If you like eating well while traveling on the cheap, you can do a lot worse than Southeast Asia, where amazing food is sold for a bargain throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. This well-trodden “Banana Pancake Trail” has expanded lately, to include parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. But one tiny country in the region stubbornly resists inclusion in the typical backpacker’s itinerary, not least because the country also happens to be the most expensive city on earth: Singapore.
The NYC-sized city-state at the southern tip of Malaysia takes first place in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey. As one of the world’s most densely populated countries, land is at a premium and virtually none of it is dedicated to agriculture — so almost all foodstuffs are imported. Which is why it’s odd that tucked away near the back of a food court in Singapore’s Chinatown there’s a humble stall where a man and his wife will sell you a plate of gooey, sweet and savory Cantonese-style soy sauce chicken that, at $2 Singapore dollars (or about $1.50 USD) is the cheapest Michelin Star meal on the planet.
Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle is located near the famous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (which houses a fragment said to come from Buddha’s grill) in the Chinatown Market Complex and Food Centre, one of the “hawker centers” to which the Singaporean government moved food vendors decades ago, in its efforts to clean up the city’s streets. The owner is a Malaysian-born chef named Chan Hon Meng, but most people know him simply as Hawker Chan.
If you find yourself in Singapore looking for an ultra-cheap, gourmet meal, pay Hawker Chan a visit, but get there early, because his line gets long. Fast.