In Singapore, eating is a national obsession, the lifeblood of their culture and taken very, very seriously.
I spent days quizzing locals (maybe even stalking a few), charming taxi drivers, catching countless trains and many hours grazing my way through Singapore’s most recommended food haunts to find exactly where you can experience the best authentic Singaporean fare.
Everybody in Singapore will agree, the best and not to mention the cheapest place to find authentic Singaporean food is at a Hawker centre. The semi-enclosed buildings house rows upon rows of food stalls that sell a variety of cuisines represented in the Singapore culture; Malay, Thai, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern just to name a a few.
Visiting a hawker centre is an experience in it’s self, and you may even find yourself feeling a tad overwhelmed by the raucous ruckus of the patrons, the endless choice, long queues and sticky heat. But this is Singapore. It is full of substance, passion and of course extremely satisfying food. As Anthony Bourdain perfectly put it; “If you love food, this may just be the best place on Earth”.
With that being said, here is a list of dishes that are essential to experience true Singaporean cuisine and the best places to find them.
1. HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE
This dish of Hainanese origin is quite often referred to as Singapore’s national dish. The chicken is first poached keeping the meat moist and tender and then is immediately dunked in ice cold water which separates the skin from the meat with a layer of gelatinized fat, leaving the chicken silky and lubricated.
With fragrant rice that has been sautéed in garlic, sesame and chicken fat before cooking in fresh chicken stock, this perceiving simple dish wins hands down as my favourite Hawker dish in Singapore.
For Singapore’s best version of this dish, you want to head to Maxwell Hawker Centre and get yourself to the Tian Tian chicken Rice stand which has been amassing crowds for the past 40 years.
Maxwell Hawker Centre Opening hours: 8am to 10pm
1 Kadayanallur St, Singapore 069184
Catch the MRT to China Town and it’s a five minute walk from the station.
2. KAYA TOAST
Kaya Toast was honestly the first thing that I thought of when I woke up in the morning while I was in Singapore. A thick concoction of fresh eggs, coconut milk infused with pandan leaves and sweetened with sugar, Kaya is slathered on top of thick slices of charcoaled toast and most times along with a good chunk of salted butter.
This typical Singaporean breakfast commonly comes with poached eggs that are barely cooked, set aside and then dunked into hot water when ordered to complete the cooking process, which makes them so soft and silky that they literally melt in your mouth. Do as the locals do and drizzle with a little dark soy sauce and you’ll find yourself in heaven, Kaya heaven.
There are many franchises all over Singapore dedicated to Kaya Toast, the best in my opinion being Ya Kun Kaya Toast. You can find Ya Kun Kaya Toast in most of the food courts of the shopping malls, although their main shop, in Far East Square has the best reputation.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Far East Square, 18 China Street, #01-01, Singapore 049560 Monday – Friday: 7:30am – 6:30pm, Saturday – Sunday: 8:30am – 5pm
3. CHILI CRAB
This iconic dish is messy business. The vibrant and aromatic dish consists of a generous amount of flaky sweet fleshed crab still in it’s shell, stir-fried and heavily coated in a rich, sweet red sauce made with tomato, soy sauce and ginger. Despite the name, you won’t find a spicy hit in traditional Chili crab, more a subtle heat and more sweetness.
Singaporean Chef Cher Yam Tian first created the now famous dish in 1950 for her husband, and soon after began selling it from a humble street cart. The public appreciation of her creation was so great that in 1956, Cher and her husband opened their own restaurant.
I’ve found that there is divided opinion amongst locals when it comes to who serves up the best Chili crab. I did my research and settled on the famous Jumbo Seafood and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Positioned at Clark Quay on the water, it’s probably more popular with tourists than locals especially as it will set you back about $75 AUD per crab, which is definitely enough for two people.
The big favourites with the locals are No Signboard (Geylang Road) and Roland Restaurant at Marina Parade Central (who invented the dish).
Extra tip: Order with Chinese mantou buns to dip in the fragrant and spicy sauce!
20 Upper Circular Road, #B1-48
The Riverwalk, Singapore 058416
Tel : 6534-3435
414 Geyland Road
PH: 6842 3415
89 Marina Parade, Central, Singapore, 44089, Open Daily 11:30am – 14:30am, 18:00 – 22:30
PH: 6440 8205
4. SINGAPORE LAKSA
Laksa is without a doubt, one of my favourite things to eat. It’s a dish that brings people together. Many of times I’ve sat with family and friends, all sitting there, huddled over our steaming bowls of fragrant soup, sipping, slurping, reaching for handfuls of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, fried shallots and comparing our tolerance for chili. In Singapore, the dish is just as popular. Their version has thick rice vermicelli noodles, cockles, shrimp and fish cake, all swimming in a thick and creamy coconut-milk curry soup.
If you have the time, there are a couple of places worth checking out for Laksa. The first being 328 Katong Laksa, a now-famous, hole in the wall establishment that has won countless awards for their traditional family recipe. You will have to venture out of the city a little for this one, but it’s a great opportunity to see a different side of Singapore away from the world of glistening sky scrapers and designer handbags.
A favourite of top local culinary chefs, Andre’ Chiang, chef-owner of Restaurant Andre and Ignatius Chan, of Iggy’s is Sungei Road Laksa. It opened in the 50s and still sells it’s popular dish for only $2. Normally Laksa in Singapore is thick and sweet, but the laksa that you’ll find here has been cooked over charcoal, is savoury, light and well balanced.
328 Katong Laksa
51 East Coast Road, Singapore.
Sungei Road Laksa
Block 27, Jalan Berseh, #01-100 Jin Shui Kopitiam
5. CHAR KWAY TEOW
The two major Chinese dialect groups in Singapore are the Hokkiens followed by the Teochews. There is a local saying that goes “Teochew Kway Teow, Hokkien Mee”, which means that Kway Teow is the traditional staple of the Teochews while Hokkien noodles are a staple of the Hokkiens. The unique and somewhat poetic reason behind what sets Singapore Char Kway Teow apart from other versions found throughout South East Asia, is that it uses both Teochew Kway Teow and Hokkien noodles.
The delicate rice and hokkien noodles are stir-fried fervently by a wok-master with lovely pockets of salty cockles, chinese sausage, egg, prawns and crispy pork lard. Imbued with the smoky aroma of hot flames and dancing in sweet dark soy sauce, it’s a lively and indulgent mess.
Locals and chefs all agree, the place to head for Char Kway Teow is Zion Road Char Kway Teow at Zion Road Hawker Centre.
Stall No. 19 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow
Zion Riverside Food Centre
70 Zion Road, Singapore 247792
Nearest MRT Stations: Outram Park, Tiong Bahru, Orchard
Mon-Sun: 12pm – 230pm, 630pm – 11pm (Closed on alt Mon)