In an ongoing series about my travels to Singapore, I would like to highlight one of the, if not THE, best aspect of the city — the FOOD. Singapore food is celebrated across the globe for its flavours, diversity and sheer character. What I love most about Singapore food is is that it can be enjoyed at ALL budgets. I’ve had great fine dining meals – if that’s your scene, I recommend Daniel Boulud’s restaurant at Marina Bay Sands, the highly-rated Iggy’s or even Joël Robuchon’s restaurant which happens to be one of my favourites. But, for me, Singapore is NOT necessarily about fine dining. It is a frugal gourmet destination. The street food, the hawker centres and the small streetside restaurants have THE best offerings and, in most cases, the most authentic.
So, if you’re a first time traveller to the island city, here are my five MUST-TRY Singapore food favourites – and my recommendations on where to have them.
1. Satay – The unofficial national dish of Singapore, it is arguably the most famous. It is indeed a MUST TRY. It is the Singaporean version of the barbecue as it is comprised of skewers of chicken, lamb, beef or pork, with a sweetish-seasoned glaze, and grilled over an open charcoal flame. It is usually served in bunches of ten sticks, accompanied with a sweet peanut sauce. Along with this, to add that extra zing, you must enjoy it with pieces of diced onion and capsicum.
Where: The BEST place to enjoy this is at Lau Pa Sat – an iconic, heritage food court situated at the heart of the business district. Every evening, after sundown, one road adjoining the hawker centre is cordoned off to traffic and this becomes an open-air satay feast. Wash this down with a few pints of local Tiger beer. The quintessential Singapore experience.
2. Kaya Toast – This is considered to be a breakfast staple of Singapore. Many visitors don’t know what it is and it is said to be an acquired taste. Whatever it is, I seem to have acquired quite a taste for it. The main ingredient of kaya toast is the coconut jam, served, as you would expect, on buttered toast. This delicacy was created by the Hainanese people, who worked on British ships as kitchen hands. The replaced the breakfast jams consumed by the British with their native coconut jam. You can ask for a version without butter, but that’s no fun. It is a perfect mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.
Where: Toast Box is a chain of coffee shops across Singapore, literally at every corner. While there are tons of local places that serve great kaya toast, I seem to think that Toast Box is the easiest and most visible option, which always serves a good kaya toast.
3. Kopi- O/Kopi-C: There couldn’t be a bigger coffee addict than me. And when I travel, the first thing I do is to scout out the best local coffee – if a local coffee culture exists, that is. In the bustling Singapore food scene, there is a WONDERFULLY unique coffee culture as well. Kopi literally means coffee. Kopi-O is a traditional coffee, strong and black served with sugar. And you don’t need to sweeten it because condensed milk is added to it. It is my absolute favourite. Kopi-C, on the other hand, is served with unsweetened evaporated milk and sugar. I find it a little less sweet and creamy than standard kopi for those with less of a sweet tooth. Where: Toast Box again is a great option. But almost every mall and every food court, has a little coffee stall serving this kind of coffee. My recommendation: please stay far from Starbucks when you’re in Singapore. This is SO Much better.
4. Roti prata: No, this is not the paratha that we eat in India. It is the Singaporean version – the roti prata. It is said to have evolved from the original pancake recipes of India and Pakistan. Roti prata is usually served with plain dal or curry. Although today, there is a variety of accompanying dishes. The Roti prata is made with tosses in the air, vigorous slaps and smacks to make it light yet doughy just before it is served. It is a local favourite in Singapore. My favourite way to have it: with an egg broken on it and with some melted cheese.
Where: Little India. All along Serangoon Road, I love to stop at some of the quaint restaurants that serve roti-prata with chicken curry, till the wee hours of the morning. If you’re at Lau Pa Sat, there’s a guy who serves it till well after all the satay stalls have closed.
5. Chilli crab and Black pepper crab: These are two Singapore food icons. And usually, I wouldn’t be recommending something so popular and widely-know. But what is one to do when it is SO delicious! For the uninitiated, there are two popular ways that crab is served in Singapore. The first is Chilli crab where mud crabs are stir-fried in a semi-thick, sweet and savoury tomato and chilli based sauce. Despite its name, it is not a very spicy dish at all. It was listed as number 35 on the World’s 50 most delicious foods, compiled by CNN Go in 2011. The black pepper crab on the other hand, is made with hard-shell crabs fried with black pepper. It is less heavy in comparison to the Chilli crab due to the absence of a sauce. It is sometimes preferred over the Chilli crab due to its drier and fragrant nature.
Where: JUMBO, JUMBO, JUMBO. My favourite restaurant for crabs. Jumbo has branches across Singapore, I like to go to the one at East Coast, by the waterfront. There’s another one at Clarke Quay, but that tends to get too crowded.
So there, my Singapore food recommendations. Know that this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to food in Singapore. There are COUNTLESS options and I can’t possibly begin to describe them all.
Stay tuned for our next post, next week, on the most luxurious places to grab a drink in Singapore.