Guide To Singapore’s Diverse Food Culture
The culture in Singapore is characterised by its diverse history, incorporating elements from south-east Asian cuisine, Indian, and stems of European techniques and ingredients with the main influence being from Chinese food. It’s not unusual in Singaporean food to see fusion dishes; Indian chefs experimenting with fried noodles and Chinese chefs flavouring their dishes with quintessentially Indian spices like tamarind and turmeric.
In terms of cost and affordability Singapore has something to suit everyone from the stepped backpacker who might choose to feed their appetite with street from local hawkers, to the high-flying business visitor who’s keen to splash out on five star luxury.
Street EatsThough the Singaporean government banned street vending many moons ago, hawkers till exist in open air/enclosed areas around the city. These food-court type markets have grown into an institution in themselves. In these centres you’ll find locals tucking into an astounding array of quick food, usually piled high with rice, meat and sauces.
The general rule of thumb applies with hawker centres – choose a stall with the longest queue, patiently wait, and if you’re unsure of what to choose, ask someone in line what they would recommend. With a little ingenuity anyone can eat well and cheaply by scoping out a few favourite hawker centres.
The Main StaysSome Singaporean ingredients pop up again and again, on every menu, in every establishment. Without exception you’ll see rice, noodles, and seafood wherever you choose to eat. Southeast Asian inspired dished tend to be heavy on the noodles – often accompanies by shrimp, chicken, or perfectly cooked fatty pork. Spice is an important part of Singaporean food, and that’s the hot chilli type rather than the aromatic type. Most dishes are finished with a big dollop of chili sauce stirred into the broth, a hot sauce served on the side, or a hefty sprinkled of chopped green chillies.
As to be expected from an island nation, the seafood found on Singaporean menus is invariably outstanding. Talented chefs who have reinvented family recipes have created dishes like white pepper crab (pictured). You’ll hear that crab is considered the national dish of Singapore and with so many options around, it’s easy to believe. One of the many defining features of the back street of Singapore is the sound of crab shells being cracked open.
Sweet TreatsThere’s something about spicy food that invariably leaves us craving a nibble of something incredibly sweet to round off the meal. Luckily Singapore is teeming with delightful and satisfying sweet nibbles to satisfy that craving. Expect egg custard tarts, candies coconut, fruit fritters, and sweet steamed breads. A must try is the celebratory moon cakes served in Chinese bakeries and from street stalls. These dense pie-like cakes are filled with a sweetened red bean and lotus paste; during festival time they come into a class of their own with every conceivable filling making an appearance.
High End DiningSingapore has no shortage of wealthy locals and travellers who are looking for a higher class of dining experience and where there’s demand, supply will soon follow. High end dining in Singapore has a certain finesse about it and heavy elements of western dining like small plates and multi-dish taster menus. Much revered Singapore restaurants include Tung Lok Seafood and the relatively new Pollen – many of these top end restaurants can be found around the newly developed Gardens by The Bay project. It’s in these fine dining establishments where you’re most likely to see a move away from wholly traditional Singaporean dishes to a more diverse and international style menu.
Annette Chigsworth is a full time foodie, currently working her way around Singapore. If any of this is tantalizing enough to make you want to visit, then book a room at the luxury Swissotel Merchant Court Singapore; a stylish five-star hotel situated by the stunning Clarke Quay.