Singaporean food is influenced by Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Peranakan, Western cuisines, as well as neighbouring Asian cultures. It takes incredible elements from all of these traditions to create dishes that have become quintessential to Singaporean identity. Like in Hong Kong or in the Philippines, food is a big part of the conversation as well as cultural sensitivity of Singaporeans, with accommodations for Muslim, Hindu, and non-meat-eaters. Here are 15 Singaporean dishes you must eat and where to find them when visiting the city.
Nasi Lemak is a Malaysian origin food that was originally eaten at breakfast. Nowadays it has become part of Singaporean cuisine and people eat even it at lunchtime and dinner time! Nasi means ‘rice’ and lemak means ‘coconut creaminess’ or is understood as ‘coconut rice’. Sambal sauce (sweet and spicy sauce), ikan bilis (deep-fried small fish), peanuts, and cucumber will always be served with the rice. However, unlike Malaysian nasi lemak, Singaporeans usually order side dishes such as luncheon meat, stir-fried sambal lady fingers, fried chicken, etc.
Where to eat: Ponggol Nasi Lemak is one of the popular places to go for nasi lemak. Their sambal is nicely fried and the rice is fragrant. Fortunately, they have a store inside Capitol Singapore, which is within walking distance of City Hall MRT.
Kaya toast is a quintessential Singapore food. It’s a breakfast bread, and looks like crispy layers of bread with thick butter and kaya (coconut jam) in between. The most shiok (great) way of eating is to dip the toast inside half-boiled eggs! You’ll need to add sweet soya sauce and white pepper into the egg to your liking and stir it well. If you dip the toast in it, the taste will have a better balance of sweet and salty!
Where to eat: Ya Kun Kaya is the most famous brand for kaya toast. Their ‘crispy but not hard’ bread is amazing and their kaya has a deep taste. You can easily access the store, especially around the city centre.
Shui Kueh (Chwee Kueh)
Shui kueh (水粿) is one of the most popular Singaporean breakfast dishes and also a street food in Singapore. It’s a steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish and chilli sauce as a dip. The texture of the steamed rice cake is melty, but it does not have much taste by itself. However, the preserved radish gives a great hit of texture and saltiness. The chilli sauce will add to the taste and give more flavour as well.
Where to eat: Jian Bo Shui Kueh is a famous shui kueh stall at Tiong Bahru Market. The shui kueh feels like it will melt inside of your mouth, with an addictive pickled taste.
Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh means ‘meat bone tea’ in Hokkien. It’s a pork rib soup simmered with some mixture of Chinese herbs. Singapore has two types of bak kut teh, described as a ‘herbal bak kut teh/ black bak kut teh’ and ‘white peppered bak kut teh/ white bak kut teh’. The former kind of bak kut teh originated in Malaysia, but the latter kind of bak kut teh originated in Singapore. White bak kut teh has a clear soup with some garlic and peppery taste in it.
Where to eat: Song Fa Bak Kut Teh is one of the popular Bak Kut Teh among both locals and foreigners.
Duck rice is a combination of soya-sauce braised duck and white rice. There are two different types: Hokkien and Teochew. Hokkien type has a lot of sauce, while Teochew style has lighter sauce. Indeed, the most iconic part of this Singaporean dish is the sauce. The sauce includes different types of spices to make the taste unique and more complicated. In addition to that, the stalls use the sauce for braising the duck, so the sauce has been simmered with the umami taste of the duck!
Where to eat: You can find duck rice in any hawker stall, but Heng Gi Goose and Duck Rice stall are famous among locals. You can find them at the Tekka Market and Food Center.
Curry puff is a deep-fried pastry that is commonly eaten as a Singaporean snack, which looks like a big deep-fried wonton. Inside are potatoes and chicken that taste exactly like Singapore chicken curry. Origins are uncertain but are said to have had some influence from the British during their colonization of Singapore. It may have some influence from Portuguese and Indian samosa as well. It is now one of the common snacks you’ll see students eating after school or office workers during break time!
Where to eat: A popular and convenient store to get curry puff is Old Chang Kee, the Singapore snack selling store. It can be found almost everywhere in various shopping malls. Their curry puff has a fragrant taste of curry with dough that is both crispy and pillowy.
Bak Chor Mee
Bak chor mee means minced meat (bak chor) Noodle (mee) in Hokkien. It comes with yellow noodles and assorted ingredients such as minced pork, braised mushroom, and pork balls, sometimes together with wanton and pork slices. The noodles for bak chor mee have wider ranges, from wide noodles (mee pok) to thin noodles (mee kia). Singapore has two types of Bak Chor Mee: dry and with soup. Dry has more sourness with a little spiciness. The soup has a clear broth with a stronger garlic flavour.
Where to eat: One-Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle has great bak chor mee. 466 Crawford Ln, #01-12, Singapore 190466
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice originated from Hainan province in Southern China. As many Hainanese immigrants were coming to Singapore in the past, it became one of the well-known local dishes. As it gets localized, Singapore serves steamed rice and poached chicken that uses pandan leaves and has dipping sauce of gingery sauce, sweet soya sauce, and chilli sauce to eat together. The steamed chicken has some sesame oil sauce covering it, which also gives a refreshing taste.
Where to eat: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice hawker stall in Maxwell Food Center is a popular stall for both locals and foreigners. Their rice is fragrant and has the right texture. The location is close to Chinatown, which is one of the touristy areas.
Laksa is a soup noodle that is inspired by Peranakan cuisine. Peranakan cuisine is a mixed cultural cuisine between Chinese and Malay. The cuisine originated from Malaysia, but the one in Singaporean cuisine is different from traditional Malay food. Laksa is served with slippery rice noodles and spicy ethnic soup. They use laksa leaves that are specifically used for this dish. Just like other Peranakan cuisines, laksa also has a unique taste of dried shrimp mixed with coconut milk. Laksa uses vermicelli noodle that has a great slurp-able, chewy texture.
Where to eat: The most famous laksa is from 328 Katong Laksa. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay once visited the store for a battle and he commented that it’s “the best of the best”. They have four locations in Singapore.
Roti prata is a breakfast, a meal, and a street food snack in Singapore! It’s a fried flour-based pancake influenced by India. When it’s eaten for breakfast or a meal, curry is a must as a dipping sauce. The curry can vary from vegetarian to chicken curry. When it’s served as a snack, it comes with condensed milk or some sugar on top of the roti prata. The fluffy and thin layers catch the curry, the condensed milk, or any other sauces well.
Where to eat: Mr & Mrs Mohgan Prata is famous for its thicker, but crispier layers. The store is located at Joo Chiat Road, Katong area.
Chilli crab is an essential Singapore food you can enjoy in seafood restaurants. This dish uses mud crabs usually from Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan crab has a sweetness and firmer texture that suits well with thick sauce. The sauce is tomato-based with little bits of fluffy eggs. It can be spicy for some, but delivers a great sweetness and umami flavour. Chilli crab is a dish that you’ll want to enjoy with more people!
Where to eat: There are a few restaurants to recommend, but No Signboard Seafood has one of the best chilli crabs. The store in Esplanade has a great view of the sea. You can also enjoy the view of the Singapore River from JUMBO Seafood restaurant.
Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow means stir-fried rice noodles (kway teow) in Chinese and is one of the soul foods of Singapore cuisine that you must have when you visit. Different char kway teow has slightly different ingredients. The Singapore food usually contains clams, fishcake, lap cheong (preserved Chinese pork sausage), prawns, Chinese chives, and/or eggs. In the stall, you’ll mostly see a mixture of yellow mee (also meaning noodle) with the kway teow. The soy sauce-based noodle has a chewy texture, with smokey wok (stir-fried) smell and savoury taste!
Where to eat: Tanjong Pagar Plaza has a delicious char kway teow. They boil the noodle in a special broth, which gives some special flavours.
Sambal stingray is a spicy stingray barbecued in a banana leaf. It originated in Malaysia and became a popular seafood dish to eat in Singapore’s hawker stalls. The sweet, sour, and spicy sambal sauce covers the top of the stingray as the main flavouring. The stingray meat is firmer and has a meaty feeling. As it’s baked and steamed in a banana leaf, it also has an aromatic and savoury flavour. It is recommended that you squeeze calamansi (Philippine lemon) juice on top for a fresher taste!
Where to eat: You can get a nice sambal stingray in a hawker centre called Chomp Chomp. They’re famous for seafood, especially their sambal stingray. The distinct sambal flavour will spice up your experience in Singapore!
Fish Head Curry
Fish head curry is a curry that is simmered with a fish head. It stews the fish head such as red snapper and adds some vegetables such as mushrooms, lady fingers (okra), and long beans. The Singaporean dish has the sour taste of assam (tamarind) and other Asian herbs and spices such as lemongrass, cumin powder, garlic, etc. The dish was started by Indian immigrants who wanted to make a dish for Chinese tastes. It’s one of the few dishes that has Singaporean origin.
Where to eat: Ya Cun Curry Fish Head is an award-winning tze char (economical food) restaurant in Singapore. You can take a bus for 8 minutes from Paya Lebar MRT to reach the restaurant.
Satay is a skewered grilled meat served with peanut sauce. The origin of this loved Singapore dish is said to be Java. The meat is marinated in spices and herbs such as lemongrass, garlic, turmeric powder, etc. The sweet and roasted peanut sauce will goes well with the aromatic grilled flavour. When you order, you can choose chicken, beef, and/or mutton per skewer. Beside the satay, you’ll also usually get cucumber, onion, and nasi impit (compressed rice) as a side dish.
Where to eat: You’ll be able to eat them in a food centre calls Lau Pasat. They’re famous for satay, and you’ll see a few stores lining up together.
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