Most Singaporeans are as honest as the day is long. Drop your wallet here or leave your purse on a table and walk away – someone will run after you to hand it back. However, there are those few who take their commercial zeal a little too seriously and resort to touts – those annoying souls who harangue (and even chase) passersby in the hope of securing business. These annoying insects are thankfully rare, and easily avoided – I hope that in mentioning this somewhat distasteful topic you can bypass them and ensure that your Singapore food experience is a positive one.
In the Weekend Food Getaways Manila post I mentioned that I try to avoid touts wherever possible. Someone has to pay the touts – in my experience, touted food is always more expensive, and usually nowhere near as good as you will find just down the street.
Live seafood, Boat Quay, Singapore
There is a difference between a greeter handing me a menu at the door of a place I have walked up to (acceptable) and someone chasing me down the street offering me the same overpriced seafood as the place next door (unacceptable).
My top three most annoying tout spots to be avoided in Singapore are:
- The seafood and Indian places in Boat Quay – other people have commented on this – my suggestion is that if you want to experience seafood on the river, walk 10 minutes further along to Jumbo at Riverside or the Jumbo Gallery in Riverwalk (at opposite ends of Clarke Quay) – and if you want Indian fine dining please jump in a taxi and go to Race Course Road in Little India (the taxi will cost you less than the money you will save on far superior food).
- The seafood vendors at Newton Circus hawker centre – there is some good food in this place, but you’d never know to find it while being annoyed by touts trying to usher you to this seat or that. You will be presented with a seafood-centric menu and pushed repeatedly toward grilled king prawns or other seafood. Be warned, these are sold by weight at tourist prices – the bill for four large prawns, two beers, and some grilled squid will be around SGD100. Please, if you want seafood, go somewhere reputable or seek the advice of friends – for less than a hundred bucks a couple of people can fill up on good crab and a variety of other dishes – or if you want authentic local cuisine, walk 10 minutes up Thomson Road to Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice (better food, and chicken rice for two with a bottle of Tiger beer is around SGD15).
- A couple of spots along Serangoon Road in Little India – I saw a tout for one of these places elbow a lady walking next to me out of the way in his haste to get to me, astonishingly bad form. If you want good North Indian food please, go to one of the places on Race Course Road, or BBQ Tonight near Mustafa on Serangoon Road. And any of the Southern Indian places on Serangoon Road that do not use touts will be good (some better than others – Saravanaa Bhavan close by is a personal favourite, but please also try Komalas or Sakunthalas).
So – Andrew’s advice on touts: Please Just Say No. Rewarding businesses that use touts is like feeding the seagulls at the beach – it encourages others to poor behaviour.
While not touting per se, there is something else that the newcomer may find confronting – there are some hawker centre vendors who can be very abrupt even when there is no line – repeatedly being asked “What you want? What you want?” while trying to decide which noodles I want with what protein takes a little getting used to. My only advice is to explain politely but firmly that you need to be left alone to read the menu.