Singapore: cost of living bites

In the interconnected global economy we live in events from the other side of the world, which may seem remote, can impact us in unexpected ways.

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Pic: Khoon Goh's $5.50 chicken rice set, purchased at the Market Street Hawker Centre, Singapore

Take the humble chicken rice, a popular dish in Singapore which can be found everywhere in the city state - from hawker centres to upmarket restaurants and hotels. A set, which I had recently for lunch at the Market Street Hawker Centre, cost me S$5.50 or around US$4. That might sound cheap to Westerners used to paying more than $US10 for a plate but according to the Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS), the price of chicken rice has already risen by 4.2 per cent in the first four months of this year.

“In April the Singapore Department of Statistics reported the price of premium Thai rice had risen by 4.1 per cent, whole chilled chicken had risen 9.2 per cent, eggs by 9.8 per cent and cooking oil increased by 6 per cent.”

And it is about to get a lot more expensive from this month. It may even be much harder to find as neighbouring Malaysia, from where Singapore gets a third of its supply, has banned the export of chickens. So why did it come to this?

We can trace Malaysia’s chicken export ban to Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February. Alongside the humanitarian tragedy that continues to unfold today, the conflict caused massive disruptions to the global supply of key commodities, pushing their prices higher.

The spike higher in global oil prices has been felt immediately as petrol prices rose to record levels. Wheat prices soared as Ukraine is a major exporter, spilling over into prices for other agriculture commodities. Around 80 per cent of chicken feed consist primarily of grains, so the cost of chicken production has risen as a result.

In addition, Russia is a major exporter of fertilisers and the sharp rise in its price has made it more expensive for growers, compounding the effect. Due to the high cost of wheat and corn, there has been some substitution into rice - which has seen rice prices starting to increase.

In this sense, it’s no surprise that in April the DOS reported the price of premium Thai rice had risen by 4.1 per cent, whole chilled chicken had risen 9.2 per cent, eggs 9.8 per cent and cooking oil 6 per cent. These are direct ingredients that go into making a plate of chicken rice. If we factor in the recent increase in electricity prices and rents, it is easy to see why that plate of chicken rice is becoming more expensive.

Hainanese chicken rice by Tony Tan


1.8 kg chicken, preferably organic and free-range

15 gm ginger, bashed with the side of your knife to bruise

2 spring onions, cut into 6cm batons

To serve: sliced Lebanese cucumber and coriander sprigs

3 cups (loosely packed; about 1 bunch) watercress sprigs


Chilli sauce

6-8 long red chillies, coarsely chopped

20 gm ginger, thickly sliced

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

Juice of 2 limes, or to taste

Chicken fat from stock (optional), to taste


Chicken rice

50 gm chicken fat reserved from chicken, or 2 tbsp vegetable oil

5 golden shallots, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

600 gm (3 cups) Thai jasmine rice, washed and drained well

2 pandan leaves tied into a knot

875 ml (3½ cups) chicken stock


Soy dressing

2 tbsp light soy sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

100 ml reserved chicken stock



1.     Remove excess chicken fat from the cavity and set aside for rice. Rub chicken inside and out with 2 tsp sea salt and set aside to come to room temperature (30-40 minutes).

2.     Place ginger, spring onions, 4 litres water and 1 tsp salt in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

3.     Loop string around and under chicken wings and across the breast, lower chicken into boiling stock and submerge for 1 minute. Lift chicken and allow stock to drain from cavity, then repeat twice more, bringing stock back to the boil between each dunking. Submerge bird again, bring stock back to the boil, reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Cover with a lid, turn off heat and steep bird until cooked through (40-45 minutes).

4.     Remove chicken without breaking skin. Drain stock from cavity (reserve stock), then plunge bird into a bath of iced water and set aside until well chilled (20-25 minutes). Drain, pat dry and set aside to come to room temperature.

5.     For chilli sauce, pound ingredients except lime juice to a coarse paste with a mortar and pestle. Add lime juice and fat, stir well and season to taste with salt and extra lime juice. Set aside.

6.     Chop reserved chicken fat and stir in a wok over medium heat until fat renders (3-5 minutes). Discard (or eat) solids.

7.     Add shallots and stir occasionally until golden (6-10 minutes). Add garlic and fry until fragrant (about 1 minute).

8.     Add rice and stir-fry until rice begins to pop (2-3 minutes), then transfer to a saucepan.

9.     Add pandan leaves and about 875ml reserved hot stock, or enough to cover rice by 1cm. Increase heat to high, bring to the simmer, stir rice, then reduce heat to low, cover with a tightly fitting lid or foil and cook until liquid is absorbed (11-12 minutes). Remove from heat, remove lid, cover with a tea towel and stand to steam dry (4-5 minutes).

10.  Meanwhile, add watercress to remaining stock and season to taste.

11.  Cut chicken Chinese-style and place on a plate.

12.  Combine ingredients for soy dressing in a bowl, spoon over chicken, add sliced cucumber and coriander leaves and serve with individual bowls of rice, watercress broth and chilli sauce.

Full recipe can be found here

Malaysia’s decision to ban chicken exports altogether is a worrying new trend of protectionism as countries try to ensure adequate domestic food supply as well as contain rising food prices. We have already seen India ban wheat exports and Indonesia recently banned palm oil exports. For a country like Singapore which is heavily reliant on importing almost all its food, security of supply has become an even bigger issue.

After decades of taking low inflation for granted, we now face not only higher inflation but possible shortages due to supply disruptions.

For ordinary citizens who think the Ukraine conflict does not impact on them, their next chicken rice meal says otherwise.

Khoon Goh is Head of Asia Research at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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