Singapore is a city where you can find food from all over the world. And it’s everywhere; whether you want ramen (and any of the various types), Vietnamese pho, a Malaysian curry, Indian roti, or just a Chinese chicken rice, you’ll find it here, usually not far away, and for a few dollars. Here are 12 things to eat in Singapore.
1 – KAYA TOAST SET
First up, the most important meal of the day. A traditional Singapore breakfast is quite wonderful and after living in Singapore for four years, it became one of my favourite (yet guilty) pleasures. It’s simple; a slab of butter (and I mean a slab), between white toast, smothered in kaya (coconut jam) served with two half-cooked eggs, and usually with either a sweet tea or coffee (with plenty of condensed milk unless you ask otherwise). Add a few drops of soy and some pepper into the runny eggs, then take the toast and dunk it in. Man, is that a good mouthful. What a way to set up a day. You can find this everywhere in Singapore but a safe and reliable bet is Ya Kun Kaya Toast, who have branches all over the city.
2 – NASI PADANG / TEOCHEW PORRIDGE
Originating from Indonesia (actually the city of Padang – the direct translation is “Padang Rice“), Nasi Padang is a bit like Asian tapas; lots of dishes from vegetables to fish and meat, usually in a buffet from which you can select whatever you like. The Chinese equivalent is Teochew Porridge; the same concept but with Chinese rather than Indonesian dishes. It’s classic Singapore comfort food and there are countless stalls across the city offering this. Two of my favourites are Heng Long (Teochew Porridge) in Kampong Glam and Rendezvous in Clarke Quay Central (Nasi Padang).
3 – ROTI PRATA
Roti Prata, known regionally as Rota Canai, is an Indian-influenced thin, eggy flat bread served with a small pot of dal (light vegetarian lentil curry). A plain prata is pretty simple and relies on the flavour of the curry, but you can also get a range of savoury and sweet varieties. The best place in the city to get this dish is at Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata on Joo Chiat in the East. They only open from 6.30am until 1pm and the queues can be crazy but it’s worth it.
4 – BAH KUT TEH
A traditional Hokkien dish, Bah Kut Teh literally translates as “meat bone tea”, which is pretty much what it is. It’s basically a peppery pork broth, usually served with pork ribs and either rice or (my preference) donut fritters on the side. Dipping a donut fritter into a porky, peppery soup until it gets super soft and then munching it down with a mouthful of pork – now that is a seriously enjoyable mouthful. My two joint favourite chains in Singapore are Founder Bah Kut Teh and Song Fa. Both are excellent in their own right and have branches across the island.
5 – BBQ STINGRAY
You’d be forgiven for thinking that stingrays don’t look like the tastiest creatures on earth. But guess what; when chopped up, barbecued and served with a spicy sambal sauce (with a drizzle of fresh calamansi), it’s quite something. Stingray is a surprisingly meaty fish – one of the meatiest – but the best bit is the sambal. Made with walnuts, shallots, dried fish and chilli, it’s sweet and firey, and goes perfectly with the meat of the stingray. My favourite place to eat this dish is at East Coast Lagoon Food Village. It’s a large outdoor food centre, well priced, and it’s on a nice spot right by the beach too.
6 – CHAR KWAY TEOW
Often described as the national dish of Singapore (and sometimes Malaysia), char kway teow is the ultimate comfort food. Wide, flat rice noodles with Chinese sausage, fishcake, prawn, cockles, and beansprouts, in a soy sauce and fried up in – here’s the kicker – pork lard. Unsurprisingly, it’s not exactly a healthy dish, but a seriously tasty one, and an excellent hangover cure (even Anthony Bourdain says so). Try it at the 40-year-old Hill Street Char Kway Teow in Bedok, or if you can’t make it that far you’ll find it in every hawker centre in the city – pick the vendor with the longest queue!
7 – CHICKEN RICE
Hainanese Chicken Rice sounds pretty boring on paper, but the taste belies it’s simplicity, and the difference between a good and bad version are stark. Poached chicken, served on top of rice (cooked in chicken broth) served with cucumber garnish and chilli, and sometimes ginger sauces. It’s become one of the national dishes of Singapore and there are countless stalls across the city serving this dish. The most famous, and possibly best, is Tian Tian Chicken Rice in Maxwell.
8 – MURTABAK
Thought to have been created by Indian Muslims and now far more popular outside of India (actually more or less non-existent in India itself), murtabak literally means “folded”, and it’s basically a folded egg pancake, usually filled with onions, garlic, egg and meat. It tends to be quite mild and the filling comes in a tomato curry gravy. It’s another popular comfort food dish and can be found in a few places in Singapore, but (arguably) the best is served at Zam Zams, a 111-year-old restaurant in Kampong Glam.
9 – FISH HEAD CURRY
Although often assumed to be an Indian dish, fish head curry was created in Singapore by an Indian chef who wanted to appeal to his increasingly Chinese customer base. Fish head curry was born, and it’s a hugely popular dish in Singapore and also Malaysia. It’s pretty much as it sounds – a huge fish head cooked in a Keralan-style coconut curry with various veg (most commonly eggplant and okra). The fish head adds a really amazing sweetness – (who would have thought a fish head would do that?) – and the tender meat inside the head, especially the cheek meat, coated in the sweet, tomatoey curry, is divine. Samy’s Curry Restaurant at Dempsey serves one of the best versions of this dish in the city.
10 – LAKSA
A popular Peranakan dish, curry laksa is a spicy coconut milk soup with thin noodles (often cut into short chunks for easier eating with a spoon), and commonly with seafood such as prawn, and occasionally cockles and fish cakes, as well as tofu and sometimes chicken. You can also get a sour version known as Asam Laksa, made with a tamarind soup rather than coconut. It’s a very different flavour and some people prefer this to curry laksa but personally I just love the sweetness and spiciness of the curry soup. Many places serve this dish in Singapore. One of the most famous is Sungei Road Laksa which serves a particularly fishy version. You also can’t go far wrong than 328 Katong Laksa, which has two branches in the East.
11 – CHILLI CRAB
Arguably Singapore’s most famous local fish, chilli crab is a deliciously messy and fairly expensive dish usually found in restaurants and more touristy food centres. It’s basically a large mud crab stir fried in a thick, spicy and sweet sauce made with tomato, and the best bit is the soft and fluffy white buns that have an almost donutty texture. The only way to eat chilli crab is with your bare hands – so don a gown provided by the restaurant and dig in. The most famous place to eat this dish in Singapore is at Jumbo, but my favourite is No Signboard Seafood in Geylang.
12 – DURIAN
The “king of fruits” is hugely popular all over Asia but in my opinion, the best durian in the world can be found in Singapore. It’s a controversial statement, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day, Singapore durian is ridiculously expensive, so it fits that the best product would get sent here. Durian stinks. It does. But the amazing thing about this fruit is that when you get right up to it, the smell completely changes. It becomes sweet and malty, and then comes the taste; creamy and custardy, and wonderfully sweet (if you picked a sweet variety). The best durian is “Mao Shan Wang”, and in durian season (June – September and December – February). Combat Durian in Balestier is about as good as it gets. And if you’re nice, they might even add you to their Whatsapp mailing group so you can get updated whenever the season is about to start!
FRIED CARROT CAKE (BLACK OR WHITE)
Actually neither or cake nor made with carrots, the Chinese “Carrot Cake” is a fried dish consisting of radish, rice cakes, egg, garlic and chilli and comes in either black or white forms. Both are super tasty and are kinda similar to char kway teow. They’re both available in every food court and hawker centre in the city.
WONTON NOODLES (WONTON MEE)
A glorious Cantonese dish of handmade bite-sized dumplings usually filled with prawn or pork (sometimes chicken), served on top of dry noodles with some green leafy Chinese vegetables, and sometimes topped with some char siu (barbecued pork). You’ll be asked “spicy or not”, a question with only one answer. A seriously delicious dish. My favourite place to eat this is Fei Fei, just off of Joo Chiat in the East.
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