Economy rice, found in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, refers not to a specific dish in the Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai pantheon of cuisine, but rather to a type of food or a food stall commonly found in hawker centres, street vendors or food courts in these countries. Economy rice is also commonly referred to as chap fan or mixed rice.
Economy rice stalls typically consist of a glass case containing anywhere from 10-15 troughs of cooked food, including meat, vegetables, eggs and tofu. Customers select any combination of these dishes, which are served accompanied by a portion of steamed white rice. In Malaysia, it is more common to find the food on open troughs kept warm by hot water and an electric heater below.
Better quality economy rice stalls have warmers beneath the troughs of food which ensure that food is served hot.
Economy rice is thought of as a predominantly Chinese food - it is roughly analogous to the Malay or Indonesian concept of Nasi Padang or Nasi Campur (mixed rice). It is what most Chinese Singaporeans and Malaysians think of when they refer to 'home-cooked food' as it is similar to what would be eaten at home, with rice forming the basis of their meal and accompanied by various cooked dishes.
Economy rice stalls thus evolved as a way for the general public to obtain a quick, and most importantly, cheap meal option outside of home. An Economy Rice meal is usually one of the cheapest options available for a meal at a hawker centre (hence its name), especially if one is judicious in choosing the less expensive dishes (generally vegetables and tofu).
Common dishes offered at an economy rice stall can include sweet and sour pork, braised tofu, braised cabbage, steamed egg custard, stir-fried Chinese vegetables, fried eggs, and an assortment of deep-fried items.
True to its Chinese origins, most of the dishes on offer tend to have their roots in Chinese cuisine.
Economy rice is known by several other names, and in general conversation it is rare for anyone to refer to it as such, even though many stalls tend to proclaim "Economy rice" on their signboards.
Other names for economy rice include "Chap Chye Png" (杂菜饭, "mixed vegetable rice" in the local Hokkien dialect) and colloquially, "Point Point Rice", named for the method of ordering one's meal which involves simply asking for a plate of rice and then pointing at the various dishes desired. It is unclear how the latter term originated.
- The Travelling Hungryboy