Here is my new obsession-Singaporean cuisine. I stumbled upon this amazing world of food when I recently visited an East Asian restaurant in Bengaluru. It was a buffet and so I had a chance to try various cuisines-thank you unknown legend for creating the Buffet concept! I liked all the East Asian food there, but Singaporean cuisine is the one which caught my fascination the most.
After eating Singaporean food for the first time at the buffet, I had this for a reaction…
After I was done eating, I was like…
It was love at first taste with this fine cuisine for me. Since then I went on many ‘dates’ with ‘her’. I cannot have enough of ‘her’. And I finally decided to visit the place she comes from-Singapore, at the first chance I get! I bet that, my love for her would only grow after visiting and tasting her at her home, where she would look inviting, smell enticing and taste alluring.
After getting hooked on to the cuisine, I went in to research mode and found some interesting facts about Singaporean cuisine:
- Food is a national obsession for Singapore. Love for food is part of their national identity which all Singaporeans share. Apparently, “have you eaten?” is a preferred form of greeting between people.
- Singaporeans are hard working people but work doesn’t come at the cost of neglecting food. Most Singaporeans seriously eat five to six meals per day!
- Singaporean food is a confluence of many great culinary traditions. The most influential though are Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines. These various food traditions do not sit in silos but interact and intermingle, there by creating something altogether uniquely Singaporean. For example, Chinese chefs use ghee and Indian spices in their dishes and Indian chefs experiment with noodles and employ Chinese and Malay techniques to create mouth-watering dishes.
- Singapore being one of the smallest countries, imports almost all its food. But look hard and you can find all types of food that grows in the remotest parts of the world in Singapore.
- People in Singapore take their street food seriously. As a celebrity Singaporean chef puts it, street food is considered a national treasure. According to this source, more than four in five choose to eat at hawker centres when not at home. As Singaporeans are working more, they are also eating out more, making food at hawker stalls their staple diet. Food at the hawker stalls not only tastes heavenly but is very affordable and is hygienic too. At a single hawker centre(maintained by government), tourists can find all most all the popular dishes of Singaporean cuisine, this makes ‘discovering’ of our favourite dishes easier.
- Singapore has a wide price range of food. For just $5 dollars, one can have their stomach full of food at one of those hawker stalls and to have a fancy experience one can have a $500 dollar meal at their many Michelin star restaurants. Whether it is a $5 or a $500 dollar meal, the food does not disappoint you.
After learning about the various food traditions in Singapore and knowing the passion that Singaporeans have for their food, I picture that land as a ‘Gastro-tourist’s’ heaven. And I can’t wait to visit it and experience all this awesomeness.
One cannot leave Singapore without trying out these dishes(at least I wouldn’t):
If you visit Singapore, make sure you taste some of these signature dishes, without which your trip is just half-eaten!
Start your day with Kaya toast for breakfast. It would give that burst of calories you need to kick start your tour of the city. Kaya is Jam made out of coconut, eggs and sugar. It is smothered on slices of toasted bread along with a sliver of butter. Don’t be deceived by the simple recipe, some of the best food is the most simplest food and Kaya toast is one of them. Singapore has some of the best coffee shops in the world and visit the older ones to have the perfect authentic breakfast. All coffee shops serve Kaya toast with boiled eggs as a side. Have thick black coffee or gingery tea to wash it down.
By mid day, you would be very hungry from visiting all the awesome tourist places in the city. Now it is time for the heaviest meal of the day. I would suggest you to have the dishes from the Peranakan/Nyonya cuisine which was born out of marriage between Chinese and Malay food traditions. It is a wonderful mix of the flavours and ingredients from China and the spices and traditions of Malay cuisine.
Apparently, Singapore’s father of the nation the late and awesome Lee Kuan Yew’s favourite food was Nyonya cuisine.
Laksa Lemak is one of the most popular dishes of this cuisine. It is a spicy noodle soup. In Singapore, Laksa is prepared with coconut milk as a base whose sweetness nicely balances the spicy dish. It generally is made with fish or shrimp but vegetarian Laksa is also widely available at the stalls. A variant of Laksa called Asam laksa is listed at number 7 on World’s 50 most delicious foods complied by CNN Go in 2011. It is a sour dish which uses tamarind and Kokum for its distinct taste.
For vegetarians, Singapore is far from a no-go zone. Some of the popular dishes like Rojak and Gado-gado are vegetarian. Rojak is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad dish eaten as a starter before a meal or a main course in itself. Rojak has two variations. One is adapted from the Malay and Chinese cuisines having a rather fixed ingredients of fresh fruits, vegetables, peanuts etc. The Indian version is more spicy and generally the customers choose the ingredients that they want in their Rojak.
If you find yourself missing Indian flavours and spices when you are in Singapore, you will not feel far from home due to the presence of the vibrant Indian-Singaporean cuisine all along the city. This cuisine’s signature dish is Fish head curry. It is one of the most loved dish in Singapore. It is heavily influenced by the spices and techniques of South Indian cuisine especially Kerala’s. It is prepared using the head of the red snapper fish, stewed in a spicy curry with vegetables and tamarind, giving it a distinct sour flavour. It is generally eaten with either rice or buns like Pav Baji-use the bun to pick up the gravy. The spiciness of the dish is well complimented with chilled Kingfisher. Yeah they have KF in Singapore-now I am definitely going!
The one dish that every tourist who arrives in Singapore must taste is the Chilli Crab. It is a unique invention of Singapore and a testimony to the cross-cultural food tradition of the country. The dish is prepared by stir-frying crabs in a delicious semi-thick, sweet and savoury tomato and chilli based sauce. It is consistently ranked among the best sea-food based dishes in the world and I agree with them! It is a very popular dish which can be found in all hawker stall centres.
I generally prefer to take dinner lightly, and after all the spicy food that I would have had eaten from the morning, I would prefer to eat a dish that is both distinctly Singaporean and is not heavy on my stomach. The dish that perfectly suits this description is the Hainanese Chicken Rice. The dish has flavoured rice cooked in chicken broth and other spices; the rice is eaten with slender pieces of steamed or blanched chicken. To get more flavour, the dish is accompanied by soy sauce and chilli/ginger paste.
After that lovely dinner, I would take a stroll in the park or visit the night Safari. I would then end my foodelightful day, satisfying my sweet tooth. For this I would go for the famous Singaporean fruit, Durian. Durian looks like a short cousin of Jackfruit. Like Jackfruit, Durian suffers from the same curse- it doesn’t look and smell appetizing. But once you get past this, you will experience the unique and amazing taste of Durian. Durian is also used as in making desserts such as Ice creams and people who do not like the look and smell of the fruit can try these desserts.
Singapore cuisine is too vast and diverse to be covered in a single day or through a single blog post. To know more about Singaporean cuisine, visit here.
If you are a foodie, the best time to travel to this food haven is in July when the Singapore government organizes an annual food festival in the city. And I might meet you there, this summer!
Warning: Your diet schedule may get upset once you get hooked on to Singaporean food, as mine did…
Source of featured photo: Elena Ermakova/Getty Images/Flickr
Click on titles to watch recipe videos
- Kaya Toast
- Laksa Lemak
- Indian Rojak
- Fish head curry
- Chilli Crab
- Hainanese Chicken Rice
- Durian Custard