Close your eyes and think of Singapore… what floats across your frontal cortex? I see food, food and yet more food. Which is not to play down the Lion City’s other assets, like the gorgeous greenness, shopping temptations and orderly beauty. It’s one of my favourite places to float around with absolutely no agenda, other than to inhale as many dishes as I possibly can (black pepper crab, anyone?). Food in Singapore is mind-blowing and the pressure to try everything is real. And you know me; I’ll always give eating it all a red-hot go.
Food diversity in Singapore (and what does that even mean?)
Singapore is a nation of foodies and has many culinary influences, including Indian, Chinese and Malay.
The best thing IMO about food in Singapore is the awesome diversity. Over the centuries, several major culinary influences have all come to play and stay. The result? Singaporeans have become complete food obsessives (totally my kind of people).
With a crazy-ridiculous number of dining options, I always dive straight into local faves. That fabulous Indian, Chinese and Malay mix is a foodie dream come true, where a day’s eating can look like roti with spicy gravy to start, salted egg crab or dim sum a bit later, then dreamy, fragrant, rich Peranakan (a fusion of Malay and Chinese) curries to finish the day with a bang.
Eating in Singapore – you need an action plan!
So many hawker centres, such little time.
To make the most of the best food in Singapore, take a grazing, rather than a ‘three square meals’ approach. Hawker centres, which are like casual, open-air food halls on steroids, are my go-to. Jumping with steaming, woking, noodling and stir-frying action, they put you smack bang in the midst of all the eating action and are where locals go to refuel.
Depending on the time of day and the particular hawker centre (there are heaps of them), expect selections of satay, dim sum, nasi lemak (coconut rice with sides of fried anchovies, peanuts, egg and curry), rojak (a crispy salad of vegetables and unripe fruits in a thick, sweet, gloopy dressing), yong tau foo (tofu stuffed with fish paste or ground meat and served with sauce or in soup), popiah (fresh spring rolls in a super-fine wrapper) and more. Waaay more.
Time for a refuelling pitstop to test out another amazing local haunt, Scissor-Cut Curry Rice at Jalan Besar.
I’m talking congee (rice porridge), endless noodle dishes (including laksa, bee hoon, lor mee, mee siam, Hokkien mee and char kway teow), grilled sambal stingray, chwee kueh (adorable steamed rice-flour cakes with preserved radish and chilli sauce), Hainan chicken rice and ‘carrot cake’ (chai tow kway) – not the sweet, cream-cheese-frosted cake you might think of, but a fry-up of radish ‘cake’ with egg and seasonings.
Then there’s bak kut teh, where the ultimate porky, brothy soup meets meaty ribs and epic, punchy flavours. I love eating this with you tiao (fried bread sticks) on the side for dunking.
And don’t forget Singaporean dessert
Phew. There’s a LOT. And that’s just the tip of the food-burg! If your head is spinning at the thought of All The Singapore Food Things, mine does too, every time I go.
And I haven’t got around to talking desserts and icy concoctions like ice kacang, a massive tower of shaved ice doused in syrup and evaporated milk, topped with grass jelly cubes, kidney beans, creamed corn and maybe ice cream; the perfect antidote to the energy-zapping, steamy tropics.
A plethora of Indian desserts can be found at The Arcade, Little India.
Then, of course, there’s kueh dadar, which are commonly eaten in Singapore and across southeast Asia as a popular sweet treat snack or dessert. These vibrant coloured rolled-up crepes get their gorgeous green colour from pandan leaves, and are filled with a sticky coconut filling that’s sweetened by gula melaka, a type of palm sugar. Totally moreish, totally delicious.
The areas of Singapore and the food they’re famous for
No foodie visit to Singapore is complete without heading to Little India.
To make tackling Singapore a bit simpler, it’s handy to know there are precincts that specialise in specific foods. For example, hit up Little India for Subcontinental eateries specialising in fish head curry, dosa (more commonly known as ‘thosai’ in Singapore), keema, chapati, biryani and more. Katong-Joo Chiat is home to Peranakan food, including kueh (traditional sweets) makers. Or Kampong Gelam, near the stunning Sultan Mosque, where feisty, spicy Malay-influenced fare is thick on the ground.
Sultan Mosque is at the heart of Kampong Gelam, Singapore’s ‘Arabic quarter’.
No matter what part of town you’re in, always keep your eyes peeled for old school kopitiams (coffee houses) that serve up breakfast classics like kaya (coconut-egg jam) toast and local-style tea and coffee, plus zi char restaurants, informal-type places that deliver epic home-style fare. And, when you feel like seafood, there’s a ton of places for indulging in fishy goodness.
Taking some lessons in pouring teh from a height at Kampong Gelam.
It’s not just food — Singapore slings some great cocktails, too
Whether you fancy a wine on a breezy rooftop or a cocktail in a sultry bolthole, Singapore’s got some killer bars to help wash down your day. I’ve got a few pet haunts and one I find hard to go past is Atlas, with its serious Great Gatsby vibes. Gin’s the big draw, with a list including (are you sitting down?) 1,000 options and even one dating from 1910!
Atlas was one of my favourite bars in Singapore.
Normally I’m a vodka martini gal, but the one I had here using gin was legit the best martini of my life. Atlas is on the top 50 best bars in Asia list too and no wonder. Just go.
I’m also a major fan of Rebel Rebel, a wine bar right on the edge of Chinatown at 14 Bukit Pasoh Road. Its interesting wine list includes offerings more affordable than most in Singapore, and with seriously interesting choices. I love their bar food too and the cosy, Spanish-inspired interiors make you feel right at home.
Arrgh. Stop already! I’m hankering for Singapore now. Beam me back.
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