[ Singapore Food ] where to begin | food center | popular dishes | don't bring flowers | food culture
What is Singapore food? Briefly, It has its origin in Malaysia, Indonesia, China and India. Many claim that there is no such thing as Singpaore food for that reason. They are only partially right. You'll still find the most authentic and tastiest of each of the cusines. What has been happening to the various cuisines since their first arrival a century or so ago is what we now proudly call Singapore Food.
Nonya food has been over publicised it'll be a cliche to say anything more. What I'd like to hightlight to you here are the equally wonderful but less acknowledged cuisines that have their origin in Southeastern China. Apart from Cantonese Cuisine that is famous the World over, what's special in Singapore are these Southern Chinese cuisines not commonly found elsewhere. If you're really into tasting something new, these are the cuisines that I recommend, for you won't find anything quite the same elsewhere, certainly not so convenient anyway! (See the article below for more details.)
For those of you who're accustomed to "Wine and Dine", Singapore has a wide variety of fine restaurants to choose from, much like many other cosmopolitan cities. There is no shortage of publicity in that area so I shall not dwell upon that. To most Singaporeans, however, what Makan entails is not the quality of the service nor the presentation of the food, but very simply the quality of the food, the spontaneity, the cosiness, the convenience and most importantly, the affordability. In other words, it's good company and a bit of sweat and noise thrown in without hurting the wallet. It's a hot plate of Char Kway Teow after a half an hour wait in a hawker centre amidst all the screaming and shouting in the middle of the afternoon when even gold fishes find themselves hot in the bowl!
As a large portion of the population are muslims, halal food is available everywhere. There are Malay Muslim and Indian Muslim food, you'll know when you see one as there's always a sign written in Arabic prominently displayed. Nasi Padang, a style of cooking originated from Sumatra and popular in Singapore is a must try for the visitor. See our Muslim food page for some ideas.
While you may find at least one Chinese or Indian vegetarian food stall in every food centre, you're not likely to come across fine elaborate dishes, especially Chinese vegetarian food. Good Taoist/Buddish vegetarian food seems less easily available. One simple reason is the complexity in vegetarian food preparation. Unlike Indian vegetarians and vegetarians in the West, Taoist/Buddish vegetarians do not eat garlic, onion, leek and those related vegetables. Vegetarian food, in this case, does not mean cooking with only vegetables, but rather, the art of shaping and texturing flour into mock meat and fish dishes. it's worth the trouble to give it a try, for good Chinese vegetarian food is rare, even in Singapore. If you're lucky, you may come across a Chinese temple that serves vegetarian food(only on certain days).
Indian Muslim food, or the so called Mamak food, is very popular in Singapore, roti prata, mee goreng, Indian rojak, nasi padang, mutton soup are some of the more popular dishes.
Seafood is of course a social food that tops many people's list. Seafood eaten the local style is a noisy and cosy affair. Chili crabs, black pepper crabs, drunken prawns and deep fried baby squids are just some of the endless yummy dishes that one shouldn't miss. Lobsters, glamourous as it may sound, is not as popular or as fun as Chut Chut(a kind of cone shaped sea shell that has to be sucked) or raw cockles(despite the risk of Hepatities). And eating barbequed sting ray from a piece of banana leaf at a food centre is definitely a truer Makan experience than having Salmon on China at Maxim's. If you do not know where to begin, East Coast Seafood Centre is worth a visit. If you know your way in Johore Bahru, it's definitely much cheaper!!
Before I end, I must not forget to mention Cristang cuisine, or so called Eurasian food started in Malacca of Portugese origin. Unfortunately, no Cristang restaurant exists as far as I know. So if you're fortunate enough to have a friend of Portugese descent, do invite yourself as that will truly be a rare occasion!
Now, what truly constitutes a true great Makan experience? Well, "Shiok" is the word we blab out aloud unconciously when it happens! and in Singapore, that happens very frequently!
Selamat Makan! (enjoy your meal!)
South Chinese Ethnic Food
While there are at least ten Chinese dialects being spoken in Singapore each with its own special dishes, there are five major groups that you'll most likely encounter.
Canton is where all Chinese want to eat. Cantonese food is world famous especially its Dim Sum and Wanton soup. If you'd eaten in a Chinese restaurant outside China, it's most likely Cantonese food.
The Hakkas are famous for their Yong Tao Foo(literally means stuffed tofu). Originally filled with minced pork flavoured with salted fish, the hawker version consists of a variety of boiled vegetable filled with fish paste that comes either with various sauces or as a soup. Hakkas are in many ways similar to the Jews, they are migrants that spread throughout the World from Surinam to Malaysia and has a very strong ethnic identity. Thrifty and hardworking, their origin, though definitely Chinese, is still a big mystery.
The Teochews are famous for its fish ball noodles(especially Mee Pok - flat egg noodles), porridge and steamed dishes. Unlike Cantonese porridge(sometimes called congee), Teochew porridge is watery and plain that comes with a variety of small dishes. We often see Teochew porridge as a sick bed food, simply because it seems so healthy! There is a considerable amount of Teochews in Thailand, and if you're familiar with Thai Chinese food, you'll recognise the the Teochew influence.
Next, there is the well known Hainanese from the island of Hainan. Chicken Rice, boiled chickens seem simple enough, yet a really good stall is hard to find even in Singapore! Less fancy as the name may sound as compared to Chili Crab or Fish head curry which are competing to be the unofficial national dish, the popularity of this dish easily beats the two. Take a look at our Hainanese Chicken Rice Quest page.
Last, the Hokkiens, together with its sub groups like the Hock Jiu and Hock Chia, make up the largest Chinese ethnic group in Singapore and definitely has a lot to offer. Oyster omelette, Char Kway teow and Hokkien Mee top the list and yam rice and sweet potato porridge more a novelty these days.
"Hi. I think I have died and gone to Heaven! I lived in Singapore for 3 years from 1981, working on Raffles City. I fell in love with the people, the city, and especially the food. Singapore got me intersted in food, and I have amassed over 200 cookbooks in the years since. None of the world's cuisines can compare!" - Robert Perkins
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