By Lee Paul, a Singapore local who has been working in the restaurant industry for more than a decade. Edited by Elodi Troskie
Food culture in Singapore is synonym to one thing: chicken rice. But, if you’re a fan of anything related to rice, noodles, curry and soup, you’ll love all of the food in Singapore - there’s so much more to feast on than the nation’s favourite of Hainanese chicken rice! Because it’s such a culturally diverse city, you can find food from all over the world here. But if you want to experience authentic Singaporean cuisine, the best places to eat are local markets, hawker centres and street food stalls. If you’re looking for a local Singaporean experience, here is my local food guide to all the must eats foods in Singapore and where to find them!
Chicken rice is a signature dish in Singapore, and you have to eat it at least once while you’re here. Although it’s a simple meal, it requires masterful cooking skills to prepare it really well. The chicken is cooked in pork and chicken bone stock, served alongside rice cooked in chicken stock, ginger, garlic and pandan leaves, and finished off with sweet soy sauce or a garlic chilli sauce. Chicken rice originated as a quick fix street food meal, so you can still find it at local street food stalls and I can almost guarantee that you’ll find it on the menu of every single restaurant in Singapore. The famous Chinatown Hawker Centre on Smith Street has the best chicken rice in the city - the stand here even has a Michelin star. This is where you’ll find some of the best hawker food in Singapore, and certainly the cheapest Michelin star dish you could wish for! If you prefer sitting down at a restaurant, Tian Tian Hainanese, located in the Maxwell Food Centre, is a good option.
Laksa is a spicy dish consisting of rice noodles cooked in a curry coconut soup. Laksa has its roots in the Chinese and Malaysian cuisine but has been personalized according to Singaporean cooking methods. The most common variant of laksa in Singapore is katong, which is characterized by the use of thick vermicelli that is cut up into smaller pieces, cooked with seafood ingredients like shrimp, prawns and cockles. 328 Katong Laksa is a must eat restaurant in Singapore with multiple locations across the city that made a name for itself after its chef beat the world-famous celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, in a laksa showdown. As you can probably guess from its name, 328 Katong Laksa specialized in the katong variant. The noodles are cut small enough so you can eat the soup with a spoon instead of using chopsticks.
Like most Asian cities, Singapore has a wide variety of noodle dishes. This is where vegan and vegetarian travellers will eat their hearts out. Because it’s such a staple dish in Singapore, you won’t have trouble finding a restaurant or food market selling noodles. Your biggest problem will be choosing a specific kind of noodle dish. Char kuay teow is made of white noodles fried with bean sprouts, fish cake, clams and soy sauce. Bak chor mee is a meaty noodle dish made with minced pork. Hokkien prawn mee is a seafood variant made with thick egg noodles. And we can’t talk about noodles without including wonton – noodles served in a hot broth, topped with vegetables and wonton dumplings.
Rojak is a traditional Singapore dish consisting of fruit and vegetable salad, that directly translates to “mixture”. With the large variety of ingredients used in rojak, this dish truly embodies the cultural diversity of Singapore. If you order rojak at a restaurant, you can expect a medley of seasonal fruits and vegetables served with dough fritters covered in a sticky sauce and topped with peanuts and other garnishes. Typical ingredients are spinach, beansprouts, cucumber, turnip, mangoes, apples and pineapple. The sauce is a key element of rojak. Made of fermented prawn paste, chilli paste, sugar and lime, the sauce is the secret to the distinctive mix of sweet, sour and spicy flavour of this dish. The best place to eat rojak in Singapore is at Balestier Road Hoover Rojak, a small shop located in the Whampoa Wet Market & Food Centre. You’re likely to find a line of customers here, but the specialty lime-infused sauce makes it worth every minute!
Curry is another shapeshifter-dish you’ll be seeing a lot of Singapore! There are so many different variations of this Asian staple with influences from India, Malaysia, China, Japan and Thailand. You can choose between chicken, beef, seafood and a medley of vegetables, so if you don’t eat meat, you don’t need to miss out. Something unique to Singapore is fish head curry, which is pretty self-descriptive. Typical South Indian spices are used to cook this curry. Curry is a popular street food dish and can be found at food markets all over Singapore. The Hong Lim Market & Food Centre has a few really good curry shops. If you’re looking for someone a little fancier, Yantra is a classy restaurant in Tanglin Mall which specializes in North Indian cuisine.
If you visit Singapore, roti is something you’ll be having lots of! Roti prata is an Indian pancake or flaky bread made by stretching, slapping and swinging the dough – much to visitors’ entertainment. Traditionally, prata is served alongside fish or a thick curry, but nowadays there are so many variations that you can order it with any filling of your choice, like eggs, bacon, chicken or cheese. Or you can opt for sweet fillings like ice cream or chocolate to enjoy it as a dessert. Prata is perfect for any time of the day or night! Head to R K Eating House in Kensington Road, Rahmath Cheese Prata in Tao Payoh or The Prata Place in Thong Soon Avenue for some of the best roti prata in Singapore.
Singapore is quite big on seafood, as you may have picked up so far! A popular seafood dish is barbequed stingray, originally sold as street food but now served in high end restaurants. The fish is marinated in garlic butter, wrapped in banana leaf and slow-cooked on a grill. Another signature seafood dish in Singapore is chilli crab, regarded by many as the country’s national dish. The crab is stir-fried in a thick sweet and savoury chilli sauce. My personal favourite seafood dish is salted egg crepes, normally made with oysters and topped with coriander – a must try food in Singapore. The best place to eat seafood in Singapore is at Rong Guang BBQ in Joo Chiat Road. You can also order food online and have it delivered to your hotel or guest house!
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