A melting pot for South-East Asian culture, Singapore is considered by many to be ‘Asia’s Food Capital’. Singaporean food has been greatly influenced by its close neighbour Malaysia, as well as China, India, Indonesia (each with significant sub-cultures of their own) and Singapore’s own Peranakan roots. Its culinary landscape is so diverse, it would be impossible to try and document it all.
The first thing most people think when they imagine Singaporean food is ‘Singapore Chili Crab’ or ‘Chicken and Rice’, but there is so much more to it than that. If you’d like to read and understand more about Singaporean food, I suggest acquiring the book ‘Singapore Cooking: Fabulous Recipes from Asia’s Food Capital by Terry Tan & Christopher Tan‘. I find it to be a very comprehensive guide to Singaporean cuisine. It explains ingredients, condiments, and some of the most iconic recipes from the island nation – and is a book I am thoroughly obsessed with, and can’t wait to cook from!
As a child, I never appreciated the Hawker Centers or Street Food in Singapore. I always found the tastes too unfamiliar, the flavours too strong and the textures just bizarre. Returning to Singapore as an adult with a completely different palate this past May, I was determined to try every kind of local food I could get my hands on.
Here are a few of my favourite eats from my trip to Singapore this past May:
1. Hainanese Chicken Rice – A dish that needs no explanation, and possibly one of Singapore’s most revered dishes, Hainanese Chicken Rice is comfort food at its best. Sliced roast chicken served with rice and a flavour-packed chicken broth, this simple dish is highlighted by the Singaporean addition of chili sauce. I enjoyed mine in it’s naked simplicity, but go ahead and enjoy it the Singapore way! Any self-respecting Hawker Center or Food Court in Singapore will have a counter serving up hot plates of this, so you can eat your heart out.
2. Fried Hokkien Mee – A damp stir-fry of yellow (egg) noodles with thick rice vermicelli, pork belly, squid, prawns, fish cake and bean sprouts, egg, Chinese chives, lime and a side of sambal sauce make this one of my favourite noodle dishes, ever. Strongly influenced by both Malaysian and Singaporean tradition, this dish is highly aromatic and usually served on a palm leaf. I ate a slightly toned-down version of this dish (which was still delicious), and would definitely recommend seeking it out.
3. Peking Duck – Famous all over the world, Peking Duck is a dish of crispy skin duck, roasted whole and carved up table-side by the Chef. The sliced meat is then wrapped in wafer-thin soft pancakes with thin-cut scallions, cucumber, a smear of sweet bean sauce and devoured. Some of the meat is used in a gorgeous stir-fried rice which is also part of the dish. If you love duck, you must try this at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck Restaurant – one of ‘Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, 2014’ – at Paragon on Orchard Road.
4. Dumplings at Din Tai Fung – I’d recommend eating dumplings whenever and wherever you can get them in Singapore, but the ones at Din Tai Fung are truly exceptional. An authentic Taiwanese eatery, ranked as one of the world’s ‘Top Ten Best Restaurants’ by The New York Times, Din Tai Fung also proudly holds one Michelin Star. If you’re not one to believe the hype, trust me – the food speaks for itself. The dumplings are soupy, meaty, and hearty. Be adventurous and try more than just the dumplings, you won’t regret it. Din Tai Fung have a handful of outlets across Singapore, so they’re pretty accessible BUT they also have long, long lines on weekends and sometimes run out of food towards the end of the day.
5. Harry’s Jazz Burger – (This isn’t exactly ‘Singaporean’ food, but it has earned its spot on this list for being so incredibly tasty.) A sports bar with a very chic vibe, Harry’s flagship outlet at Boat Quay is a super place to grab some pub grub and a cold beer. Straying from the traditional – I fell head-over-heels for their signature Jazz Burger: an Angus Beef patty layered with crispy bacon, beetroot relish, field mushrooms, tomatoes and mixed greens, topped with melted cheese and a jalapeno cheese sauce. That patty was absolutely gorgeous – every red-blooded meat lover’s dream come true, and the condiments worked in perfect synchrony. If this burger were a person, I’d probably marry it.
6. Mala Hot Pot – A regional Sichuan dish, the name ‘Mala’ comes from the Chinese symbols for ‘numbing’ and ‘spicy’ – two adjectives that perfectly describe the sauce in this dish. This stir-fry is tossed in a sauce made from Sichuan peppers, which are hot, hot, hot! It’s not an obvious kind of spice – the heat creeps up on your palate after the first few bites, and literally numbs the tongue. Trust me on this – use the servings of broth that accompany the noodles to temper the sauce, because otherwise you’ll find yourself chugging water and panting like there’s no tomorrow. My favourite thing about this dish is that you can (usually) build your own bowl, using the noodles of your choice as well as fresh veggies and tender cuts of meat. In spite of the spice levels being sky-high, this dish really packs a punch of flavour and is definitely worth trying (if you have the guts – pun intended). Find it at Hawker Centers or Food Courts.
7. Egg Custard Tarts – There are two kinds of Chinese Egg Custard Tarts, both influenced by colonisation. One is highly similar to the Portuguese Pastel de Natas (which are brûléed), and the other draws from the British Custard Tarts. I tried the latter, which was silky vanilla custard set in a buttery, crisp tart shell. These tarts are gaining popularity in Singapore right now, though they have existed for decades. Not too sweet and the perfect post-meal treat, find them at Chinese bakeries and Food Courts.
Bonus: Seafood Pasta – I make it a point to eat as much seafood as possible when I’m in Singapore. The combination of seafood and pasta is a beautiful one, and I had a lovely Crab Linguine with a Seafood Bisque at an Italian eatery called Etna. Do yourself a favour and try your choice of a seafood pasta wherever you can – it’s gorgeous!
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