Singapore is so much more than a world travel stop over. It is an amalgamation of truly multi-cultural influences. Here each culture is able to hold its own and thrive while also creating this new hybrid of what it means to be uniquely Singaporean. The city manages to embrace modern architecture, be a corporate hub for Asia, offer world class experiences in dining and more while still maintaining its history, its hawker centres and its down-to-earth wet markets.
I’d implore you, while in Singapore you should also spend time soaking in so many of its non-food experiences – explore Gardens by the bay and brave the crowds to watch the light show, ogle at Marina Bay sands or the Merlion, may be make a trip to the zoo. Walk around some of its neighbourhoods/wet markets and truly explore the contrasts of multiple cultures that exist in the city. You could start your day with a kaya toast in chinatown, have a very hawker centre lunch in Little India and end the night in one of its popular bars (Native is where you’d find me).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what you will find in Singapore. These are just some of my personal favourites. Since I’m no local, I won’t lie there’s a few touristy things I’ve done that I continue to do just because a) nostalgia/food memories b) I’m on a holiday c) good food is good food! Great food is everywhere in Singapore, just savour it. The philosophy of eat where the locals eat won’t ever fail you, especially here.
Singapore and All the Crab
Eating a nearly 2kg Mud Crab is almost a right of passage when in Singapore. It might be highly touristy but do it anyways, its very good! What makes them extra special are the deep fried mantou buns , perfect vehicle for mopping up crab meat laced sauces. You could choose between seriously Chilli Crab or Black Pepper Crab. Might be a Singaporean cliche to have these at Alliance Seafood at Newton Food Centre (black pepper) or at Jumbo Seafood (chilli crab). I’ve done both, no shame!
But what I think is TRULY legendary is this white pepper crab at JB Ah Meng Restaurant that really shook up my tastebuds. The sweetness of the crabmeat really shines through the warmth of the white pepper sauce they are tossed in! And the herbs (coriander & spring onion) are much needed for they lend a great degree of freshness! We licked the plate and our fingers clean. While there, don’t miss their garlic chilli clams and the San Lou Bee Hoon (vermicelli noodles mixed with dried seafood and soy sauce, fried like a pancake until crisp).
That I go to Singapore for the Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Food Centre alone wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration. Perfectly fluffy rice cooked in rendered chicken fat, gently poached succulent chicken and a pungent chilli sauce. Soul food right there!
The Big Prawns Hor Fun at Kok Sen Restaurant with charred noodles on the base and covered in a delicious sauce served with pickled chillies are a showstopper. The smoky char on the noodles when combined with the balanced heat of the gravy is just something else! The giant prawns were a big plus 🦐🦐 A plate of this was literally on every table and we loved it.
Hawker Centre and Savoury Breakfasts
I’m not a sweet breakfast person so a kaya toast doesn’t personally hit the spot for me. This traditional Char Kway Teow by Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee at Hong Lim Food Centre and Market is much more my kinda breakfast/brunch situation. It is essentially a dish of stir fried flat rice and egg noodles, bean sprouts, cockles, egg, chilli and lard. Deeply savoury, it made me understand the magic of ‘wok hei” – breath of the wok. The aroma of the char from the combination of a smoky wok, fat and caramelisation is something else!
Also this crispy chicken cutlet over egg noodles swimming in a rich curry broth & greens reminds you how nothing compares to Singapore’s rich hawker centre food culture. That people dedicate so much of their life to perfecting one dish/a small selection and then cook it day in day out with the same level of dedication and commitment for a fraction of the price of fine dining establishments. A real case for greatness being everywhere! We loved starting our day with savory meals like this and hanging with the locals.
Kacang Pool ( similar to the Foul Medames) is a fava bean stew served with a sunny side egg, red onion, chilli and kalamansi. Paired with crusty bread roll, it is great to start the day with.
Singapore’s weather isn’t particularly hot soup friendly, but there’s too many great ones that I simply couldn’t resist. When the taxi driver insists you go to the place he frequents and confidently brushes off your first pick, you just have to change your plans and go where he dictates. Boy was it good though! A real fine Hokkien Prawn Mee Noodle Soup with a seriously punchy umami laden prawn broth (I could drink it by the gallon) with egg noodles, crispy onion & chilli! Oh Singapore, how passionate your people are about food. Another one for the books was this turmeric hued Indonesian chicken soup for the soul aka Soto Ayam loaded with noodles, sprouts, chicken and a scrumptious deep fried potato dumpling that soaks it all up!
Singapore Hawker Centre Classics
No trip to Singapore is complete without a trip to the local Hawker centre for a late night feed (even before Crazy Rich Asians made it larger than life). Grilled prawns with kalamansi, oyster omelette with chilli dipping sauce, Sambal stingray, Hokkien Mee noodles, always washed down with copious amounts of really chilled fresh sugarcane juice. The eating experience is as much about the food as it is about the vibe, the energy that comes from everyone enjoying the food and drinks immeasurably.
The Joys of Nasi Padang
I am lucky to call Singapore local Vasunthara a friend (she just happens to be an incredible cook/food writer) and she guided us perfectly through our first Nasi Padang at Geylang Sarai hawker centre. The Indonesian feast involves a selection of meat/seafood/vegetarian curries with some big bold flavours and condiments that somehow magically work together when you eat them with rice and some steamed fish otak otak on the side. It is a real feast for the senses and tastebuds. Geylang Sarai is also home to an amazing wet market worth exploring while there.
Little India’s Treasures
Tekka market (in addition to Tiong Bahru) is one of Singapore’s most varied of wet markets. It is also the gateway to all things Indian and when you’re there you’d almost believe you’re somewhere in the depths of south India. The produce is fresh, seasonal and so tropical it’ll make your heart sing. There’s a selection of Indian restaurants to pick from – South Indian thalis, idlis for breakfast, you’d be spoilt for choice. Brightly painted murals and the eclectic energy are a photographer’s dream. You’ll want to soak it all in.
The selection of tropical fruits alone could make the most glorious of desserts, but I make exception for hyper local/traditional desserts which are beautifully balanced and nuanced. Traditional Haigh Road “Putu Piring” – Malay style steamed rice flour cakes with a gula melaka (palm sugar that has very intense caramel/toffee notes) filling and served with pandan leaf and fresh grated coconut were a real revelation. So subtle in flavor, so easy to devour one too many as they are freshly steamed to order! Another one for the books was the Mee Jiang Kueh pancakes with sweetened coconut filling. Airy and light with a vibrant bite, as desserts should be.
Thanks to Singapore’s humid weather though, no dessert comes close to a good ice Kachang (in addition to a good bubble tea). Mango Ice Kachang (shaved ice & condensed milk) with Durian ice cream. Easily one of the most effective ways to beat the heat!
This list is a work in progress for my love affair with the deliciousness Singapore has to offer is far from over. I will return, because I know this is only the tip of the iceberg, there’s still plenty I have to uncover.
If you’d like to ask me more about my time in Singapore or other recommendations, you can get in touch here