TL;DR – What makes us Singaporean.
Eating can be defined as our national past-time and obsession. Food is viewed as a huge part of every culture and it is what unifies people together from every race, religion and creed, especially in Singapore. The Singaporean Cuisine is essentially comprised of dishes that are unique to each culture belonging to people of Chinese, Malay and Indian descent, as well as multi-ethnic food. Our local Singaporean cuisine is so good that even Mr Anthony Bourdain has requested for 4 of our local hawkers to sell their specialty dishes (Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, White Pepper Crab and Claypot Rice) at his upcoming new street food hall in New York City. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, here are some of our absolute favourites that we think all Singaporeans have tried and must try!
1. Hainanese Chicken Rice
This is quintessentially Singapore’s national dish and typical comfort food. The dish is made up of a succulent, plump steamed or roasted chicken served on top of fragrant oily rice made using the delicious chicken broth. Usually it is accompanied with condiments like a sweet, sticky dark soy sauce and chili made with pounded ginger and garlic. It even made CNN’s list of World’s 50 Best Foods and was one of the dishes that Chef Gordon Ramsay was unable to master when he pit his culinary skills against some of our local hawkers. Although I’ve tasted the Malaysian and Thai version of Chicken Rice but the Singaporean one will always have a special place in my heart. The Singapore version is extremely different because of the way that the chicken is prepared – it is first steeped in boiling water until fully cooked, soaked in ice cold water before blanching it in its own broth again. This method ensures that the chicken meat remains succulent and tender because of the layer of fat that has formed between the meat and skin.
Our favourite: Boon Tong Kee; several outlets – see list here.
2. Fried Hokkien Mee (Fried Prawn Noodles)
This may not look like the most appetising dish at first glance, but once you taste it you’ll be surprised at how much flavour this simple plate of fried prawn noodles is packed with! The yellow Hokkien egg noodles and thick vermicelli (bee hoon) are fried in a wok with some garlic, egg, beansprouts, pork belly strips, squid and prawns steeped with a few ladles of an umami-rich, flavourful prawn broth.
Our favourite: Tian Tian Lai at Blk 127 Toa Payoh Lor 1 #02-27
3. Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) is a popular fried noodle dish sold in Singapore with variations of it in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The flat rice noodles are stir-fried in a wok over extremely high heat with a combination of dark soy sauce and sweet soy sauce, eggs, whole prawns, crunchy beansprouts, fresh juicy cockles, chopped Chinese chives and Chinese sausage. In some places, it is cooked in pork lard and it served on a piece of banana leaf as it enhances the aroma of the noodles.
Our favourite: No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow at 70 Zion Rd, Singapore 247792
4. Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak (translated from Malay to English means ‘rich rice’) is a sinfully-wholesome and scrumptious dish with a perfect balance of flavours. The dish is made up of a few different components – an aromatic coconut cream and pandan-infused rice, most commonly served with fried chicken wings, fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies), otah (grilled fish paste blended with fresh aromatic herbs and spices), eggs (boiled or fried), some refreshing cucumber slices and a spicy-zingy chilli paste called ‘sambal’ served on a banana leaf. It is comfort food that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Our favourite: Ponggol Nasi Lemak, several outlets but we personally find the one at 965 Upper Serangoon Rd better than the rest
Laksa is spicy noodle dish that consists of rice noodle or rice vermicelli with strips of steamed chicken, flaked fish or boiled prawn served with beansprouts, sliced fish cake and fresh cockles in an extremely tasty broth that is made from chicken stock and dried anchovies, flavoured with dried shrimp, coconut milk, Vietnamese coriander (laksa leaf) and an aromatic spice paste known as Rempah. There are several variations of laksa served in Singapore – the Penang Laksa which has a fishy-tamarind broth to the curried version that originates from Sarawak.
Our favourite: Janggut Laksa at Queensway Shopping Centre, #01-59
6. Mee Rebus
Mee Rebus is directly translated from Malay as “boiled noodles” and is made of thick, yellow egg noodles accompanied by a spicy slightly sweet, thick curry-like gravy. The gravy is made by combining a broth of boiled shrimps, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf galangal, shallots, salam leaf (Indonesian bayleaf), gula jawa (Indonesian dark palm sugar), cornstarch, salt and water. Mee Rebus is then garnished with a perfectly boiled egg, boiled potatoes, dried shrimps, half a calamansi lime, sliced green chillies, green scallions, fried firm tofu (tau kwa), bean sprouts and crispy fried shallots.
Our favourite: Rahim Muslim Food at 721 Ang Mo Kio Ave 8, Singapore 560721
7. Nasi Briyani
Traditionally, Nasi Briyani is an Indian rice-based dish served with some tender slow-cooked meat (chicken, mutton, fish), vegetables and curry or a spicy-gravy. The saffron-coloured, long grain basmati rice is cooked to a fluffy and light consistency with yogurt, garlic, onions, aromatic spices and with ghee or oil. In Singapore, Nasi Briyani is usually accompanied by a serving of ‘achar’ which is a salad of spicy-pickled vegetables like cucumbers, carrots and pineapples. You can complete your authentic Indian-dining experience with a hot glass of teh-tarik (which translates as ‘pull-tea’ in Malay).
Our favourite: Al-Tasneem Restaurant at 709 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198681
8. Mee Siam
Mee Siam or better known as, “Siamese noodles” is made with fried rice vermicelli accompanied by various bite-sized toppings such as fried firm tofu, shredded omelet, chicken and shrimp. The Mee Siam gravy made from a rempah spice paste incorporated with some salted soy beans and tamarind. It is best eaten with a dollop of sambal chili for that additional spice kick with a squeeze of fresh kalamansi lime juice to bring out the flavours and cut through the spiciness of the dish. Mee Siam is believed to have been adapted from a dish of Thai origin commonly eaten in the Central Region called ‘Mi Kathi’ (หมี่กะทิ). It tastes and looks quite similar to Mee Siam but with the addition of coconut milk, mince pork and banana blossoms.
Our favourite: Dino Cake House & Cafe at 257 Upper Thomson Rd, Singapore 574384
9. Roti Prata
Roti Prata is a South-Indian flatbread that is made by frying a hand-stretched dough with ghee (Indian clarified butter). It is usually perfectly crispy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. Roti Prata is commonly served with some chicken, fish or mutton curry. In Hindi, the word ‘Roti’ means ‘bread’, and paratha or prata means ‘flat’. Over the years, Roti Prata has evolved into a dish that can be eaten as a dessert served with ice cream or a savory one combining ingredients like cheese, onion, mushrooms and even as a hipster brunch item like Prata Benedict complete with a poached egg .
Our favourite: Sin Ming Roti Prata at Jin Fa Kopitiam, Blk 24 Sin Ming Road
Rojak in colloquial Malay means “mixture” and it definitely doesn’t look like your typical vibrant, fresh green salad. Although it may not look very appetising because of its dark and dull presentation, but you might be impressed by this culinary creation of savoury and sweet flavours. This dish is a local Singaporean salad that has a combination of fried doughsticks, chopped fruits (young mango, unripe roseapples and pineapple slices) vegetables (beansprouts, raw cucumber, Chinese turnip and blanched kang-kong or water spinach) mixed with a thick, sticky black sauce made with sugar, lime juice, chilli paste, fermented prawn paste and garnished with chopped peanuts. It has a good wholesome balance of flavours (sweet, spicy and sour) and textures. The salad is traditionally tossed with a wooden spoon inside a large wooden bowl.
Our favourite: Soon Heng Rojak at 480 Lor 6 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310480
11. Bak Chor Mee (Minced meat noodles)
Bak Chor Mee is a simple yet absolutely tasty noodle dish that is served with thin egg noodles, some steamed pork slices, pork liver, a generous serving of minced meat, meat dumplings, meat balls, stewed sliced mushrooms and some crispy pieces of fried lard for that extra crunch. This dish can be found in every noodle stall at hawker centers and food courts. If you love meat and noodles, this is gonna be your new favourite dish!
Our favourite: Boat Quay (Original) Mushroom Noodle at Blk 312 Sumang Link, Singapore 822312
12. Orh-Luak (Oyster Omelette)
Orh-Luak (耗煎) or Oyster Omelette is definitely another one of my favourite Singapore dishes and a hawker favorite. There are two variations of the oyster omelette – thin and crispy or soft and gooey. The most common version found in hawker centers is slightly crispy on the outside with gooey bits on the inside. The hawkers fry up a thick batter of egg mixed with tapioca starch and add in fresh, plump briny oysters for that umami-punch. I’ve seen the Oyster Omelette sold in places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia but the version that still resonates with my taste buds would definitely have to be the Singapore one. I absolutely love chewing through the starchy-bits of the omelette and it usually comes with a side of sour-spicy chili sauce for that extra kick! Did you know that the humble Orh-Luak was even named as New York Times ‘food of the year’ in 2015?
Our favourite: Lim’s Fried Oyster at Berseh Food Centre, #01-32, 166 Jln Besar, Singapore 208877
Satay which is known as one of the most popular Malay dishes in Singapore can be eaten as a side dish or on its own. It is essentially meat (beef, chicken or mutton) skewers that have been marinated and barbecued over smokey hot charcoal. The meat is marinated and tenderised in a mixture of sauces, aromatics and ingredients like garlic, ginger, lemon grass, turmeric, onion, peanut oil, cumin, soy sauce, peanut oil, brown sugar, pepper and salt. The ideal stick of satay would be one that has a glazed, caramelised exterior that is slightly charred with meat that is tender and sweet. Satay is commonly ordered in sticks of 5 or 10 and they are accompanied with some sliced onions, cucumbers, a sweet-spicy peanut sauce and some glutinous rice-dumplings (called ‘ketupat’ in Malay) that have been cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with salt.
Our favourite: Chai Ho Satay at Blk 448 Clementi Ave 3, #01-10, Singapore 120448 ,
14. Carrot Cake
Sometimes my foreign friends like to ask me what Singaporeans usually have for breakfast and it totally blows their mind when I tell them that some people like to have ‘carrot cake’ for breakfast. I know that it definitely sounds bizarre to people who interpret the name literally and have no idea what this dish is made of. The Singaporean version of ‘carrot cake’ is not actually carrot in a cake but made from radish cake cubes (a steamed batter of rice flour, water and white radish), stir fried with some crunchy preserved radish, eggs, diced garlic and seasoned with light soy sauce or a dark sweet soy sauce.
Our favourite: Lau Goh Carrot Cake at 70 Zion Rd, Singapore 247792
15. Sup Tulang (Bone Marrow Soup)
Sup Tulang which is commonly associated with the Indian-Muslim community has to be one of American Chef and ‘No Reservations’ host Anthony Bourdain’s favourite Singaporean dishes. Armed with a pair of plastic gloves and a plastic straw, he describes it as a soup that has an “eerie, lurid, not-seen-in-nature red” and gelatinous mutton bones that have been stewed in a pot of “scorching, sweet-sour, delicious chili sauce”. The vivid, blood-red gravy is actually made from a combination of tomato paste and a chili paste which gives it a good balance of sweetness, spiciness and tanginess. I think the most intriguing thing about this dish is how you’re supposed slurp the marrow, soft tissue and all the good bits inside the bones with the help of a plastic straw.
Our favourite: Haji Kadir & M Baharudeen at Golden Mile Food Centre 505 Beach Road #B1-13-15. Singapore 199583
16. Sambal Stingray
Sambal stingray also known as Ikan bakar in Malay is stingray slathered with thick sambal paste (made from blending a generous handful of chilli, fish sauce, shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, scallions, ginger, lime juice and sugar) that is wrapped up in a fragrant banana leaf and placed on the smokey barbecue. It usually come with a side of a ‘chinchalok’ dip which is a pinkish-sauces that is made from onions, lime juice and fermented shrimps. This dish consists of strong, bold flavours that go surprisingly well with the stingray.
Our favourite: M.M. BBQ Fish at Blk 511 Bedok North Street 3 #01-36
17. Fish Head Curry
Fish head curry is a dish with Chinese and Indian roots commonly found in Singapore and it is often served bubbling in a claypot. It is like a remake of the South Indian curry with little (ingredient) twists depending on the person making it – some people add in coconut milk for a thicker and creamier consistency while others add in tamarind paste for that kick of sourness. The scintillating thick curry contains the head of a red snapper stewed in a stock pot filled with a perfect blend of Indian spices (like Assam, chilli and tumeric) with an assortment of vegetables like eggplant, okra and some pineapple pieces. Your culinary-dining experience would definitely be taken to a whole new level if you use your hands to eat it with rice. Don’t be surprise if people start fighting over the cheeks and eyeballs as they are apparently the best part of the whole dish!
Our favourite: Sakunthala at 66 Race Course Rd, Singapore 218570
Popiah is Chaozhou/Fujian-style fresh spring roll that is essentially a healthy meal in itself. An assortment of delicious ingredients that include steamed vegetables like stir fried carrots, beansprouts, turnip and jicama, with shredded omelette, prawns and chinese sausage (lup cheong) topped with peanuts and a sweet sticky soy sauce (kecap manis) is wrapped tightly in the popiah skin (made from wheat-flour). If you’re in a rush and would like a quick bite to fill your tummy, popiah is definitely an affordably delicious option.
Our favourite: Poon Nah City Home Made Noodle at 810 Geylang Rd, Singapore 409286
19. Wonton Noodles
The Singaporean version of wonton noodles includes thin, springy egg noodles, sliced barbecued pork (char siew), leafy vegetables like bak choy and plump pork/prawn-stuffed dumplings. It can be served dry seasoned with some sesame oil, soya sauce and a mix of ketchup-chili sauce or in a tasty pork-rib broth. There are several variations of this dish with subtle differences found in countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand. Wonton mee is a great one-bowl meal for people who want an affordable, quick option. This dish can be easily found at every food court or hawker center.
Our favourite: Ding Ji Wanton Noodle at 261 Serangoon Central Drive
20. Bak Kut Teh
Bah Kut Teh (loosely translated from the Hokkien dialect as meat bone tea) is a complex Chinese broth filled with pork ribs and a combination of intense spices and herbs cooked to perfection. There are two main variations of Bak Kut Teh served in Singapore – Klang style and Teochew style. The differences between the two styles are mainly the broths and the taste of each one. The Klang-style Bak Kut Teh has a stronger herbal taste while the broth is thick and cloudy. On the other hand, the Teochew style has a more garlicky, peppery taste while the soup is translucent. It is usually accompanied with a bowl of steamed rice, pieces of deep fried dough-sticks and sliced red chili in black vinegar on the side. This is definitely a great dish to have on a cold, rainy day as it will definitely warm your tummy and soul.
Our favourite: Song Fa Bak Kut Teh; several outlets – see list here.