Singapore’s Top 5 dishes extract from Singapore in 12 Dishes by Red Pork Press
SINGAPORE’S CUISINE is a diverse one, spawned over centuries by the various immigrant populations who traded and lived here. Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Indonesian and British influences abound.
Many of Singapore’s best dishes can be had in hawker centres, where locals take most of their meals. Hawker food is incredibly cheap and the options are mind blowing – the size of centres varies but most have dozens of dishes on offer. You find them near transport hubs and housing estates and without great difficulty. Hainan chicken rice, satay, congee, rojak (a ‘salad’ of raw vegetables and unripe, crisp fruits in a thick, sweet dressing), otah otah (spiced fish paste steamed in banana leaves), char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) and sambal-slathered, grilled stingray are just a few typical hawker dishes.
Chinese food in Singapore is predominantly southern Chinese, with Cantonese (known for its gentle flavours and great finesse), Hokkien (Hokkien mee or ‘fried noodles’ and bak kut teh are two classic dishes) and Teowchew (famed for seafood and vegetarian dishes and for its overall delicacy) the main styles. Indian food is another significant cuisine and is concentrated in Little India. Go here for classics like roti, biryani, Indian sweets, fish head curry and dahl with chapati. Malay fare, which often intersects with Indonesian (notably Sumatran and Javanese), can be found everywhere. After all, Singapore is, geographically, Malaysian. Spices, tamarind, belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and coconut milk are common elements. Chinese ingredients such as fried tofu puffs have been integrated too, giving Singaporean Malay food a unique spin. Nasi padang, or white rice served with a variety of curries and other sides, is a typical dish. Nasi ambeng is similar but comprises larger plates and more accompaniments, suited to sharing with groups. Various noodle dishes, laksa, nasi lemak, a whole raft of curried and fried foods, including the famed rendang, are representative. The entire repertoire is vast and it’s hard to choose a personal top five; ours always changes. Here are our current favourites.
Kueh are a whole family of (mainly sweet) snacks made using ingredients like palm sugar, rice, mung bean or tapioca flour, coconut and pandan. They’re light, pretty and moreish and the range at HarriAnns is mind boggling. Visit them at the wonderful Tiong Bahru Food Centre (catch the MRT to Tiong Bahru station), after you’ve walked the quiet neighbourhood with its heritage-protected art deco apartments and notably chilled vibe. 30 Seng Poh Rd #02-25 Tiong Bahru Food Centre Singapore 168898 6am-2pm Tue-Sun
PRAWN NOODLE SOUP
A classic hawker dish, aficionados swear by Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle’s stock, made using wild-caught prawns. The resulting, prawny brew is served to the side of egg noodles and yet more prawns… or thrown over everything in the same bowl. A dab of fiery, homemade sambal is essential. It attracts notoriously long queues and charge a premium; S$30 for a large bowl. The downtown branch is the most convenient. 1 Esplanade Dr, Singapore 038981 11am-2pm & 5pm-10pm Mon-Tue, 11am-11pm Sat, 11am-10pm Sun
Nasi lemak involves coconut-infused rice, fried peanuts, ikan bilis (fried, dried anchovies), cucumber, egg and lipsmacking sambal; The Coconut Club, an upmarket canteen on picturesque Ann Siang Hill and walking distance from the Chinatown MRT, cooks our favourite. They use old-crop Thai jasmine rice for optimum flavour and buy coconuts from a specific Malay plantation for making fresh coconut milk. The pièce de résistance is the side of ayam goreng; succulent chicken marinated in galangal, turmeric and lemongrass before being deep-fried. 6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787 11:30am-3pm & 5:45pm-9pm Mon-Sat, 11am-3pm Sun
BLACK PEPPER CRAB
It’s a toss-up which is more delicious; this or chilli crab. Less gloopy and with clear, bright, hot flavours, black pepper crab dates from 1950s Singapore and is best made using fat, imported mud crabs. We love the version at Majestic Bay, with its notes of pepper, butter, curry leaves, dried prawn and soy. (If you’re feeling adventurous, try their coffee crab – yes, really.) Below the Flower Dome, Gardens By The Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-10 Singapore 018953 11:30am-3pm & 5:45pm-9pm daily
BAK KUT TEH
‘Meat bone tea’ is the direct translation of this iconic dish where a deeply porky, pepper-spiked broth meets pieces of pork on-the-bone and garlic; it packs a flavour punch. We catch an Uber out to Rong Cheng, where we know we can order ‘dragon ribs’, a thicker, fattier, delicious-er cut of pork. Accompaniments include youtiao (dough sticks), braised peanuts, braised beancurd skin, pickled vegetables and steamed rice, plus shots of super-strong gong fu tea, to cut through the fat. Blk 26, Sin Ming Lane, #01-114 Midview City Singapore 573971 9am-9pm daily.