PETALING JAYA - Although fuel prices have dropped, hawkers in the Klang Valley, Penang and many urban areas have quietly increased prices by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent, citing costlier ingredients and the Chinese New Year festive period.
A bowl of noodles or koay teow now, for example, costs between 50 sen (S$0.19) and RM1 more and the servings have also become smaller.
The National Consumer Complaints Centre's legal and dispute resolution manager Santhosh Kannan said there had been many complaints about hawkers who overcharged or reduced their portions.
"We've been getting frequent complaints since November. On average, the increase is between 30 sen and 40 sen but for certain types of food, it is even up by RM2," he said.
Housewife Mary Chew, 50, said her regular wan tan mee seller in Jalan Klang Lama raised the price by RM1 without any prior notice.
"A plate which used to cost RM5, is now RM6 with no extra ingredients," she said.
Several coffeeshops in Bangsar and Kota Damansara have increased their prices by at least 10 per cent since the New Year.
A.K. Neoh, 35, a regular pork noodle stall customer, said the seller not only increased the price from RM5.90 to RM6.50 last week but also reduced the portion.
"Four years ago, a bowl only cost RM4 and there was definitely more ingredients then," said the office worker who has since boycotted the stall.
Executive Bernadette Eng, 37, said the price of a bowl of fish head noodles in Seri Kembangan, Selangor, had been raised from RM7.50 to RM8.
In Penang, soaring prices are putting a dent on the state's image as a hawker food paradise.
Amy Wong, 36, said a medium sized plate of char koay teow in George Town had been raised to RM6.50 since last week.
"The seller told me he had to charge RM1 more because the price of prawns had gone up to RM80 per kilo, or RM20 more than in December," she said.
In Bayan Baru, a famous char koay teow hawker charges RM5 for a measly portion.
"You need to order four plates to feel full," said an office worker who is a regular at the stall.
Student Jane Ng, 21, said a Chinese choo-char (cook and fry) meal for three in Bayan Baru had gone up considerably since two weeks ago.
"On Tuesday, my friends and I were slapped with a RM60 bill for the same dishes that used to cost RM40.
"Many other hawkers on the island have also increased their prices because they say they are worried about the Goods and Services Tax (GST)," she said.
Salesgirl J. Yogeswari, 30, lamented that her regular bowl of broth at the Chowrasta market had gone up by RM1 to RM4.50.
"Most hawkers raise their prices before Chinese New Year.
"But the recent hike could also be due to the shortage of ingredients in the market. A stall owner said hypermarkets had run out of vegetables due to the recent floods so they have to pay more to ensure a steady supply," she said.
Dr Joeson Khor, the creator of Facebook foodie group PG Food Hunter A Team, said food was costlier because hawkers claimed that the price of ingredients had gone up.
The group, which has about 78,000 members, was set up to monitor the prices, service and quality of food outlets in Penang.