S$239 for 8 tiger prawns: That's what Singapore stall charged American diners
SINGAPORE, March 17 - Six Americans who sat down to a seafood dinner at Newton hawker centre on Saturday just about fell off their chairs when they were presented a bill for S$491, (RM1,129) including S$239 for eight tiger prawns. Mr Michael Rigby, 30, an exhibition specialist from Oregon who comes here regularly for work, said: "It was more than what it would have cost us at a restaurant in the hotel."
He said that when he asked the stallholder whether the bill had a mistake, he only got a shrug in reply.
Seconds later, the man returned with four others, who he said looked to be in their 40s and well-built.
He said: "I guess they didn"t want us to leave without paying."
Ironically, he and his wife, Dewi, 36, had set out to show their friends - Mr Sal Rubio, 53, his wife, daughter and son-in-law, all here for the first time - how safe, clean and honest this island city was.
The food centre was crowded then, so when the helpers from stall 43, Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood, showed them to a table, they felt obliged to order from them.
Besides tiger prawns, they had four crabs, baby squids, half a steamed chicken, four bottles of beer and fruit juices.
Mrs Rigby, referring to the price of the prawns, said: "They were prawns. It was not like we dined on lobsters!"
She added that halfway through the meal, the stallholder even plonked two grilled sting rays on their table.
"We told them that we did not order them and they were quickly taken away.
Afraid we would be charged for them, we asked for an itemised bill. When it came, we were shocked," she said.
Mr Rubio, who is from Arizona, told The Straits Times that the prices seemed comparable to those of an American restaurant and thought nothing of it - until Mr Rigby queried the bill.
When reporters, tipped off on the incident by a friend of Mr Rigby's, staked out the food centre at 4.30pm yesterday, the stall's workers were gearing up for business.
But as talk got around that reporters were around, the shutters came back down. The workers disappeared.
Other stallholders, asked about the incident, were unwilling to talk, saying that they had to be "cordial and respect each other's business practices, as we see each other every day".
But some did say that the stalls there charge a "standard" price of S$8 for 100g of tiger prawns, and that most of the prawns are medium-sized, between 200g and 350 g each.
At almost S$30 for each of the Rigby party"s prawns, each would have tipped the scales on the heavier end of that range.
A check with seafood stalls outside Newton pegged the cost of 100g of tiger prawns at between S$6 and S$6.50; one high-end restaurant, the Royal China at Raffles, charges S$12 for a medium-sized prawn.
The National Environment Agency (NEA), which runs the hawker centre popular among Singaporeans and tourists, said this was the first time a complaint of over-charging had been filed against Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood.
The agency is looking at the footage from one of its 16 closed-circuit television cameras in its investigations.
NEA noted that 10 complaints were received against stalls at Newton in 2007, and 11 last year; this year to date, two have been received.
The incident throws a negative spotlight back on Newton, which, despite undergoing S$48 million in spruce-up works a couple of years ago, has yet to clean out the touts who harangue diners.
Mr Rigby said: "The experience left me feeling quite embarrassed. I also feel embarrassed for Singapore. One bad experience like this simply leaves a bad after-taste." - The Straits Times