WHAT TO EAT IN SINGAPORE?

Chicken rice tops the what to eat in Singapore list
Hainanese chicken rice … my personal favourite in Singapore

By LINDA JAMES | Updated June 17, 2023 | PLAN

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Food is one of the main reasons I love Singapore but I’m frequently asked for recommendations on what to eat. There’s a vast range of cuisines on offer: Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Nyonya cooking, a blend of Chinese and Malay cooking styles developed by the Peranakan community, as well as Western food and all kinds of fusions as well! Deciding what to eat may well be one of the biggest dilemmas of your trip.

Not only that but the price range is extreme – you can eat Michelin-star food at a hawker centre for $S5 or at a fine dining restaurant for hundreds. This is “the” place to satiate your taste buds.

Chinese

There was a large wave of immigration from China to Singapore after it was made a British settlement in 1867.

As a result, you’ll find a wide range of Chinese cuisine on offer such as Cantonese (known for deep frying, dumplings and rich marinades and deep frying), Hainanese (delicious chicken rice), Hakka (the focus is on textures such as yong tau fu), Hokkien (fabulous fried noodles and soups) and Teochew (braising meats, steaming seafood and congee). There’s also food from other places in China. I had an excellent Peking duck at Imperial Treasure restaurant in the Paragon shopping centre. Remember though when ordering that the Chinese eat all parts of an animal, from its lips to its entrails.

Cantonese

Cantonese food features strongly in restaurants, which is no surprise given its predominance in Chinese cooking. With its delicious sauces and subtle flavours, it’s a firm favourite around the world. Dishes feature beef, pork, chicken, and fish and seafood with a focus on frying, steaming and braising. One of the highlights is dim sum, a classic Cantonese meal that includes bamboo baskets of steamed dumplings, cakes and other snacks. Depending on the protein used, one basket of dim sum with three or four pieces can cost as little as $S3.

Pic of steamed dumplings
Steamed dumplings … a Cantonese favourite

Hainanese

When I think of Hainanese food in Singapore, I think chicken rice. It has to be hands-down one of the most popular dishes in Singapore. This seemingly simple dish consists of slices of chicken laid on rice that has been cooked in chicken stock served with a chilli and ginger dip. However, the flavour all depends on the quality of the stock. There are many other dishes as well but the focus is generally on milder flavours.

Hokkien

Hokkien food is all about the sauces and broths and one of the most popular dishes in Singapore is Hokkien mee. The mee are thick yellow noodles, which sometimes are braised in a savoury sauce and other times combined with white vermicelli.

Teochew

Steaming is the main form of cooking with a focus on delicate flavours and dishes such as braised goose and duck, steamboat, pao fan (rice and broth) and mee pok (spicy flat noodles with fishball dumplings).

Beijing cuisine

Garlic and spring onions are two of the key ingredients in Beijing cuisine with a focus on meat dishes. One of the most famous, of course, is Peking duck, which is served in three courses. First, the skin is accompanied by hoisin sauce and scallions, which are wrapped in thin pancakes. Second, the duck meat served with vegetables as a second course. Third, the bones are used to make a delicious soup.

Sichuan

This cuisine is renowned for being hot and spicy but is actually an artful combination of seven flavours – spicy, aromatic, sweet, bitter, sour, peppery and salty. Popular is the hotpot, which is a bit like a fondue, where you dip your raw ingredients, such meat and fish, into a pot of boiling stock at your table.

Indian

Due to its large Tamil population, much of the Indian food in Singapore is South Indian. This features spicy dishes, often starchy and vegetarian, using coconut and tamarind. One of the classics is Thosai, Dosa or Dosai – a crepe made from rice and black lentils – which is often eaten for breakfast or dinner. Breads such as roti and murtabak are popular particularly the latter which is stuffed with egg, onion and minced meat. Food is often dished up on a banana-leaf with servings of different curries and rice.

Pic of tandoori chicken
Tandoori … one of the many popular Indian dishes on offer

The prices at South Indian restaurants tend to be quite reasonable while North Indian cuisine is often a bit more expensive. Tandoori dishes, which are cooked in a clay oven, are common in Singapore. One of my favourites is Tandoori chicken, which is marinated in yoghurt and spices and then baked in the tandoor oven. This is often served with nan breads or the biriyani rice.

Indonesian

Indonesian cuisine is similar to Malay, not surprising given the proximity of the two countries and the fact that many Malayans live in Indonesia. Nasi Padang (also called Padang rice) is a firm favourite in Singapore. It consists of steamed rice, which comes with a range of meat and fish curry options, vegetables and spicy sambals.

Malay

Spicy pastes such as sambal and rempah are key features of Malay food, which is often slow-cooked. Rice and noodle dishes are richly flavoured and deep frying is popular. Satay – bite-sized pieces of meat on skewers – which is then dipped in a spicy peanut sauce is common in the hawker centres. Nasi lemak is a breakfast dish of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf that comes with side dishes such as omelette, fried fish and anchovies.

Pic of satay sticks
Sizzling satay … delicious dipped in a peanut sauce

If you have a sweet tooth, you definitely must try the desserts made using syrups, coconut milk and jula melaka (palm sugar) and the brightly coloured kuih-muih (or just kuih), small cake-like desserts made with glutinous rice or rice flour.

Most Malay eateries are Halal-certified. 

Nyonya food

Peranakan cuisine is probably the food that is most authentically Singaporean. It is also known as Nyonya/Nonya food (Nonya is the term for a Peranakan woman) and is a combination of Chinese and Malay cuisines although pork is common, which it’s not in Malay dishes due to the largely Muslim population.

It features the use of kunyit (turmeric) and galangal, aromatic leaves and spices along with both raw and dried chilli and lemongrass, coconut milk, palm sugar, lime juice and belachan, a paste made from dried crustaceans.

The Chinese legacy is seen in the techniques, tools and tastes: dried fungus, glass noodles, salted soybean paste used in the soup and seafood dishes.

Pic of laksa
Laksa … noodles in a spicy, coconut milk soup

Steamed Nyonya popiah (spring rolls) are stuffed with stir-fried bangkwang, a crunchy turnip-like vegetable, and then coated in a sweet sauce made of palm sugar. Other classics are laksa (noodles in a spicy coconut milk soup), asam fish (a spicy, tangy fish stew) and otak-otak (fish with coconut milk and chilli paste steamed or barbecued in banana-leaf envelope.

Street ice cream

Another one of the sweet treats popular in Singapore is potong (which means “cut” in Malay) icecream, so-called because it came in bricks and had to be cut. This is commonly sold from street carts with exotic flavours such as red (aduki) bean and yam. The icecream is then served either between wafers or rolled up in multi-coloured white bread.

The carts are common on Orchard Rd and Cavenagh Bridge. You should try it at least once!

Conclusion

Singapore is heaven for foodies! Not only is there huge variety in what to eat but you can pay as little as you like or as much as you like. From the cheap but delicious meals available at the hawker centres to finest of fine dining, it’s all there for the eating.

Want more of Singapore?

Learn how to plan your Singapore trip
Link to where to eat and drink in Singapore
Link to Singapore area guides