Food to Avoid in Singapore (and the reasons why)

Choosing where to eat in Singapore is hard with many options in Singapore. In fact, good food is relatively easy to find in Singapore, sometimes they just don’t get recognition. Take the case of Hawker Chan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, the cheapest one Michelin Star: while the food is undeniably good, many felt that other similar stalls which didn’t get a Michelin star were equally good.

Let’s take a different approach with that knowledge. How about food we should avoid eating instead?

The below will consist of chains and types of restaurants/food establishments to avoid, since it will probably be too long if we include individual restaurants as well. The list isn’t compiled solely through my tastings. It is compiled using reviews from the internet and my own perceptions, and other sources of opinions (if there is). There is intention to update this list from time to time, hence you may find some categories to have only one chain.

For restaurant owners/stakeholders who happen to see this: I hope that you take the below as constructive criticism to improve your food establishment.

Mediocre Chain Restaurants

These restaurants actually do get a lot of patrons. Usually because their locations are very good, or the owners are very good at business. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate to their food, and many of these are essentially fast-food restaurants. Be prepared to be served by Chef Mike, potentially bad service, non-authenticity, and extremely variable food quality. People visit here to get quick lunch/dinner or to satisfy cravings, though the cravings might not be satisfied.

Pastamania

Fast food pasta. You will see this in a lot of malls, but you won’t get good pasta here. Suffers from regular fast food shortcomings.

Reviews are generally bad to mixed, depending on the outlet. Common to see reviews talking about bland food, bad service, expensive prices. There are reviews praising the value, but I fail to see this when I know food courts will offer better food options, and Saizeriya is cheaper. Main problem with eating here is the opportunity cost of not eating elsewhere. If you have eaten authentic pasta, pretend that this place doesn’t exist.

Review Sources:

Personal experience: Ate very long time ago. Felt it was mediocre, but the prices meant that I never visit this place ever again. Might update this experience for science, though with these many bad reviews it’s probably better for my mental health to just run away.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Main purpose of eating here would be to fill the stomach with no other concerns. Maybe sometimes you will still visit because of convenience and the promotions from time to time, or when there is nothing else you feel like eating, though it is not recommended.

For Tourists: Avoid at all cost. Your trip shouldn’t be wasted here.

18 Chefs/Eighteen Chefs

Poster child for student meals, serving “Western” fare like pastas, baked rice usually with sets. Always crowded with students, and students only because they offer student meals. Food isn’t terrible at the student price, but at their regular prices I’ll pretend this restaurant is part of the wall deco. They hire former convicts, but that doesn’t really mean anything except being a marketing point.

Review Sources:

Personal experience: Mediocre, and at the student price I was ok with the quality. Mains taste okay, drinks are eh, ice cream cheap. At a non-student price I see absolutely no reason to eat here. Heard a very loose rumor that they sometimes get orders wrong on purpose to clear stock (don’t quote me on this).

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Is a choice if you are a poor student, but otherwise little reason to dine here.

For Tourists: Avoid. Your trip shouldn’t be wasted here. Of course, unless your objective is “I want to eat food that students in Singapore eat.”

Ajisen

Ramen and Japanese fare. Only bad for SG branches (probably different if you go to Japan). Major complains about taste and authenticity. MSG and saltiness are said to be high in their food, without having actual flavor. Noodles have bad texture. For a few more bucks, you can eat at better ramen restaurants. Usually Ajisen queues are pretty long in the heartland areas, where ramen restaurants are far fewer/non-existent. Some say that Ajisen ramen tastes exactly the same as Menya Musashi, which is under the same group.

Review Sources:

Somewhat mixed. Generally, people who seem to have eaten other Japanese food or ramen do say that Ajisen is to be avoided. Those who like it find it comforting in some way.

Personal experience: I have eaten at Ajisen a few times, but have completely erased their ramen from my memory. I found their Tenshinhan to be okay. Over the years, their prices seem to have increased to be way too expensive for their quality.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: With so many ramen options now, eating here honestly doesn’t seem very attractive.

For Tourists: Avoid. Eat only if your objective is to taste all the non-authentic versions of food brought over from other countries.

Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe

Hong Kong Cha Chaan Teng fare, mixed with “Western” fare like baked rice. Largest complain is is the prices, mostly because it doesn’t match the quality of the food. One good point is that some branches open till pretty late.

Review Sources:

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Seems like an “avoid unless no choice”. Perhaps during lunch hours you sometimes can’t avoid coming here due to convenience of locations and seating.

For Tourists: Avoid. Singapore isn’t Hong Kong.

Manhattan Fish Market

The poor man’s fish&co. Some people complain about the food, but I find their food relatively alright, especially since do a lot of promotions and vouchers. Their service is however reportedly quite slow, though that can vary from branch to branch.

Review Sources:

Personal experience: One time I had waited for my food for about 30 to 40 minutes, so I can see why there are reports of slow service. I don’t ever eat at Manhattan without using vouchers or promotions.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: I actually think for most people the quality of the food is acceptable. Patronize with promotions/vouchers, and avoid branches that looks understaffed.

For Tourists: Generally avoid. Manhattan Fish Market doesn’t offer food that is unique to Singapore.

Good for Certain Items

Swensen’s

You can still usually find Swensen’s to be filled with people. Gift cards are often given from various sources, such as insurance groups and free ice cream are given on your birthdays when you dine there. Come here for the Ice Cream and maybe set lunches. However, their food quality isn’t the greatest, as some items seem to be microwaved (particularly pastas), greasy and expensive.

Review Sources:

Personal experience: Swensen’s isn’t quite exciting to dine at, though it could be limited to the branches I visited. Food is greasy and very cloying. I can’t say the ice cream were bad, but they are a bit overpriced. Sticky Chewy Chocolate for S$11.50… when I can head downstairs to the supermarket and buy 2 tubs of Ben & Jerry’s for about S$20?

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: It can be alright with promotions, but otherwise there are mostly better options.

For Tourists: Avoid unless your a quality assurance officer working for Swensen’s.

Han’s

Like Swensen’s, first and foremost a dessert place, but for cakes rather than ice cream. Like Jack’s Place, an old (1970s) name brand that stood long and bring feelings of nostalgia to some. Unlike Swensen’s though, it seems to be marketed as simply a cafe, from more local food like Hor Fun, “Western” food like Fish and Chips, while also still selling the cakes. Doesn’t seem to be spectacular in any way, the price makes the place a skip for the quality. One selling point seems to be that it opens much earlier than other eateries.

Review Sources:

Though I said that it is a dessert place for cakes, few reviews actually mention the cakes.

  • Facebook reviews are 2.9/5.
  • TripAdvisor (mixed) – Though scores are mixed, written reviews indicate that people come here solely for quick meals.
  • TheSmartLocal Community Reviews – Reading various reviews, it seems like there are little strong points, but definitely avoid the western food
  • Review by Blogger FoodieFC – noticed deteriorating quality, hoped for them to focus on cakes
  • Google reviews seem to indicate the same as Tripadvisor reviews

Personal experience: Not great. Utensils had a musty smell that suggests improper drying. “Western” fare they serve is about the quality of our hawker center Western stalls. Again, subjected to personal experience.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Han’s seem to be a possible choice for quick meals. But if you are someone reading a food blog, it seems unlikely that you are a type of person who would go for “quick meals”. I don’t think there is enough information about Han’s cakes to warrant a visit just to try their cakes.

For Tourists: Avoid.

Used to be Better

Sakae Sushi

There might be a joke going around that Sakae Sushi kind of sounds like “Sucky Sushi”. Except that maybe it’s not much of a joke. Used to be a forerunner in Singapore for Japanese Cuisine, but people don’t feel that the quality has caught up with the myriad of Japanese chains opening all over the place. It seems to be a common claim that supermarket sushi is comparable to Sakae’s quality. Priced much higher than it should be in this market with chains like Genki Sushi and Sushi Express.

Review Sources:

Perhaps the worst community reviews I have seen for this whole article.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Maybe we can pray that one day Sakae Sushi will have massive restructure and be more like Genki Sushi.

For Tourists: Avoid.

General Places to Avoid

Places with no people

…when other food places beside have people. If you see 3 or 4 restaurants nearby brimming with crowds, yet the one you are looking at has nobody at all, something is probably wrong. Never fight the crowd. People know what is good and what is bad. Although, sometimes this doesn’t necessarily mean that the food will be bad. Sometimes it is because service is slow or bad, or the menu is overpriced. Whatever it is, crowds appear or disappear for a reason.

Food Court Japanese Food

It is no coincidence that when people talk about food to eat in hawker centers, food courts and kopitiam, they usually neglect to talk about the Japanese food stall. If you were to only look at Singapore by browsing online you probably wouldn’t even know that most food courts/hawker center/kopitiam have at least one Japanese stall! Rather than saying these are authentic Japanese dishes, it is more accurate to call them Japanish fast food stalls, using pre-made sauces slathered onto food, rice that may or may not be Japanese, and sometimes even selling ‘Korean’ food under the same stall. Though, as all things in real life, there are exceptions to this rule.

Personal experience: I actually do frequent food court Japanese a lot. There is value in the meal here as it is usually a bit more balanced in terms of nutrition; having proteins, carbs, vegetables. The same cannot be said for a lot of typical hawker food items. However sometimes I buy it because I want to satisfy a craving, and every time I did that I wished I could have bought something else.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Sometimes you might find a gem, but it is pretty rare. Japanese stalls are good for the variety and overall balanced meals (though there isn’t in-depth research about this, so don’t assume it is very healthy), but don’t look to these to satisfy cravings.

For Tourists: Singapore isn’t Japan…

Cheap Steaks

Probably also applies overseas as well. Cheap is subjective, but for this argument let’s give a number and say below S$20, though even S$30 would be reasonable for category. Food Court/Hawker/Kopitiam Western Stalls steaks are to be avoided at all costs unless proven to be good. Most Singaporeans aren’t too great with beef, so most stalls not specializing in beef don’t do them well, and neighborhood/heartland supermarkets may not even stock fresh beef.

To find good steaks, perhaps consult TheLazyMeater (reviews mostly steaks), this reddit thread and another reddit thread.

For Tourists: Singapore isn’t exactly a place to look for steaks, though New Ubin Seafood does Tze Char with influences from other cuisines, and also serve a killer ribeye steak.

Potential Candidates on the Edge

These places are a bit on the edge, and not exactly “must avoid” places, but were at least under consideration. Most of the places here are just overpriced rather than being bad.

Jack’s Place

Jack’s Place is the taste of nostalgia. Perhaps food quality got worse, perhaps quality stagnated even with the influx of new ideas and cuisines over the years. The chain used to be where people go to for steaks, lobster bisque, baked potato jackets and other comfort western fare at affordable prices. Now walk into any Jack’s Place and you will literally find that the decor looks the same, the food tastes the same and perhaps they haven’t quite caught up with the fact that we live in 2018.

Personal experience: Experience seems to vary a bit branch to branch. Food is average to good, but the main killer is the price.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: If your sole purpose of dining is for nostalgia purposes, then dining at Jack’s Place isn’t actually that bad.

For Tourists: With varying quality, it isn’t quite worth the risk of wasting time here. You also probably wouldn’t actually taste the nostalgia without having our memories.

Review Sources:

Some reviews actually do like the place.

Pasar Malam/Night Market Food

Price is the main concern to avoid Pasar Malam food. It is usually much more expensive, because of ridiculous rentals (they don’t earn much despite high prices). I do find value in the enjoyment derived from eating food here and exploring the night market, so this isn’t exactly an “avoid at all costs”, but that you might find that you would rather eat elsewhere with more or better food elsewhere. And that elsewhere is probably not far away!

For Tourists: Pasar Malams/Night Markets aren’t exactly a unique Singaporean experience, since they are also in other South East Asian countries. But if you’re already here you might as well experience one! Just don’t go spending your entire day’s budget here.

Bingsu Shops

In a country where you can get Ice Kacang for a few bucks, places that slap “Korean” in front of their menu just seems… exploitative and fad driven. Despite being similar desserts, Bingsu shops charge about S$10 to S$15 for one big bowl. Though, I am a bit conflicted about these shops being in the same category as the above food places. The dessert isn’t actually terrible or made horribly, it’s just ridiculously expensive.

Nando’s

A fast food restaurant overseas, but somehow like a full service restaurant in Singapore with the accompanying restaurant like prices. While there are people that say Nando’s isn’t great, and that the overseas branches are a lot better, the reviews for Nando’s aren’t actually terrible (google reviews are all over 4/5). Though, reviews that mention having tasted overseas branches say that the Singapore ones just suck. This is an “Avoid if you tried the real Nando’s”.

KFC

I have written before that Colonel Sanders himself hated the current corporate KFC. With all the Korean fried chicken chains, local brands like Chic-A-Boo and Arnold’s, Taiwan fried chicken, Popeye’s, Texas Chicken, and probably god damn how many others that will come, KFC just doesn’t seem to hold up anymore. Sometimes they produce gems like the Zinger Mozzarella Burger, but otherwise there feels little reason to visit here anymore. However, I think most people patronizing fast food knows what they are getting into.

Long John Silver’s

Like KFC, another fast food chain that I think most people patronizing should already know what they are getting into.

Kaya Toast

Probably the least deserving entry on the entire list. Before you start typing some angry comments, the main reason why I put this isn’t because kaya toast tastes bad. Kaya Toast in my opinion isn’t worth eating outside for because of how cheap (and easy) it is to actually make at home compared to eating it outside. Look at SeriousEat’s recipe, or if you’re a local who don’t trust filthy foreigners then look at noobcook’s. (Some of you might be going “People WRITE recipes for Kaya toast???”)

Kaya from a supermarket costs about S$3 for a jar, bread from a neighborhood bakery about S$2, butter about S$5 for a 250g stick. And that makes you A LOT of Kaya toast.

For Singaporeans/people living long term in Singapore: Mostly eat this if you don’t have access to a pantry/kitchen and you absolutely feel like eating it right now.

For Tourists: Trying Kaya toast is actually a good idea, because you might not have access to Kaya at home, or even a kitchen/pantry here. Just don’t bother wasting your limited stomach space on multiple eatings of Kaya Toast. Buy a jar from somewhere you like, then bring it back to make your own.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *