Troughs of Lukewarm "Economic Rice"
"Economic Rice" here in Singapore is also known as Chap Chye Rice, which apparently literally translates into Ten Vegetable Rice. As both names imply, this is basically a plate of steamed white rice accompanied with a selection of random things like veggies cooked in all sorts of ways, and is meant to be dirt-cheap (this stuff also goes by the much simpler and somewhat still descriptive name of "cooked food"). I've adamantly tried to avoid this stuff in the past, since it always seemed to remind me of something one might expect to find in prison or something: endless troughs of sludge that has been sitting at room temperature for hours and gets thrown onto your plate into a sloppy mess. For some reason though, this was something I felt like eating this morning. I'm kinda glad that I did.
I pointed at a few of the things behind the glass, such as tofu, string beans, and eggplant, all of which got thrown onto my plate and went for a whopping S$2.50, or US$1.50. It actually turned out a lot better than I was expecting. It was greasy, flavorful, and not quite as stale as I would have thought, despite being unattractively lukewarm. Even though the rice here was a bit dry, these things were paired very well with the rice and went down quite easily. In fact, I liked it so much that I went for another plate (!).
And that's when things took a turn for the worse. I grabbed a second plate with some other "cooked food" at a price of S$3.50, or US$2.00 (the price goes up if you order "meat" dishes instead of "veg"). While the bean sprouts that I picked were fine, I really didn't like this boring soy-sauce chicken thing that I got, nor did I like those soggy (not to mention cold) deep-fried wontons. I had my hopes up for some stewed cabbage thing too, although it was in a curry sauce that I normally like on its own but became a big turn off for me today for some reason.
Oh well. At least my first plate went better than expected, and based on that experience, I wouldn't be as opposed to getting more some other time. I guess I've eaten similar things, such as nasi campur in Indonesia, nasi padang in Malaysia, or even the Teochew porridge here in Singapore, the last of which I rather enjoy (although that is based on porridge with some tasty bean paste stuff rather than plain rice here). I'm told that the better Chap Chye Rice places have high turnover, hence making sure that the food is actually still hot rather than at room temperature. Perhaps my opinion will change after hitting up some of those spots. Well, at least it is affordable.
On a side note, one amusing thing at hawker centers around here is diao yu, or literally, "fishing." No, it's not fish-based drink or anything strange like that. This is just plain hot Chinese tea, and is called such a name because it's simply hot water poured onto a tea bag on a string, thus resembling fishing when you steep away. It sure helped to cut away the grease in the economic rice.