Singapore to Savour: iconic dishes and where to find them
The main island of Singapore is only a little over 42km in length, but it’s home to an incredible mix of nationalities. From Sydney and Melbourne it’s only around 8 hours in the air to Singapore and Aussie travellers are making the most of good deals and lower hotel prices on the island. See Expedia’s Singapore Holidays for flights and hotel packages.
One of the best ways to get a sense of the island’s diverse heritage is to start eating – hawker stalls, food courts and restaurants serve a variety of cuisines. From spicy laksa soup to chilli crab, there are a few quintessentially Singaporean dishes that should be sampled when you’re in town. Here’s our guide to the best places to try them.
Hainanese chicken rice at Tian Tian
This relatively simple dish of steamed chicken and rice might not sound like anything exciting, but ignore it at your peril. Tian Tian started life as a humble hawker stall and is now a well-respected empire with three outlets spread across the island. The woman who began the operation is Madam Foo Kui Lian and she still regularly presides over the kitchen with spoon in hand, ready to check each dish.
Served slightly chilled, this surprisingly flavoursome dish is really refreshing on a hot day, although the optional chilli sauce can ramp up the heat levels. The tender chicken is great, but the bed of rice it sits atop is just as important. Smooth and rich with a hint of garlic, the rice is so good that we (and food guru Anthony Bourdain) suggest eating it on its own. Tian Tian, 443 Joo Chiat Road
Chilli crab at Hua Yu Wee Seafood
The seafood market out at East Coast Park is worth a visit in its own right – grab a seat among the open-air stalls and kick back with a beer and a plate of steamed clams. It’s close to the airport and a great destination if you’ve just landed with a rumbling stomach.
If you’ve got more time and want a really special night out, head to Hua Yu Wee Seafood. This humble old colonial bungalow houses an incredible array of weird and wonderful-looking seafood residing in tanks out front, but the chilli crab is the dish that put this place on the map. Prepare to get messy as you extract meat from the huge crab claws and soak up the spicy sauce with a wedge of fried man tou (Chinese bun). Hua Yu Wee Seafood, 462 Upper East Coast Rd
Laksa at Marine Parade Laksa
Rice noodles with fresh prawns, chunks of fishcake and a hard-boiled egg all bobbing in a creamy-spicy coconut broth. It has to be laksa. While there are several contenders for the crown of best laksa in Singapore, in our mind Marine Parade Laksa is the original real deal – although it has moved locations since opening in the 1940s and is now (despite the name) situated in Bedok, a neighbourhood to the east of the island. By making all the components in-house (including the paste for the base of the soup, made from a lengthy list of ingredients), the owners continue to serve steaming bowls of perfectly balanced laksa. There’s just enough coconut sweetness and a little umami kick from the dried prawns. Marine Parade Laksa, Blk 128 Bedok North St 2 #01-02
Hokkien mee at Ah Hock Fried Hokkien Noodle
Colloquially known as Chomp Chomp, Serangoon Gardens recently won the public’s vote as Singapore’s favourite hawker centre. With less than 40 stalls, it’s one of the island’s smaller food courts, but as a result offers a more intimate and laid-back dinner and late-night eating experience. We stumbled upon this stall because it had the longest queue – always a good sign, especially when locals are happy to wait at least 30 minutes for their noodle fix. Run by the eponymous Uncle Ah Hock for the past 50 years, one of the keys to his long-running success might be the use of thin bee hoon noodles. They certainly set this place apart from the hundreds of other hokkien mee stalls in Singapore. Ah Hock Fried Hokkien Noodle, Serangoon Gardens Food Centre, Kensington Park Road
Roti at Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata
Derived from the pancake recipe used to make paratha in India and Pakistan, roti prata literally means flat bread. Cooked over a hot griddle in ghee (clarified butter), the crispy, flaky bread is traditionally eaten at breakfast and you’ll find it for sale at most Indian Muslim coffee shops and hawker stalls. Don’t let the word pancake fool you – there’s no sugar in sight. This is a savoury dish made with rounds of dough (prepared by Mr Mohgan himself each evening) and served with a range of heavily sauced curries, including dahl (lentils), or assam fish (a sour Malaysian dish). If eating something this spicy first thing in the morning doesn’t take your fancy, opt for a steaming glass of sweet teh tarik instead. Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata, 7 Crane Road
Kaya toast at Ya Kun
Brunching on roti is a popular pastime, but if you want to try Singapore’s national breakfast dish, you must try kaya toast. Served at the island’s numerous kopi tiams – Singapore’s answer to Starbucks, kopi is the Malay word for coffee, while tiam is the Hokkien word for shop. Arriving with Hainanese immigrants, kaya is a jam or custard made with eggs, sugar and coconut milk, flavoured with pandan. Spread thickly on toast and served with soft-boiled eggs and soy paste, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but is an important stop on the Singapore food tour. If you really aren’t keen, a strong black coffee will easily counter the sweet spread. Ya Kun, Far East Square, 18 China Street
And where did we stay to sleep off the food coma? I think the name swung it for us – built as a school in the 1920s, Wanderlust is quirky boutique hotel located in Little India (2 Dickson Road) with four themed floors and 29 uniquely decorated rooms.
Images by Sharking for Chips & Drinks and Wanderlust Hotel.