Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cost of living in the United Kingdom-Food

Food to me is quite compartmentalized: Eating in at home, Eating out routinely (fast food, hawker food), Eating out at restaurants for occasions and really atas (high class) restaurants reserved for the very special occasion.

Eating in at home/Cooking for lunch is cheaper in the UK. Eating out routinely is more expensive and restaurant wise, the prices are thereabouts.

Why the disparity? First I have to qualify that with the UK's rate of VAT. VAT is just like our GST levied at the point of sale. Unfortunately, it is 20% and not 7% like in Singapore. Quite high huh!
VAT is levied on food sold for immediate consumption (e.g. in a restaurant) but is NOT levied on essential items. This includes stuff like medical prescriptions (7.85pounds per prescription regardless of quantity or type of medicine), food and drink for human consumption (excluding stuff like alcohol, fizzy drinks, sweets, ice cream and crisps which are deemed not "essential"). This is why groceries are so much cheaper here. I think this is also a fairer system in that despite VAT being intrinsically regressive, steps have been taken like zero rating essential items to reduce the regressive effects of this tax. I think this is a puzzling step Singapore has yet to follow.

With groceries being cheaper, you'd expect that eating in is cheaper.

A few price comparisons between the nation's largest grocer and Singapore's largest grocer NTUC shows some quite remarkable disparity.

The following is a short list of items I have compiled which I think are broadly similar. I have taken prices from and

The top columns are goods in the UK and the bottom, Singapore.
exchange rate are ~ 2:1.

Tesco Everyday Value Wholemeal Bread 800g: 47p
Budget Enriched Wholemeal Bread 600g: $1.60

Tesco Creamfields Semi Skimmed British Fresh Milk 4 pints (2.272L): 1 pound
Farmhouse Fresh Milk (2L): $5.35

Tesco Everyday Value Frozen Chicken Parts 2 kg: 3.09 pounds
Frangosul Frozen Chicken Cuts 2kg: $7.90

Tesco Everyday Value Eggs x10: 1.09 pounds
Pasar Fresh Eggs: $1.80

Kelloggs Frosties 750g: 2.68 pounds
Kelloggs Frosties 300g: $4.95

Tesco Sunflower Oil 1L: 1.68 pounds
Fairprice Sunflower Oil 1L: $4.15

Tesco Everyday Value Long Grain Rice 1kg: 40p
Budget Long Grain White Rice 5kg: $5.90

Tesco Everyday Value Plain/Self Raising Flour 1.5kg: 52p
Fairprice Plain/Self Raising Flour 1kg: $2.25/$2.75

Have a look for yourself. Things are cheaper. Of course, chinese foodstuff is more expensive, for example a bulb of garlic costs 25p whilst it wouldn't even cost 20c in Singapore, Lady's Finger which I absolutely love stir fried is 3.29 pounds a kilo, etc.

I cook for lunch normally. This is my cost for 4 meals:
1/2 kg of long grain rice- 20p
1/2 kg of chicken breast meat- 2 pounds
1 bottle of Tesco sauce (sweet sour, black bean, whatever)- 99p
1 Broccoli- 70p
 Works out to be 1 pound per meal.

Eating Out routinely
This is your everyday McDonald's meal or a simple lunch at the hawker center.
In Singapore, a Mcdonald's meal won't cost more than $7 but it's about 4.29 pounds here. However there are always coupons which they give out where it's 2.19 pounds for a Big Mac and a medium fries. Still expensive by Singapore standards.

I don't frequent "atas" coffeeshops like Costa or Starbucks often whether in Singapore or UK, so I can't comment, but friends who do say the prices are actually slightly cheaper in the UK. (I don't understand why people would buy a S$6 cup of coffee anyway)

No such thing as hawker centres here. So what do people eat for lunch? I personally cook. Usually I have classes 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and a half day on Friday. So, I will cook for M to T and then cook something special or eat out on Friday afternoon.

What do others do? Usually, they will go and buy baguettes or subs from cafes around the Uni for about 2.5 pounds for quite a large meat sub, think its about 9" long. Otherwise, Tesco has a meal deal where you can choose a sandwich, crisps/apple/banana and a drink for 2.50 pounds. I suspect Tesco's profit margin for this particular combination is pretty high.

So, what do you do when you're hungry and have nothing to eat at home? Quite a miserable selection here to be honest. Everything here closes by 7, so your only option is what people call "takeouts". These are usually shops which sell very unhealthy food like fried chicken and chips, pizza, and other stuff like Chinese food, Indian food etc. They then deliver to you provided you meet a minimum order, usually in the region of 5-7 pounds.
Your average takeout menu.

The food is usually very unhealthy, laden with all your baddies like cholesterol, saturated fats, calories etc. It can be quite a nice treat sometimes but I suspect the proliferation and popularity of these takeaways are fueling Britain's obesity crisis.  However, it is cheap (usually in the region of 2 to 4 pounds max per person), probably the cheapest kind of food you can get in this country. So the poor again are disproportionately hit.

Eating out in restaurants
For some reason or other, buffet restaurants here are cheap. In Leeds city center, there is a chinese buffet my friends and I often visit when we require a chinese fix and don't feel like cooking. it's 6.2 pounds for a selection I'd say is around sakae sushi's. A higher quality Thai Buffet is 11 pounds.

The other restaurants I've been in, like Beefeater etc are around the same price as the equivalents in Singapore, about 10-15 pounds for a steak or so.

Obviously, there are many more atas restaurants around which are the same price or so but if you ask me, I enjoy my $4 yu pian mi fen with $1.50 sugar cane juice more.

As you can see, if you have the time, cooking is cheaper and people here cook alot. As you can see, the alternative is grease laden food which really can't be good for the body. I think it's probably one of the reasons why the angmohs in general already know how to cook and us Singaporeans just learn how to cook when we come here.

However, high quality restaurants are in no shortage here and you easily can get a good meal for around the same price as in Singapore.


  1. That's how I finally learned to "cook" my own meals in Athens.

    Or rather, I "heat" up my own meals. I am more a can food. Got fry some eggs in between.

    I was eating out pretty much 90% of the time while I was in Shanghai.

    With the exception of Japan, Asia is cheap to eat out ;)

    OK, maybe not so healthy... LOL!

  2. Hi SMOL,

    yup, we Singaporeans who only learn how to cook after leaving our comfy nests ;)

  3. UK used to be much more expensive, but its come down a bit.

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  5. The united kingdom is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet. Electric Utilities costs are out of this world even the cost of a phone call is nothing to laugh about.

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  6. All types of food comes from agriculture sector.some are healthy and some are unhealthy.A few price comparisons between the nation's largest grocer and Singapore's largest grocer NTUC shows some quite remarkable disparity.

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