Singapore is a food lover's paradise and with a staggering 40,000 eateries squeezed on to this tiny isle, you don’t have to look far to find a delicious meal. Whether it’s a fiery chilli crab concoction, a Malay-style satay skewer or simply something from one of the hundreds of hawker stalls on offer, there’s no reason to go hungry on a trip to the Lion City.
Singapore’s food scene is heavily influenced by its cultural diversity. Not surprisingly, it’s a breeze to find top-quality Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes in any high-street restaurant or bustling street-corner stall. Yet, with one of the world’s highest proportions of expatriate workers, it’s just as easy to track down high-calibre Japanese, Thai and even French dishes in a nation with a devout passion for food.
Singapore chicken rice
A long-time local favourite, Singapore chicken rice is sometimes called Hainanese chicken and rice – despite the fact this tasty dish of poached chicken and steamed rice with red chilli doesn’t actually exist in Hainan. Instead it’s a purely local affair and that’s good news for visitors to the Lion City, who can find this ready-made comfort food in practically every hawker city and market restaurant on the island.
Tea and coffee, Singapore style
Take a seat in a kopitiam and indulge in a spot of genuine local culture with a cup of tea or coffee, Singapore style. Borrowing freely from the creole language Singlish, a kopi or teh is a daily ritual for many Singaporeans. Knowledge of a few choice words can help smooth the ordering process – kosong means without sugar, o kosong is ‘straight and bitter’, and kopicinno is self-explanatory.
Chilli crab and then some
Singapore’s affinity for crab meat knows no bounds, so it’s hardly a surprise that chilli crab is perhaps the Lion City’s most famous dish. This succulent seafood dish is a Singaporean institution, but there’s more than just the ubiquitous chilli crab to tempt crustacean lovers. Black pepper crab and butter crab are delicious alternatives, as is the vermicelli-laden crab bee hoon.
Kaya toast and eggs
A regular staple for the kopitiam set, kaya is a spread of eggs, sugar and coconut milk flavoured with pandan and lavishly administered to the closest piece of toast on hand. The toast is then typically dunked into soft-boiled eggs, making it a favourite breakfast dish for those on the go and others looking to enjoy a more leisurely morning meal.
Luscious laksa with a local twist
While no one is quite sure how laksa originated, what is certain is that this spicy noodle soup is one of Singapore’s most popular dishes. So ubiquitous is this beloved noodle dish that various locales around town engage in ‘laksa wars’, with the competition between laksa joints on the famous East Coast Road particularly fierce.
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Hawker Food Centres
If it’s Hainanese chicken and rice you crave, head straight for Maxwell Road in the heart of Chinatown. One of the oldest hawker centres on the island, this long-established favourite is famous for its Tian Tian Chicken Rice, attracting aficionados from far and wide for a taste of this iconic national dish.
Lau Pa Sat
A favourite haunt of expats and visitors alike, the venerable Lau Pa Sat also caters to an enthusiastic crowd of office workers come lunchtime. Housed in a Heritage-listed building, this vast hawker centre hosts more than 50 stalls of multicultural cuisine cooked fresh and served straight to your table.
Not your typical hawker centre – though the resident Chinatown Food Complex caters for that – Smith Street transforms into a throwback of yesteryear when night falls. That’s because the street is closed to cars, allowing stall holders to set up tables on the open road and peddle their tasty wares in a manner reminiscent of the original hawkers who once roamed Singapore’s streets.
One of the most popular hawker centres around, Tiong Bahru is situated in the heart of one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates. Its famous hawker stalls attract gourmands from all over the island, eager to sample sumptuous dishes such as succulent roast pork and wonton noodles cooked to perfection by generations of hawker food artisans.
It is a bit of a trek but what Chomp Chomp lacks in accessibility from the city centre it more than makes up for in sheer deliciousness. Somewhat high-end by hawker standards, this popular food emporium – known by many locals as the Serangoon Gardens Food Centre – is best known for its sumptuous grilled stingray, which some connoisseurs consider to be the best in Singapore.
5 Easy Steps To Order Food, Hawker-Style
1. Find your table
Hawker centres are as unpretentious as it gets and one of their charms is the chance they offer to meet Singaporeans going about their everyday affairs. Expect to share a communal table and take note of the table number, as you’ll need it when you order your food. You can reserve a place by leaving a packet of tissues – readily available – at your seat.
2. Pick your stall
Though the sheer number of stalls and food options on offer may seem overwhelming, do as the locals often do and simply opt for the stall with the longest queue (a good indicator of quality). If the queues are universally short, why not sample some dishes from a wide variety of stalls?
3. Join a queue
The next step is a simple one. Join a queue and wait until it advances. Wait until called by the chef’s assistant – there is where knowing your table number is key – and order.
4. Await your food
If there’s a ‘self-service’ sign on the stall, that means you take your plate of food to the table yourself. Otherwise your food will be delivered straight to your table when ready, upon which you can pay.
The sheer variety of dishes makes a trip to a hawker centre a must for food aficionados. While all stalls are required to clearly display their cleanliness rating, perhaps the best way to choose from the multitude of food on offer is to do as the locals do – join the longest queue and dig in!
Don’t Forget To Try
Somewhat of a local delicacy, the ‘wings’ of this strange-looking fish are basted with searing-hot sambal – a chilli and garlic paste – and lightly grilled over a hot flame, producing a deliciously tender, uniquely flavoured Singaporean seafood favourite.
Char Kway Teow
The key to this dish is in its cooking, as flat rice noodles are stir-fried with cubes of lard for flavour, mixed in with de-shelled cockles and bean sprouts, sliced Chinese sausage and occasionally prawns and egg. It is all tossed together over a sizzling wok, the heat of which gives the dish its distinctive smoky flavour.
BBQ chicken wings
A staple around the world, what makes Singapore’s take on BBQ chicken wings so great is the setting. Pull up a seat at a night-time hawker stall – preferably with a group of friends or fellow travellers – grab some garlic dipping sauce, ensure a steady supply of thirst-quenching beer is on hand and celebrate the good life, Singapore-style.
A deliciously decadent local favourite, this deceptively simple dish is cooked in a smoking-hot pan to create a crisp omelette layer. Inside is a mixture of oysters added at just the right moment to ensure freshness, and a creamy egg interior that positively oozes out on to the plate.
Brought over by the hard-working labourers from Fujian province who helped build the towering skyscrapers that dominate the Singapore skyline, this hearty dish is packed with nourishing seafood staples. To make the dish, yellow egg noodles are mixed with rice vermicelli and tossed with prawns, squid and strips of pork belly and cooked in a rich seafood stock.
Our Top 9 Restaurant Picks
If you can secure a table – reservations for this fine-dining hot spot are often exhausted weeks in advance – then indie staple Iggy’s is a guaranteed gourmet experience. From its contemporary decor, to eclectic European menu and sophisticated wine list, this award-winning restaurant is widely regarded as one of Singapore’s best.
When you’re hot, you’re hot – and it’s safe to say that after bursting on to the scene, Tippling Club looks set to remain one of Singapore’s finest restaurants for a long time. What sets it apart is the unique fusion between menu and cocktail list, with the two meticulously designed to complement each other.
Without doubt one of Singapore’s most popular restaurants, the aptly named Long Beach is the place to be if it’s seafood you crave. Succulent, supersized Sri Lankan crabs are a specialty, so sit back and sup on sumptuous chilli crab or fiery pepper crab, washed down with some ice-cool beers and finished off with fried mantou bread.
The White Rabbit
If you’re after a unique dining experience, look no further than The White Rabbit. Once an abandoned church, this converted chapel now welcomes a steady stream of gourmands all eager to worship in its high-ceilinged splendour. Desserts are a highlight, as are the lush green surrounds that envelope one of the island’s most distinctive restaurants.
Boasting unparalleled waterfront views from its sweeping curved balcony, Il Lido has long been regarded as one of the island’s premier Italian restaurants. Situated at Sentosa Golf Club and featuring a tried-and-true menu of home-style Italian cuisine, this venerated local favourite is reputed to have the best tiramisu in town.
Marina Bay Sands
For a fine-dining experience, head to Marina Bay Sands, where some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs have set up shop. They include Australian-Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda, French chef Guy Savoy and American chef Mario Batali. The integrated resort has more than 60 restaurants, with Italian, Chinese and Indian also among the offerings.
Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant
For great chilli crab and local-style seafood, go to Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant at Block 55 in Tiong Bahru Road. The oldest restaurant in the area, its dishes include clam fried with garlic mince and chilli, prawn with herb soup stocks in a clay pot and curry fish heads.
An expat favourite, this taqueria and garden bar on Duxton Hill serves authentic Mexican street food and quality tequila. The menu was created by executive chef Mario Malvaez in collaboration with Jason Jones, co-founder of Melbourne’s popular Mexican restaurant Mamasita.
This colourful tapas bar provides a chance to enjoy European cuisine in the heart of Chinatown. Sit at the bar and watch the chefs prepare dishes designed by Jason Atherton, the protege of British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. It’s advisable to book in advance.
Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Singapore.