In September 2018 I visited Singapore with my family. A country well-renowned for its food, I knew that one of the highlights of the trip was going to be what I put in mouth. It’s amazing to think that, despite its disproportionate size, Singapore offers a smorgasbord of foods found across the world. Of course, I was more interested in what the locals ate!
Below is a guide of some of my favourite food experiences during the trip:
Known as the king of fruit amongst South East Asia, the durian has a spiky green or yellow surface that can only grow in humid climates. It is infamous for its very pungent smell, which some people liken to the scent of rotten food.
Admittedly I was excited to try one as I approached a durian trader in the Chinatown market. As I got closer the whiff of these things made me understand why many people refuse to eat them. My immediate thought was that of overly-sweet onions. This did not deter me though as my research had told me that this was one of the top food to try while in Singapore
I selected one of the smaller looking durians amongst the batch the trader had on offer. I asked if I could eat it here, and he took me to a dining table towards the back of his shop. He brought out a butchers knife, as the fruit is so tough that anything less sharp simply won’t crack it! And behold the true brilliance of the durian; the creamy, fleshy pulp. No spoon or fork needed here, you simply use your hands to dig out the flesh (I was given plastic gloves, fortunately, as the flesh is very sticky.)
Remarkable! The taste was reminiscent of custard mixed with nuts. Once you take your first bite, it’s easy to overlook the smell and be amazed by how unique this fruit tastes. While some people don’t venture beyond the first bite, I proudly ate the rest of the fleshy pulps
Chilli crabRestaurant in Chinatown
Just look at the gravy oozing from that crab carcass! I was given a set of utensils to help me crack open the tough exterior. It was challenging at first to break open it open – I had never even ordered a whole crab before – but once I worked out how to use the utensils properly it was a pleasure delving my way through the succulent meat.
Infused with chilli and other spices, the gravy easily stands out on its own. I particularly enjoyed dipping morsels of rice into the gravy to soak up all those flavours. While the dish was not overly spicy, there was just enough heat to complement the other elements occurring in this dish.
Fish head curryThe Banana Leaf Apolo, 48 Serangoon Rd
Owning its origins from Indian influences, fish head curry is probably the most delicious curry I’ve experienced. It is incredibly herbaceous and (very) spicy. The tablespoon provided allowed me to sample the cornucopia of flavours in each gulp. While I can’t remember what utensil I used to eat the fish, I do remember having fun moving the head around to pick out the fleshiest parts.
And yes, the eyes are indeed edible! They had a gelatinous texture, which carried the flavours of the curry very well. The curry certainly does not skimp on the veggies. In fact one of the dishe’s highlights was the okra. I normally don’t like okra on its own, but when well cooked and mixed in with the spices I was left craving more of it.
Hainanese chicken riceSentosa Island
Despite having chicken and rice together many times during my life, I’ve never quite had a meal like Hainanese chicken rice. Hainan refers to a province in southern China, immigrants of which who moved to Singapore during it’s early days and introduced this dish for the world to appreciate.
The rice is cooked in chicken stock mixed with other traditional flavours like soy sauce and ginger, which gives it an oily, highly flavourful texture. Alongside the rice is, of course, beautifully poached chicken that seems to melt in your mouth (I wish I could cook chicken at home like this!). Sides include chicken broth, sauteed chinese greens cooked in velvety dark soy sauce, tofu and a hard boil egg
There are numerous variations to this classic across South East Asia, and you’ll see practically most hawker centres in Singapore serving it to lines of eager customers. Which reminds me, if you see a lot of locals lining up for food at a hawker stall, make sure to join the queue!
Kaya toastMarina Bay Sands Food Court
When you think of popular Singaporean breakfasts what comes to mind? Delicious curries? Noodle and rice dishes? Maybe. However you probably didn’t think of coconut jam toast with poached eggs. Often associated with western cuisine, this British-influenced dish is very much a breakfast and snack staple throughout Singapore
Kaya is the Malay word for rich, and rich in taste it is. Kaya comes in a few different varieties but usually contain these basic ingredients: coconut milk/ extract, eggs, sugar and pandan flavouring. Generous slabs of kaya and butter are spread on the toast, while served with poached eggs for you to dip the toast in (soy sauce and pepper optional). It’s absolutely delicious and I probably had this meal the most while in Singapore. It’s quite cheap as there are many sellers of the stuff and you can never go wrong with some extra coconut goodness in your day
It’s almost mandatory to have kaya toast with the locally brewed coffee, known as kopi. You can’t see the top of my kopi (I eagerly drank a few gulps prior to receiving my food) but please know that it’s SO much better than regular milk coffee. I tried a few varieties of kopi and my favourite was always the one with condensed milk and no sugar. The sweetness of the condensed milk almost made me feel guilty for indulging in something that gave me so much pleasure.
Mee siam (with kuih lopes)Kampong Glam district
I came across mee siam (right) while exploring the Islamic Malaysian part of town, Kampong Glam. The main ingredient is the vermicelli noodles that’s smothered in a spicy and sour gravy with a hard boiled egg and other seasonal ingredients that were on hand.
Like all the dishes I tried in Singapore, there’s no shortage of flavour here. The softness of the noodles complemented the crunch of the peanuts and the fried pieces (I’m not actually sure what those were, but they were tasty!) Even though it may look unappealing at first glance, it certainly hides its beauty in each bite you take
In a sweltering humid country like Singapore you need to treat yourself from time-to-time, right? While ordering the mee siam I saw beyond the counter what reminded me of an Australian lamington (mini square or rectangular shaped cakes coated in dessicated coconut). I had no idea what it was, but it looked like an intriguing dessert that I had to try. After taking the first bit I had no regrets. Called a kuih lopes, it’s made out of gelatinous rice, coated in shaved coconut pieces and drizzled with some kind of syrup. The inside is delightfully moist and spongy, and I made sure to dip each morsel in the syrup for good measure
Fish ball noodle soupChangi Airport
This was the last meal I had before leaving the country (I actually had it in the airport) and it left me with a (mostly) positive parting impression. To be honest I don’t know what kind of fish the balls were made out. For all I know they could have been imitation meat, but they were darn juicy and flavourful, and that’s what matters right?
While the soup itself may look a little boring, each spoonful delivers the full flavour that the different ingredients and condiments offer. I believe the light brown bits were thin strips of fried tofu, and hidden beneath everything else were the noodles (I was careful not to slurp!)
The big piece of lettuce may look obtrusive, but once you immerse it in the hot soup it became a joy to swirl it around as it picked up the flavours of the other ingredients
And that’s a wrap! This list was by no means exhaustive of foods you must try in Singapore; there are literally dozens of other amazing dishes, snacks and beverages that I didn’t get around to eating (or photographing) that are worth salivating over. One day I hope to go back to this beautiful country, and when I do, I’ll make sure to expand my culinary horizons.
What foods did you love most while staying in Singapore? If you live in Singapore, what dishes excite you the most, and what ones can you recommend myself (and other food lovers) to experience next time they venture to the Lion City?