Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sam's Budget Food

July almost becomes an organic food month for me (Nutrihub during the first week, Kampung Senang on the second, plus a string of undocumented vegetarian meals at Ci Hang and Yes Natural in between) if it isn't interrupted by Sam's Budget Food. Brought to my attention by Vegetarian Society Singapore (VSS) via email while I was slogging away in my office, this was what the e-newsletter said about this eatery:

"SG is lucky to have many great veg Indian restaurants, but we do not have so many Indian veg food stalls. Fortunately, a new one recently opened near Tanjong Pagar Plaza, beside the wet market. It's called Sam's Budget Food. The address is Blk 7, Level 1, Stall #5. Contact 6222.4458, 9471.6384, ."

As I was skimming through this paragraph, I could not help but imagine reading in between those lines that Indian vegetarian food in Singapore is generally more expensive. As the name of the stall suggests, Sam's Budget Food sells its food at a lower price. Had this been a Chinese vegetarian stall, it often means resorting to cheap MSG, adding more salt and other what-nots to bring you dishes that at least taste decent. At Sam's however, they promise to cook using less oil and only natural ingredients. Shoba, the kind lady who served me on that day, added that their dishes were Indian home cooked food, something for the Indian foreign workers to feel nostalgic about. Since this stall was opened not too long ago, the boss was a little apologetic about his limited menu. He said that more dishes would be introduced as they went along. To a newbie to Indian cuisine like myself, the so-called limited menu already looked more exciting than that of the neighboring Chinese vegetarian stall.

The Food

Chappati Set, S$ 3.60

Chappati is the Indian version of unleavened flatbread. Made from whole wheat flour, it is then roasted on a preheated dry skillet. Without much taste on its own, it is meant to be a staple to go with dishes such as curry and vegetables.

As opposed to the flaky layered texture of roti prata, which non-Indian Singaporeans are more familiar with, chappati consists of a single thin layer. Chewy and doughy, it is closer to an unsweetened pancake with lower moisture level. At least this was I gathered after trying the plain chappatis at Sam's. In my opinion, it complemented well with the dhal (A curry using pulses as the main ingredient), that was part and parcel of this set. Although I would not rate the dhal here as exceptional, I would choose it over the local Chinese rendition of curry anytime. In fact I generally prefer the curry of other races (Including the Japanese) because they tend to place more emphasis on the curry powder flavor instead of being overshadowed by the spiciness of chili.

Apart from two plain chappatis and dhal, I got to choose two vegetables side dishes to complete the set. The cauliflowers, broccolis and potatoes were not overcooked hence maintaining the crunch in them. I could not say the sides I had picked were not spicy at all, but the hotness was still within my limited tolerable level. True to their words, the dishes were not too greasy.

Just like the ubiquitous economic rice in Singapore, the overall standard of this set meal was undermined by the coldness. It had probably seen better days, or rather hours, when they were just cooked. I also wondered if it was a common practice of Indians to serve very small portions of their side dishes because they vanished a little too soon, leaving me to force the remaining plain chappati down my throat.

Potato Chappati, S$ 2.00

This was a variation of chappati, with boiled mashed potatoes stuffed inside, hence it was called potato chappati. In contrast to the chapati set, this dish was served hot, a vast improvement indeed. This was what a good chappati should taste like, soft on the inside, and subtly crispy on the outside.

If you had started carving the bread from the edges like I did, you would felt a little letdown by the absence of a quality that set it apart from plain chappati. It wasn't until I hit the location where the potatoes were buried, that I began to savor the goodness of it. Flavored by the right mixture of spices, the potato chappati only got better as I proceeded towards the center.

By serving as a dip, the curd helped me to get through the less interesting seams of the chappati to where the potatoes were. Even when taken on its own, it was no less weak. It might resemble coleslaw with all that shredded carrots bathed in viscous white sauce, and almost taste like one, but the yogurt forced the similarity to end here. The additional tartness the yogurt contributed to the curd hit it off beautifully with the rest of the ingredients, making this dip an extraordinary one. Shoba revealed that chili was grated into curd as well but because the seeds were left out, the overall mixture was not spicy. Normally too much dairy made me feel a little sick, but this curd was appetizing throughout.

At the back of my mind I wondered if this was one of the traditional Indian dish or an invented recipe by Sam's Budget Food. Whichever it was, potato chappati was more than a redeeming factor for the cold chappati set. It totally left me smitten. What's more, it only cost S$2.00. Due to its time-consuming recipe, it would only be made on days when Sam's is not expecting a crowd. Anyone who is interested in this dish should call them beforehand (Contact 84499145) to check its availability.


I may be a little critical about the coldness of some of the food served at Sam's Budget Food, but because this is a common quality among other vegetarian, or should I say, any food stalls in coffee shops, I can easily forgive it. Moreover, my mind is more preoccupied with the excellent quality of the potato chappati. My trip specially to Tanjong Pagar on that day was certainly worth all the while because of it.

Address:Blk 7, Level 1, Stall #5 S(081007)
Opening Hours:Mon - Sat, Morning - 8.00 pm
Bus Service:-
MRT Station:Tanjong Pagar


  1. Hey Prefer Vege,

    Keep up the good work with venturing into the world of Indian cuisine.

    To answer some of the questions you indirectly raised in your post:-

    'Potato chapati' is actually aloo paratha. Paratha is a very common thicker bread in India.

    I have often had the same experience as yours, of being served lukewarm Indian food, not so much at restaurants, but at the budget eateries. One reason which might explain this (which I have deduced) is Indians eat with their right hand, therefore if the food is served too hot, the customer will be scolded by it. Thus, it is maintained at a cooler temperature, so they can grab it immediately.

    Great work!


  2. Hi Luke

    Thanks you for sharing your knowledge about Indian food. I really learn a lot from you, especially from your blog.

    Your deduction about why Indian food tends to be lukewarm makes a lot of sense. I use cutlery so often that I fail to notice. Then again I get lukewarm food at Chinese mixed rice stall like, all the time, because I always pick the less popular vegetable dishes.

  3. Hey Prefer Vege,

    Yeah I know that feeling. In the West, we never serve food that is lukewarm or cold, so it's still hard for me to get my head around in Singapore, haha.

    Don't stalls have a legal limit on how long they are allowed to keep food out in the open for? I believe something like 2 hours? I am assuming most stalls won't conform to that though (except when food inspectors are visiting).

  4. Hi,

    Nice to see this lovely blog. Looking forward to posts on veg food =)

    Cheers, crystal

  5. Nah. Chapatis are served piping hot. As is all the rest of the food. No one touches cold chapatis (usually given to the household, or stray dogs actually). The eateries are just saving money. Same as with the economical rice stalls ... none of that food is served cold traditionally.

  6. Skip ahead to about 7:05. You will see the roti swell up and then she takes it off the fire. That, is when you eat them. :-)

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