What is this Economy Rice or Cai Png 菜饭 that you see at Singapore hawker centres and food courts? In essence, rice with any selection of ingredients available from the stall.
I like the fact that I can choose what I want from the 10-15 dishes available (some stalls more than others). I mean, I could mix it up some days and try a new meat or keep it simple and eat clean with stir-fried broccoli and other vegetables.
Economy Rice does not refer to any specific dish or cuisine. In fact, it is a mixture of vegetable and meat dishes; this is usually served with a portion of steamed white rice or porridge or even fried noodles. Found most commonly in hawker centres, it is also referred to as Mixed (Vegetable) Rice or Cai Png or Cai Fan, depending on dialect.
So what makes a good Economy Rice? For me, the first and foremost criteria would be how hot the dishes and rice are when served because I like my meals hot.
Secondly, it’s the price. Economy Rice is supposed to be Economical which is perfect for broke people like me. Being able to eat a variety of meats and vegetables with rice under $5 is an important factor.
Thirdly, Economy Rice stalls should not only be value for money but also convenient, especially for people who work and need a quick lunch meal. Last but not least, good Economy Rice stalls should have variety and a good standard consistently across all dishes.
Hence, I went on an Economy Rice hunt during my office lunch breaks and sometimes even for dinner to come up with a list of Economy Rice stalls that are convenient, delicious, and cost-effective. Here is a break down of my findings in the lion city.
10. Teck Ee (Kim San Leng Coffeeshop)
Within the Kim San Leng coffeeshop on Changi Road is delightful Economy Rice by Teck Ee. Nestled on the edge of the Telok Kurau neighbourhood in between Geylang and Katong, this Economy Rice stall is convenient for residents and workers nearby.
The prices are also pretty reasonable. For just $2, you could buy either white rice with one meat dish, or rice with two vegetable dishes.
This is my usual plate of Economy Rice – a vegetable, an egg or tofu, and meat with steamed white rice and gravy on top. The Economy Rice at Teck Ee was served warm and I liked the fact that they had tomato scrambled eggs which I ate a lot of from my grandparent’s cooking. The deep fried fish bites were also very crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. A well-spent $3.
Teck Ee: 324T Changi Rd, Kim San Leng Coffeeshop, Singapore 419799 | Expected Damage: $2-$5.60 | Tel:+65 6344 4720 | Opening Hours: Mon – Sun, 7AM – 8PM
9. Ye Ji Cooked Food 葉记菜饭
Located in Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre, Ye Ji Cooked Food is a must-try. Famous for its Snakehead fish fillet and Cantonese dishes, Ye Ji Cooked Food has other options too. I was happy to see a lot of dishes that my mother and grandmother cooked at home such as the Drunken Chicken and Minced-Meat Steamed Egg.
So it was no surprise that those dishes were what I ended up ordering. The chicken was very tender and the taste of Chinese wine went along with the mushrooms. They were very generous with the gravy too. As for the egg, I was glad that it was not overcooked. Steamed egg in particular is easily overcooked but Ye Ji Cooked Food does it just right. The steamed egg was bouncy but still maintained its smooth texture on top.
Ye Ji Cooked Food: #02-020, Chinatown Complex Market, Blk 335, Smith Street, 050335 | Expected Damage: $2 – $8 | Opening Hours: Mon – Fri, 9AM – 3PM
8. Babas Peranakan 娘惹小吃
Tucked away nearby Ye Ji Cooked Food in a corner, Babas Peranakan is still easy to spot because of its glaringly orange sign board and infamous long queues during lunch. I personally made the effort to go to Babas Peranakan at 9am – even before the food was ready – on the way to office to try out the Peranakan fare.
Jolly and easy to talk to, Edwin Tan, the Peranakan chef-owner, has worked in hotels such as Shangri-La before and decided to strike out on his own after 20 years of experience in the F&B industry. I don’t think he could have made a better decision.
The selection may not be as varied and compared to other Economy Rice stalls, Babas Perankan may be slightly pricier but it is definitely worth your money. The curries will keep you coming back for more and I truly have never had a bigger serving or better-tasting otak-otak. The otak is fragrant, full of flavour and will knock your socks off.
Babas Peranakan: #02-225 Chinatown Complex Market & Hawker Centre, 335 Smith Street | Expected Damage: $4 – $15 | Opening Hours: Closed on Wednesday, Mon – Tues & Thurs – Sun 10AM – 1.30PM
7. Yummy Rice Shop 婆婆饭店
Yummy Rice Shop has been around for 20 years now and there’s a reason for it: the Economy Rice is splendid. The choices may not be as varied but the dishes, especially the meat, are hot and tasty. The rice is also pillow-soft. In addition to that, their braised pork and curry is wonderful too, and it’s all super affordable. Located in Bencoolen at Albert Centre Market & Food Centre, this stall is easy to get to if you’re in the city area.
Here you can see how delicious the curry is. The auntie manning the stall was extremely generous with the gravy which is always a plus!
What really made the curry outstanding for me though was how soft the potatoes were. This went really well with the cauliflower which was even softer in comparison.
Yummy Rice Shop: 270 Queen Street #01-107, Singapore 180270 | Expected Damage: $2.50 – $6 | Opening Hours: Mon – Sun, 10:30AM – 8PM
6. SUN Economy Vegetable Rice 善食
Found in the corner of The Kitchen at Star Vista, Sun Economy Vegetable Rice stall is unexpectedly good given its location in a food court. The variety is huge and they don’t just serve rice and porridge, they serve various fried noodles as well. Kept in metal containers, the food is hotter than your usual shopping mall’s food court Economy Rice Stall. The prices are also not as ridiculous.
The Soya Sauce Chicken Wings for starters were really great. Although the eggs were a tad overcooked and the vegetables with sausage was an odd match, the rice was super soft and the gravy was tasty. Id recommend sticking with the meats.
Sun Economy Vegetable Rice: 1 Vista Exchange Green, #02-25/26, Singapore 138617 | Expected Damage: $2.50 – $8 | Opening Hours: Mon – Sun 10AM – 10PM
5. 健康斋素食 Vegetarian Food
If you’re looking for good vegetarian Economy Rice, Hong Lim Complex Food Centre is where you should be heading to. You’ll have to be an early riser though. 健康斋素食 Vegetarian Food opens as early as 6am while food preparation takes place around 5am.
Although preparation started early, the dishes were kept warm when I came to eat around 9 am. The beancurd was springy – covered in sauce, it was absolutely delicious. The sweet and sour mock meat was just as tasty too. The exterior was crunchy and the vegetables really balanced out all the unhealthy aspects of the sweet and sour mock meat. If you’re looking for healthier options, brown rice is also available here. Being vegetarian, you can expect the meal to be quite affordable.
健康斋素食 Vegetarian Food: #01-49, 531A Upper Cross Street, Singapore 051531 | Expected Damage: $2 – $5 | Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 6AM – 5PM
4. XIN KEE Penang Famous Curry Vegetable Rice 鑫记
If you don’t know what to order at Xin Kee, simply pick the Curry Chicken or Braised Pork set. The variety is not as wide as other Economy Rice stalls but Xin Kee’s Malaysian-style dishes are pretty rare amongst Singapore cai png stalls. Having lived in Malaysia, stumbling upon Xin Kee was a blessing. I know now where to get my curry stingray fix.
The curry stingray was very soft and tender. The broccoli and cauliflower mix was also very well cooked with a strong garlic taste. However, in comparison to the amount of rice, the portions of fish and vegetable could have been slightly larger. Other than that, it tasted pretty authentically Malaysian.
Xin Kee Penang Famous Curry Vegetable Rice: 186 Toa Payoh Central, Singapore 310186 | Expected Damage: $3.00 – $8.00 | Opening Hours: Closed on Wednesdays, Mon – Tues & Thurs – Sun 10AM – 8PM
3. Siew Kee Curry Mixed Rice 秀记咖喱什菜飯
Famous for their Assam Fish and Braised Pork, Siew Kee hits all the right taste buds every time. With a range of dishes to choose from, the variety is good and the standard in all dishes are consistent. Price wise, it is really affordable too although I find that the portions are slightly smaller than other Economy Rice stalls. Perhaps it’s just the plate? The owner is also very friendly and tends to remember previous customers.
The Sweet and Sour Pork is a must-try. I have a soft spot for lotus root so I had to go with that. I liked that it was soft but not to the point that it was soggy. The lotus still had some bite similar to the bean sprouts. The rice was more sticky than the average Economy Rice stall as well but that could be a favourable thing if you like the softer Japanese or Korean shortgrain rice.
Siew Kee Curry Mixed Rice: #02- 153, 116 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 588172 | Expected Damage: $2.50 – $3.50 | Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 10AM – 9PM
2. Ah Huat Vegetable Rice 阿发菜饭
Ah Huat Vegetable Rice is worth savouring. With an array of dishes on display, one must appreciate that Ah Huat Vegetable Rice still manages to serve all its dishes hot. I liked that unlike other Economy Rice Stalls, there were more options for eggs and tofu dishes. The vegetable dishes were also aplenty. Location wise, there is no way you can miss it. Along the large stretch of hawker stalls at People’s Park Hawker Center, Ah Huat stands out with its bright signage.
The fried chicken was really fragrant. The scrambled egg had a slight burnt taste but its texture was extremely fluffy. The chili paste here is a must add. The chili paste isn’t very spicy, rather, it is slightly sour but has a well-rounded taste to it. The long beans were well-cooked too.
Ah Huat Vegetable Rice: #01-1100, 32 New Market Rd, Singapore 050032 | Expected Damage: $2.50 – $6 | Opening Hours: Mon – Sun 10AM – 10PM
1. Hao Hua Cooked Food 豪華热食
Hao Hua Cooked Food, out of all that I have tried, was the most value-for-money and reminded me most of my grandmother’s cooking. Manned by an elderly couple, the food had a lot of soul in it; home-cooked food is the best kind of food. The variety might not amazing but the comforting and affordable nature of the dishes will keep you coming back.
My favorite dishes were the curry and soft tofu. So plush, the sauce sinks in-between the walls of tofu when you bite into it, allowing one to happily devour the tofu with just the right amount of sauce. The curry too was fantastic. I liked how the chicken was cut into smaller pieces so I didn’t have to do any extra work cutting it up.
P.S and the potatoes were soft.
Hao Hua Cooked Food: #02-12, 335 Smith St, Chinatown Complex, Singapore 050335 | Expected Damage: $2 – $5 | Opening Hours: Tues – Sun 11AM – 7PM
I know that the general perception of Economy Rice is boring and all stalls seem similar, but I hope that this list changes that perception and helps to escape the daily grind. Economy Rice can be exciting if you want it to be and affordable too.