Singapore is a melting pot of different cuisines, incorporating a rich heritage of food dishes consisting of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian influences. If you are a Singaporean, you would have seen these dishes in the hawker centres below your void deck, in the food courts of shopping centres and in the quaint decades old shop-houses.
These are the real dishes you need to eat in Singapore before you die. I know there are still dozens of dishes in Singapore that are true to our heritage, but if I were to cover them all, this list would take you two years to finish reading.
As a Singaporean, there is no excuse not to try these time-tested foods we all grew up with. As a tourist, this is a good checklist of authentic local cuisine in Singapore. These are the foods to eat in Singapore when you visit.
Many others have tried to cover Singapore's food and although I appreciate Chef Anthony Bourdain for his wonderful exploration of Singapore food in his travel journals, I feel only a local can truly express the adequate love for our unique cuisine.
*Note that most restaurants close on Mondays
1. Bak Kut Teh (肉骨茶, literally Meat bone tea)
One of the many stories of Bak Kut Teh's invention was that during the olden days of Singapore, a poor, starving beggar came by a road side pork noodle store to beg for food. The stall owner was in poverty, but wanted to help him. He boiled some of his left over pork bones and added whatever cheap spices he had to flavour the soup, including star anise and pepper which created a soup resembling tea in colour. Thus pork bone tea was born.
Bak Kut Teh has been in Singapore since we were still a developing country and deserves its recognition as a simple, humble dish. Most of the Bak Kut Teh here are the pepper variety. Choose pork ribs meat in your soup for a more tender bite. The other variant would be the Klang Bak Kut Teh, a dark and highly flavoured herbal soup originating from Malaysia.
Best Bak Kut Teh stalls:
Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh: 7 Keppel Road, #01-05/07, PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex, Singapore 089053
Song Fa Bak Kut Teh: 11 New Bridge Road #01-01, Singapore 059383
Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup: 208 Rangoon Road, Hong Building Singapore 218453
Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh: 321 Beach Road, Singapore 199557
2. Wanton Mee (云吞面)
The Singapore Wanton noodles was probably influenced by Hong Kong cuisine, but has become entrenched in our culture over the years. The Singapore version is typically eaten 'dry', drenched with some light sweet sauce, slices of pork char siew and wanton dumplings filled with pork, with a small bowl of soup on the side. Auntie will also ask if you want spicy or not. The spicy type sees chilli being mixed into the noodles, while the non-spicy kids version will have tomato sauce mixed in. Wanton dumplings may be either deep fried or come in soup dumplings.
The Malaysian variant is a darker colored sauce, sweeter tasting mee.
Best Wanton Mee stalls:
Fei Fei Wanton Mee: 62 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427785
Kok Kee Wanton Mee: 380 Jalan Besar, Lavender Food Square, #01-06, Singapore 209000
Parklane Zha Yun Tun Mee House: 91 Bencoolen Street, #01-53, Sunshine Plaza, Singapore 189652
3. Fried Carrot Cake (菜头粿)
No, this isn't the American Dessert. This is far from it. The Singaporean Fried Carrot cake is made with eggs, preserved radish (chai poh) and white radish flour cake, which resembles a 'white carrot' and how the name comes about.
This is a Teochew dish popular both in Singapore and Malaysia. Variants include the 'black' version, which is with sweet sauce (molasses) added, or a crispy version with the cake fried on top of a beaten egg to create a crust and chunks of cake. Most commonly seen in Singapore though is the chopped up version with individual radish cake cubes.
Best Fried Carrot Cake Stalls:
Carrot Cake 菜頭粿 (that's the literal name of the store): 20 Kensington Park Road, Chomp Chomp Food Centre, Singapore 557269
Fu Ming Carrot Cake: Blk 85 Redhill Lane, Redhill Food Centre, Singapore 150085
Hai Sheng Carrot Cake: Blk 724 Ang Mo Kio Ave 6, Market and Food Centre, #01-09, Singapore 560724
4. Dim sum (点心)
Another Hong Kong-/ Shanghai-inspired type of dish available in Singapore is the Dim Sum or 'Dian xin'. This is not exactly one dish, but a set of small dishes to be savoured in a group - a typical Chinese dining sharing custom. Popular dim sum dishes include the BBQ Pork Bun, Xiao Long Bao, Siew Mai, Chee Chong Fun and many more.
Best Dim Sum Stalls:
Swee Choon Tim Sum: 191 Jalan Besar, Singapore 208882
Tim Ho Wan: 450 Toa Payoh Lorong 6, #02-02, ERA Centre, Singapore 319394
Wen Dao Shi (搵到食): 126 Sims Ave, Singapore 387449
5. Kaya Toast and Soft-boiled Eggs
The one and only traditional Singaporean breakfast - Kaya toast with soft-boiled eggs. The traditional bread is an old school rectangular white loaf, toasted with a bread grill, lathered with coconut or egg kaya, then slapped with a thick slice of SCS butter to slowly melt within two slices of warm bread. This is the classic kaya toast. Variations include using thinly sliced brown bread, round buns or 'Jiam Tao Loh Tee' which is similar to a French baguette.
For the eggs, it's usually put in a large hot water metal pot and covered with a plate. Then you time it and take out the egg when it's ready (about 7-10 minutes depending on how well you like your egg). Trying not to scream like a little girl, crack open the eggs with your bare hands onto one of the two plates given and throw the shells on the remaining plate. Season with pepper and dark/light soya sauce.
Best Kaya Toast stalls:
Killiney Kopitiam: 67 Killiney Road, Singapore 239525
Chin Mee Chin Confectionery: 204 East Coast Road, Singapore 428903
Good Morning Nanyang Cafe: 20 Upper Pickering Street, Hong Lim Green Community Centre, Singapore 058284
Ya Kun Kaya Toast: 18 China Street #01-01, Far East Square, Singapore 049560 (there are over 30 outlets of Ya Kun in Singapore now)
6. Crabs (Chilli or Pepper)
The two most famous styles of crab cooking in Singapore are with a sweet, spicy tomato-ish chilli sauce, or with black pepper sauce. Chilli crabs are usually eaten along with fried mantous (buns), which are dipped in the luscious chilli sauce. Well prepared crabs go through a 2 step cooking process, boiled first then fried so that the meat doesn't stick to the shell. Recently, many popular styles of cooking have surfaced as well, like salted-egg crabs or crab bee hoon.
Best Singapore Crab stalls:
Red House Seafood Restaurant: 68 Prinsep Street, Singapore 188661
No Signboard Seafood: 414 Geylang Singapore 389392
Long Beach Seafood: Blk 1018 East Coast Parkway, Singapore 449877
Crab Party: 98 Yio Chu Kang Road, Singapore 545576
Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood: 122 Casuarina Road, Singapore 579510
Laksa is a dish merged from Chinese and Malay elements otherwise known as Peranakan culture. There are two main types of laksa - curry laksa and assam laksa. Curry laksa is more predominant in Singapore, while assam laksa is found more in Malaysian regions like Penang Laksa. In fact there loads of variants of laksas differing in fish type, broth and even noodles.
Traditional Singapore Curry Laksa uses vermicelli, coconut milk, tau pok (beancurd puffs), fish slices, shrimp and cockles (hum). Due to cost cutting or taste preference, some stalls might opt out of shrimp and cockles. A unique Singapore variant known as Katong Laksa has its vermicelli cut into short ends and is eaten only with a spoon. There is much debate on who is the original Katong Laksa.
Best Laksa Stalls:
328 Katong Laksa: 51/53 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770
Sungei Road Laksa: Blk 27 Jalan Berseh, #01-100 Singapore 200027
Janggut Laksa: 1 Queensway, Queensway Shopping Centre, #01-59, Singapore 149053
8. Curry Fish Head
Is it Chinese, Indian or Malay? This is another ambiguous dish whose heritage we will never know. What I do know, is that it's delicious. Either half a head or the whole head of a red snapper is stewed in curry with assorted vegetables like lady's finger (okra) and brinjal. The Indian style of curry has heavier spices and flavours, while the Chinese styles are lighter and sweeter.Variants include the Assam style fish head curry, which adds in a tinge of sourness with tamarind fruit (assam).
Best Curry Fish head stalls:
Ocean Curry Fish Head (assam style): 92 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310092
Bao Ma Curry Fish Head (chinese style): #B1-01/07, 505 Beach Road, Golden Mile Food Centre, Singapore 199583
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head (chinese style): Blk 253, Jurong East St 24, #01-205, Singapore 600253
Karu's Indian Banana Leaf Restaurant (Indian style): 808/810, Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 678145
Muthu's Curry (Indian style): Blk 7, Dempsey Road, Singapore 249671
9. Bak Chor Mee (肉脞面)
Colloquially known as Bak Chor Mee, this is a noodle dish with minced pork, liver, meat balls/fish balls, fish cake slices and a signature vinegar braised sauce that adds some wetness. Typically, the dish is ordered 'dry' to savour full flavours of the sauce and you can choose between chilli or ketchup, and the type of noodle to use. Noodle choices are normally either Mee Pok (a flat noodle) or Mee Kia (thin noodle), while some stalls offer bee hoon, mee sua or mee tai mak as well. Variants include an exclusively soup version with home-made noodles famous at Bedok Blk 85.
Best Bak Chor mee stalls:
Tai Hwa Pork Noodle: Blk 466 Crawford Lane #01-12 S(190465), Singapore 190465
58 Minced Meat Mee: 3 Yung Sheng Road, #03-150, Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre, Singapore 618495
Seng Hiang Food Stall (soup variant): Blk 85 Bedok North Street 4, Fengshan Market & FoodCentre, Singapore 460085
Seng Kee Mushroom Minced Pork Noodles: 49A Serangoon Garden Way, Serangoon Garden Market & Food Centre, Singapore 555945
10. Oyster Omelette (Orh Lua)
A dish popular in Singapore's hawker centres as well as Taiwan's night markets, this is a dish many foreigners and locals love. Stalls that sell carrot cake typically also sell oyster omelettes as it's a similar cooking process as well as utilizing a common ingredient: Eggs. Potato starch is usually mixed into frying the egg and gives a thicker, fuller taste. Variants include a version without the starch, which is priced slightly higher due to more eggs needed instead. A special vinegar chilli is also paired exclusively with oyster omelettes in Singapore.
Best Oyster Omelette stalls:
Simon Road Oyster Omelette: 965 Upper Serangoon Road, Mee Sek Coffeeshop, Singapore 534721
Ang Sa Lee Oyster Omelette: 20 Kensington Park Road, Chomp Chomp, Singapore 557269
Bedok 85 Fried Oyster Omelette: Blk 85 Bedok North Street 4, Fengshan Market & FoodCentre, Singapore 460085