Singapore is a hot pot of cuisines to eat, incorporating a rich heritage of food dishes consisting of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian influences. If you are a local 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 shop-houses decades old.
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 2 years to finish reading.
Bak Kut Teh
Bah Kut Teh is a Chinese soup that is one of the most-wanted dishes in Singapore. Literally translated as “meat bone tea”, Bah Kut Teh consists of meaty pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices. This dish is usually coupled with tea in a belief that tea will help dissolve large amount of fat in the soup.
In Singapore, there are two styles of Bak kut teh served – Teochew style and Klang style. And it is the broth which makes bak kut teh styles different. While Teochew version features clear soup with peppery taste, Klang version has thick, cloudy soup with herbal taste. In our lion city, the former is more popular than the latter.
People used to have bak kut teh for breakfast, but it can be occurred in any dining table of any meals of the day, breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper.And especially it would the “soup for the soul” on a rainy day.
Wonton (also spelled as “wanton” or “wantan”) literally means “swallowing clouds.” It originates from Guangzhou and was food for rich people. When the dish came to Malaysia and Singapore, we changed the Cantonese name from “wanton min” to “wanton mee” (“mee” is noodles in Hokkien), showing how our two Chinese cultures amalgamate.
In Hong Kong, the broth noodles come with pingpong-sized wontons. In Singapore and Malaysia, we eat it as a dry version with smaller wontons, char siew, leafy greens like caixin , and soup by the side. A main difference between wanton mee in Malaysia and Singapore is Malaysia’s version is salty, Singapore’s sweet, sometimes with ketchup.
Fried Carrot cake
No, this isn’t the American Dessert. This is far from it. The Singapore 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.
Crabs (Chilli or Pepper)
The 2 most famous styles of crab cooking in Singapore are with a sweet, spicy tomatoish 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.
Laksa is a dish merged from Chinese and Malay elements otherwise known as Peranakan culture. There are 2 main types of laksa- curry laksa and asam 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 it’s vermicelli cut into short ends and is eaten only with a spoon. There is much debate on who is the original Katong Laksa.
A dish popular in Singapore Hawkers as well as Taiwan 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.
BBQ Sambal Stingray
There’s a lot of wonderful food to eat in Singapore.But one of the dishes that you can’t get enough of when you are in the city is bbq sambal stingray. The slices of stingray are generously lathered with sambal chili sauce, wrapped in a banana leaf, and steamed and grilled at the same time. You’ll find bbq sambal stingray at various seafood stalls throughout Singapore, but one that I really enjoyed going to was Chomp Chomp Food Centre.
Nasi Lemak is a very versatile dish and what was once a breakfast item, is now eaten during lunch and dinner too. Traditionally wrapped in banana leaves, Nasi Lemak is a deeply rooted Malay coconut rice dish. The rice is steamed with coconut cream to give it a sweet fragrance. The typical Nasi Lemak set comes with Ikan Bilis (anchovies), peanuts, egg and sambal. A good sambal is arguably the mark of a good Nasi Lemak.
Nasi Lemak is so popular in Singapore, the other races have adopted Nasi Lemak in their own variations of the dish and offer a wide selection of ingredients like fried chicken drumsticks, luncheon meat and sotong balls.