What to eat in Singapore

Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese Chicken Rice. Photo credit: Getty Images.

By Alexia Santamaria

Singaporean cuisine is, understandably, a mouth-watering mash-up of its different cultural influences.

The city-state's diverse immigration history and prominence as a seaport means its food has evolved into a delicious mix of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and more recently, Western ingredients, too. 

While all of Singapore's best-known fare originally hails from somewhere else, there's always a local twist.

If you're visiting, here are some widely-available dishes you must try.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Singaporean chicken rice always tastes like the ultimate comfort food to me. The chicken is poached in hot water until fully cooked, then soaked in cold water to ensure the meat remains tender; it's also sometimes roasted or braised in soy sauce for a stronger taste. The stock from the poaching is used to cook the rice, usually with the addition of garlic, ginger and pandan. It's not a spicy dish in itself - but it comes with a great chilli sauce which definitely livens things up. I loved the dish at Boon Tong Kee, which has been around since 1979, but you'll find it anywhere and everywhere in Singapore.

Kaya Toast
You must try this breakfast experience at least once during your Singapore stay. Photo credit: Getty

Kaya Toast

It's very hard to describe Kaya toast in an appealing way; on paper, it really sounds like an odd mix. It's toast with huge slabs of butter and spread with Kaya (a traditional jam made from coconut, eggs and palm sugar). So far, so good - the spread is delicious - but it's served as a dipper for soft boiled eggs, seasoned with white pepper and soy sauce. Sweet and savoury anyone? You wash it down with Kopi, the local coffee which is sweetened with condensed milk. Don't knock it until you've tried it as the whole experience is surprisingly wonderful. I'd highly recommend the original Ya Kun Kaya Toast - you must try this breakfast experience at least once during your Singapore stay, it's way tastier than it sounds.

Chilli Crab
It isn't pretty to eat - make sure you stock up on the serviettes. Photo credit: Getty

Chilli Crab

Chilli Crab is one of Singapore's best known dishes, but it isn't pretty to eat - make sure you stock up on the serviettes. But the effort of cracking open the shells and ending up with thick tomatoey sambal sauce dripping down your arms is 100 percent worth it. The mantou (fried or steamed buns) you use to mop up the sauce are pretty damn addictive, too. You can go to seafood restaurants like No Signboard or Jumbo for your fix, but I've had great chilli crab in many hawker centres all around Singapore.

Roti Prata.
Crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside. Photo credit: Getty

Roti Prata

This South Indian flat bread is incredibly popular among locals, especially at breakfast time. Crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside, its buttery ghee flavour makes this all kinds of fabulous. It's often served plain or with an egg, but it's very common to have it with curry, too. I could have watched the man at the Tekka Centre in Little India sling that dough forever before cooking it on a greased griddle. 

Satay sticks on Boon Tat street.
Satay sticks on Boon Tat street. Photo credit: Getty

BBQ Stingray

Why don't we eat more stingray in New Zealand? The Singaporean version is utterly delicious - cooked perfectly tender and slathered in Sambal, it comes with cincalok (a condiment of fermented small shrimps with chilis, shallots and lime juice). I loved devouring this - and satay sticks straight off the coals - at Boon Tat street. It's such a wonderful experience, eating street food on plastic tables amidst the skyscrapers of the financial district.

This a dish that's hard to understand - until you try it.
This a dish that's hard to understand - until you try it. Photo credit: Getty

Rojak

Rojak is a crazy, mixed-up dish that brings together a bunch of rather different culinary elements into one wonderful place. It's essentially a local salad of mixed vegetables (like water spinach, bean sprouts, cucumber and Chinese turnip), fruit (such as pineapple or mango), dough fritters and fried tofu, all covered in a sticky black sweet/sour/spicy sauce, garnished with chopped peanuts and finely-cut ginger flowers. There are Indian variants, too. Like Kaya toast, this a dish that's hard to understand - until you try it. 

This is far from an exhaustive list, but I'd be here forever if I covered everything. Laksa, Fish Head Curry, Hokkien Prawn Mee, Biriyani, Nasi Lemak and so many others all have their own Singaporean twist - and really need to be tried. Luckily, there are countless outlets open 24/7 - you'll never go hungry in this busy city, but you may need to buy a pair of stretchy pants.

Alexia Santamaria is a freelance food and travel writer.

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