Eating out on a limited budget

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 19 Feb 2014

Variety: The Rock Garden Food Court in Sunway. -FAIHAN GHANI / The Star

Variety: The Rock Garden Food Court in Sunway. -FAIHAN GHANI / The Star

Malaysia has gained an international reputation for being one of the best countries in the world to eat out on a budget. For Malaysians, this may seem less true, as in recent years, price increases have meant that eating out in 2014 is not as cheap as eating out was in 2010. We look at whether it is still possible to continue with the lifestyle choice of eating out within a decent budget in Malaysia.

MALAYSIA has gained an international reputation for being one of the best countries in the world to eat out on a budget. For Malaysians, this may seem less true, as in recent years, price increases – an inevitable consequence of development – have meant that eating out in 2014 is not as cheap as eating out was in 2010.

We look at whether it is still possible to continue with the lifestyle choice of eating out within a decent budget in Malaysia.

These days, a lot of the chatter in the mamak stalls and kopitiams which litter the Malaysian landscape have focused around the increasing cost of eating out.

This is indeed a thorny issue for Malaysians as it cuts to the crux of one of the great foundations of our unifying culture – that of eating out affordably as part and parcel of the norms of our daily lives.

Food is one of the great unifiers of our diverse culture and the general rule when it comes to lunch on a work day is a meal at the local coffee shop or food court, and the occasional packed sandwich or leftovers from last night’s dinner as an exception.

Besides the workday lunch hour, there is also the matter of dinner and eating out at weekends.

Without doubt, Malaysian culture is firmly entrenched in the notion of eating out.

Food and connections: The Sooka Sentral Lifestyle Centre.

It’s another one of those inevitabilities of our culture – with our array of diverse ethnic backgrounds and cuisines, we have at our doorstep a plethora of mouth-watering food to cater to all tastes and tastebuds.

It is worth considering whether anecdotal experiences shared around mamak stalls and kopitiams are indeed reflective of what’s happening on the ground with regards to the choices available to us when it comes to eating out.

Does this mean that we can no longer afford to eat out within a reasonable budget?

Or, is it possible for us to make smart choices on where to eat which take into consideration the budget we live within?

Three Malaysians shared their experience with us recently.

Sharmila Valli Narayanan, 48, freelance writer who lives with my sister in an apartment in Kelana Jaya, said she usually spends about RM1,000 on average each month on lunch, dinner and sometimes for breakfast as well.

“My sister and I find it cheaper to eat out than in as when we decide to cook a meal at home, we spend on average about RM50 buying all the ingredients to cook a balanced meal.

“In contrast, if we go out and eat, we can have a thosai with some vegetables with a cup of coffee for about RM3.50 to RM4,” she said.

Budget eating: Norehsan (left) tries to have breakfast at home on most days while Sharmila finds it cheaper to eat out rather than at home. -Photos by Xander Chong

Sharmila said she finds that stalls and restaurants in areas with lower income households tend to be cheaper than middle income or upper middle income residential areas.

She said there are certain areas in Pantai Dalam which are a little cheaper for this reason.

“As a freelance writer, I travel quite a lot on assignments and conduct interviews. I tend to grab a meal at places close to where I am working.

“As I use public transport extensively, my usual places tend to be close to bus stops or LRT stations.

“One of them is Sri Ananda Bahwan restaurant in Bangsar because of its proximity to the Bangsar LRT Station.

“I also visit Indian restaurants in Brickfields, which are close to KL Sentral,” she said.

Sharmila said most of her meals at these places consist of rice, a chicken dish and vegetables, and would cost me about RM10.

She said a favourite in Sunway is Rock Food Court near Sunway University and within walking distance from the Monash University campus.

As it is frequented by students, she said the food stalls price their meals competitively to cater to student budgets.

“I can get a Chinese mixed rice of a meat and two vegetables with a coffee for between RM7 and RM8.

“Last year, I put myself through a minimum wage experiment, where I limited myself to spending RM900 per month for a period of three months on transport and food.

“During this period, I spent about RM400 on food.

“I found that I could save a lot on meals if I stuck to vegetarian dishes, as it would cost less than RM5 per meal,” she said.

Al fresco: The Sri Ananda Bahwan Restaurant located at Bangsar.  -RAYMOND OOI/The Star

Mohd Norehsan Mohamad, 26, a corporate communications executive said he was originally from Perak and now lives with housemates in Taman Kosas, Ampang.

“On average, my monthly spend on meals is about RM700. This would include lunch, dinner and the occasional breakfast as I try to have breakfast at home most days.

“There are places in KL where you can get a good value meal, especially if you share with a number of people,” he said.

For example, Mohd Norehsan said there’s a Thai place in Kampung Baru where a meal with tom yam soup, a beef or chicken dish, omelette and stir fried mixed vegetables for four people comes to RM25 in total, making it under RM7 for each person.

“One of my regular places for dinner is a food court near Bukit Indah. I can get plain rice with two dishes, such as chicken tom yam soup and vegetables, with a drink for about RM7, grilled catfish with vegetables and plain rice and a drink for about RM6 and a plate of sizzling hot plate noodles with a drink for about RM8.

“As I work at KL Sentral, most of my lunches are at Sooka Sentral food court. Prices here are a little higher than in Bukit Indah.

“For lunch, a bento set would set me back RM12, while fried rice would cost about RM7 and chicken rice about RM6.50.

“This does not include the price of drinks which can cost between RM1.50 to RM2,” he said.

In my experience, he said the areas of Kampung Baru, Keramat, Wangsa Maju and Kampung Pandan have restaurants, stalls and food courts which offer the best value for money for Malay cuisine.

He said a Western set meal in an eatery in Kampung Baru would cost him between RM10 and RM15 while there is a nasi lemak stall there which only charges 90 sen.

“I also frequent Shah Alam for meals as in certain areas, the portions are larger. For example, there’s an ayam penyet place in Padang Jawa which charges RM5.50 for a really large portion of chicken and you can help yourself to as much rice as you want.

“For me and my friends, this is a really good deal” said Mohd Norehsan.

“Another favourite is a food court in Seksyen 7, near the PKNS flats, where I can get rice with a large portion of chicken or fish and vegetables for only RM5.

“I actually don’t mind driving to these places with my friends from our apartment as I feel it’s worth the effort to get a tasty meal at good value,” he said.

Mohd Norehsan said in certain stalls and restaurants, there has been a noticeable increase in prices.

For example, he said a meal at this particular stall in Shah Alam used to cost him between RM5 and RM6 in 2010 and 2011.

However, last month, he said when he revisited the stall, the same meal cost him between RM8 and RM9.

“As I eat out often, I tend to be on the lookout for new places to eat at.

“Social media is a great way to keep in touch with what’s available out there with updates from friends on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram who share the types of meals they’re having and the locations they’re having it at,” he said.

Winson Lee, 25, a business development executive said: “I live with my mother and brother in Puchong and my mother usually cooks dinner for my brother and I.

“On weekdays, I do my best to update her of my dinner plans for the next day to help her coordinate and plan for meals.

“I budget about RM10 for lunch during the week, and a total of RM350 on eating out for the month, with the excess spent on meals out at weekends and the occasional dinner out with friends or colleagues during the week.

“I think the area around Kinrara and IOI mall in Puchong are still decent in terms of value for money.

“It gets a lot pricier in Bandar Puteri Puchong and Damansara. I suppose the general rule is the more educated or hip the area, the higher the prices,” said Lee.

He said cheap in terms of food is really relative based on individual preference and he didn’t see a point in food hunting like going all out to different parts of KL in search of cheaper food because he would end up paying pay the difference in terms of his fuel cost.

“I work in Subang where there are a number of places where I can get lunch for under RM10, such as a Chinese mixed rice shop near Batu 3, and Restoran Kapitan in Glenmarie which offers fried rice and cold beverage for a similar amount.

“As for Puchong, the area opposite IOI Mall and Jalan Kenari have a number of places where meals cost below RM10.

“Puchong and PJ do have some of my favourite cheaper mamak eateries. Usually , I order rice with vegetables, thosai or fried rice.

“Iced lime is my standard drink in mamak stalls and in Chinese restaurants, I usually order rice with vegetables or the occasional pan mee.

“For drinks I just order iced Chinese tea or barley or leong cha,” he said.

“I mainly go for my local mamak if I am near my home in Puchong. I usually dine in Puchong because that is where I live.

“I do limit eating out as much as I can but if I have to, Chinese restaurants are the cheaper ones. Independent mamak stalls, not restaurant chains are quite decent in terms of value,” said Lee.

There is no denying that the cost of eating out has risen in some eateries around the country.

However, it is also clear that for the person looking to eat out on a budget, there exists a number of viable options in terms of affordable places to eat at which fall within budget constraints.

It is clear that for the average member of the public, it’s up to them to exercise their right of choice and opt for alternatives, which are keeping the prices of their meals affordable instead of returning to places which have increased its prices.

So, for those who are seeking to eat out regularly on a budget, a few clear rules can serve as a guide: (See graphic). — Article courtesy of Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-Operatives and Consumerism

Government , food