every couple of minutes. For chapati-dipping, there are about 20 curries to choose from, including classic mutton masala and the more challenging curried goat brain. Each chapati costs under 50p, with the curries priced from £1.50-£2.50
• 168 Serangoon Road, on the corner with Norris Road, opposite Kansama Restaurant
Tian Tian, Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown
Everyone in Singapore has their own favourite Hainanese chicken rice stall. It's as close to a national dish as you can come, which is surprising given that it doesn't really come from the Chinese island of Hainan at all, but was invented in colonial Malaya by Hainanese chefs cooking for the British.
The recipe couldn't be simpler: tender steamed chicken, served slightly cooled, fluffy rice, sliced cucumber, coriander - and two key ingredients - a homemade chili sauce and bowl of chicken broth. Chinatown's Maxwell Food Centre, a converted 1950s market, has about a hundred tempting hawker stalls, but the longest queues are at Tian Tian, where a plate of chicken rice goes for less than £2, with some aficionados ordering just wings, claws or whatever goes into what the menu terms "spare parts".
• Stall 10, Maxwell Food Centre,1 Kadayanallur Street, tiantianchickenrice.com
Chinatown Complex Food Court
Signs tell tourists that Smith Street is "food street", and it's true that it's one of the few places where there are still old-fashioned hawker stalls lining the street at night. But for more exciting food, step into the dilapidated Chinatown Complex, which houses a brilliant wet (fresh food) market and buzzing food court upstairs. For once, this isn't sanitised Singapore, and customers take more notice of how delicious the cooking is than the hygiene rating. Satay Bee Hoon can claim to be a genuine Singapore invention, a fusion of Chinese and Malay influences, where delicate rice vermicelli, cuttle fish, cockles, pork and kangkong (water spinach) are smothered in a spicy, crunchy satay sauce, all for £1.50 a portion.
• Stall 02-112, Chinatown Complex food court, 335 Smith Street
Yu Kun Kaya
Singaporeans are big on nostalgia, typified by the crowds that sit out every morning at the shady terrace of the Ya Kun restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. Don't expect a traditional English fry-up on the menu, but a local breakfast that has been served since 1944 - the Kaya Toast set menu. For under £2 you get a plate of toast filled with kaya coconut jam, two very runny eggs (don't even think about asking for them to be more cooked) and a cup a dense coffee, magically filtered through a strange-looking sock device. They like to add a big dose of super-thick condensed milk - delicious but frighteningly sweet.
• 18 China Street, +65 6438 3638, yakun.com
The narrow streets of Chinatown are crammed with restaurants, coffee shops and hawker stalls, but Yum Cha is hidden away on the first floor of an anonymous budget hotel, so it can come as a shock when you walk into a huge, noisy dining room. Although there is a tempting full menu - chili crabs, salted egg prawns, steamed pomfret - this is the place to come for dim sum. Portions are from £1.50, and the best are the delicate spinach prawn dumpling, beancurd stuffed with fish, "vegetarian" ham in tau pok (fried tofu), and crispy red bean paste with banana. Try to visit at the weekend when the restaurant reverts to the old-fashioned method of service, as waitresses weave between the tables pushing rickety trolleys filled with steamed goodies.
• 20 Trengganu Street, +65 6372 1717, yumcha.com.sg
Kampong Glam is the lively Muslim part of downtown Singapore with everything from Moroccan couscous restaurants to shisha cafes, and even a halal Parisian bistro. But nothing beats this hole in the wall Sumatran eatery serving Indonesian nasi padang. You start off with a heaped plate of rice and then it is self-service, with around 20 Minankabau dishes to choose from - assam fish, sour gourd, smoked beef, jackfruit curry - with the price of your plate increasing depending on how much you heap on. Lunch will cost less than a fiver.
• 48 Kandahar Street, +65 6396 6919,
This vegetarian-only Indian restaurant could be the cheapest place in town to eat, because officially, there are no prices. It is a run by a charitable association, Temple of Fine Arts, that finances art, music and dance centres, and clients are asked to make a donation at the end of the meal of what they can afford. In practice, people usually leave S$15 for a generous buffet of gourmet vegetarian delicacies. The waiters and cooks are all volunteers, and their specialities are dosai filled with spiced potatoes and chutney, and oothappam (rice and lentil pancakes), topped with onions, fried cauliflower, chillies and yogurt. It's a very popular venue at the weekend, when a reservation is advised.
• Central Square, 20 Havelock Road, +65 6339 9993, annalakshmi.com.sg
Tiong Bahru Food Court
A short bus ride from the city centre, Tiong Bahru is where the earliest public housing was built in Singapore - very low-rise compared to today's skyscrapers - and the 1950s-style market houses a busy wet market on the ground floor and some of Singapore's best hawker stalls upstairs. This is like a flashback to the past, with a musician entertaining diners on an electric piano, and no one looking stressed or rushed. It is also the place to try a traditional preparation of lor mee, a delicious dish of thick yellow noodles served in a thick gravy, with fish cake, fried wonton, stewed pork and slices of ngor hiang (five-spiced meal roll). In the final moments of the cooking process, vinegar and minced garlic are added, giving a tangy, savoury taste. A bowl will cost less than £1.50 and is only served at breakfast and lunch.
• Stall 02-80, Tiong Bahru Food Court, 30 Seng Poh Road
Andhra Curry in Singapore. Photograph: John Brunton