Singapore cuisine is as ethnically diverse as its peoples, a blend of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western influences. A visit to one of the hawker centres or shopping mall food courts will be as eye-opening as gastronomically gratifying.
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Hainanese Chicken Rice
Steamed chicken served with rice cooked in chicken stock. This all-time favourite dish makes for a quick, fulfilling lunch. The quality of chicken stock is crucial to this dish, and you can tell by the steamed rice oozing with flavour and a fragrant aroma. Pour some dipping sauce over the chicken and give it a go.
Hard-shell crabs cooked in semi-thick gravy with a tomato chili base. The steamed crabs are partially cracked, then lightly stir-fried in a paste comprising of chili sauce, ketchup and eggs. Despite its name, chili crab is not all that spicy. Bread is normally ordered to soak up the gravy, so dig in with both hands!
Rice noodles in spicy coconut curry soup with shrimp, fish cakes, egg and chicken meat – a cross between Chinese and Malay cuisine. Laksa also has many variants, but the one in Singapore is katong laksa, with cut-up noodles. Cockles and tofu puffs are sometimes added.
Char Kuay Teow
Broad white noodles fried with black Soya sauce, bean sprouts, fish cake, clams and Chinese sausage.
Hokkien Prawn Mee
Stir-fried Hokkien noodles with prawns, slices of chicken or pork, squid and fish cake, seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar and chili. Each serving comes with sambal sauce and a lime wedge, to tone down the oily taste. The Singapore version uses thick, flat egg noodles.
Originating in the streets, barbecued stingray has become a popular seafood dish served at hawker stalls. The classic version features stingray meat slated in thick sambal sauce – a spicy condiment with diced tomatoes, chilies and shrimp paste as base ingredients – then wrapped in banana leaf to be cooked slowly on a grill.
Fish Head Curry
A huge fish head and vegetables cooked in a curry and served with rice or bread. Usually accompanied by a glass of 'calamansi' or local lime juice. Its origins are in South Indian, with Chinese and Malay influences. In some versions, tamarind juice is added to give a sweet-sour taste.
Skewered grilled meat served with rice cake (ketupat), peanut sauce and cucumber-chili relish. This popular side dish makes an excellent starter or party platter. It has a strong turmeric scent and flavour, as this spice is the key marinade ingredient. Choose from pork, chicken, beef or mutton.
Char Siew Rice/Noodles
Rice/noodles served with a generous serving of barbequed pork in a thick sauce.
An egg omelette mixed with flour and fried with a generous helping of small oysters garnished with coriander leaves.
Bak Kut Teh and Rice
Pork rib soup infused with Chinese herbs and spices, seasoned with light and dark soy sauce then simmered for hours. Usually accompanied by steamed rice and eaten as breakfast, bak kut teh comes in all kinds of variety, including the less-fatty version made with chicken and Halal version for Muslims.
Kaya Toast with a Cup of Local Coffee
Kaya is a sweet coconut egg jam spread generously over toasted bread. Eat the toast with half-boiled eggs and add a dash of black soya sauce for extra taste!
Nasi lemak is a hearty meal comprising coconut rice, a slice of omelette, anchovies, a slice of cucumber and some chilli paste, uniquely packed in brown paper or banana leaf.
Roti Prata and Teh Tarik
Roti Prata is a flaky Indian bread made with or without eggs and served with a thick vegetable based lentil curry. Teh tarik is a tea that is mixed with carnation milk and 'pulled' from one mug to another to create a froth when served.
Desserts for the Sweet Tooth
Desserts for the Sweet Tootha
Down your food with a mug of fresh fruit juice or fresh coconut water. On a hot day, end your meal with a local cold dessert like ice kacang or chendol. Ice kacang is a mound of grated ice, smothered with different sweet syrups with a base made of jelly, red beans, corn and atap seeds.
Chendol is a coconut milk drink mixed with brown sugar (gula melaka), green starch strips and red beans. If you are more adventurous, a rather 'rich dessert' - the "king of all fruits" - is the durian. Creamy and fleshy with a big seed contained in several segments of one big, thorny fruit, you'll either love it or hate it. An apt description goes something like this "it smells like hell but tastes like heaven!"