SINGAPORE | It’s often said that Singaporeans have 2 pastimes – shopping and eating, and its true that there is no shortage of places to shop and eat in Singapore. Historically famous for its street food and hawker centres, Singapore has in more recent years become known for its fine dining too. As the city rapidly grows and develops, with the government investing large sums of money in its attempts to turn Singapore into the “Monaco of the East”, the range of food options available to visitors has never been greater. If it’s affordable, traditional street food you’re after, you’re covered. If it’s high end, pricey fine dining prepared by Michelin starred chefs you’re after, you’re covered.
There’s a preponderance of chains in Singapore that seems to exemplify a lot of the mid range dining in Singapore and this is perhaps where the city’s dining has gaps. Singapore does cheap and expensive well, but the mid range is lacking compared to other cities, predominantly due to the high capital outlay required in starting a food business in Singapore, where rents are astronomical. What is certain, is that you’ll never go hungry in Singapore and no matter what you feel like, you’re covered.
Following is a list of some of the great food that you can find in Singapore, across all ranges of the price spectrum. If you’ve got any recommendations of you’re own, feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Street food is the number one thing that comes to mind when people think about food in Singapore. It’s cheap, plentiful, tasty and there’s so much variety. Singapore is famous around the world for its street food which draws upon the country’s Malay, Chinese and Indian elements. Up until the country’s rapid urbanisation in the 1960s street food was most commonly found at street-side food carts. With urbanisation and modernisation (at least from the government’s point of view) strict government rules around food preparation and service were introduced and the street food vendors moved from the streets into purpose built hawker centres. There are also many modern shopping centre food courts that sell a range of hawker style street food favourites. If you want to try the best of Singaporean food, hawker centres are the place to go.
There is so much variety when it comes to street food in Singapore that instead of giving you individual recommendations for the best places to get the various items (there are local Singaporean food writers that have already done that a lot better than I ever could), I’ll give you a list of some of the best hawker centres and street food spots in town, and some of the dishes that you should keep an eye out for. As is always the case when seeking out good street food, follow the locals. If you’re at a hawker centre or walking down the street and you see a line of locals waiting to get a feed, you know the food’s going to be good. Many of the best food I’ve eaten in Singapore has resulted from simply joining a line when I’ve seen one and ordering what everyone else is ordering.
Hainanese chicken rice is, at its most basic level exactly that – a chicken and rice dish that originated from Chinese immigrants from the Hainan province of southern China. A whole chicken is steeped in hot (not boiling) pork and chicken bone stock and cooked until tender. The rice is cooked using a separate fatty chicken stock which gives it its famous oily texture. The chicken and rice are usually served with a range of condiments including chilli sauce, dark soy sauce and freshly pounded garlic. cucumber slices and light soy sauce finish the dish.
For a detailed breakdown of chicken rice spots in Singapore, check out The City Lane’s The Best Chicken Rice in Sinagpore guide, featuring favourites such as Loy Kee and Lion City.
Hong Kong style soya sauce roasted chicken rice is also very popular in Singapore, but is quite a different meal to the more traditional Hainanese chicken rice. This stall, in the Chinatown Complex hawker centre, always has lines and does some of the best soya sauce chicken rice in town.
The oyster omelette (orh luak) originated in Taiwan, but variations of the dish can be found throughout Southern China and South-East Asia. It consists of a thick, starchy omelette filled with small oysters. The edges should be crispy and the inside both fluffy and gooey. Oyster omelettes can often be found at stalls that sell carrot cake.
Fish Head Curry
Fish head curry has its origins in South India but contains Chinese and Malay influences too. The curry contains Malay and South Indian flavours while the fish head is a Chinese element. Generally red snapper is used, with the fleshy cheek bone and delectable eyeballs considered the best parts. It’s a delicious assault on the senses and something that everyone should try at least once in their life. The version at The Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India is fantastic.
One of the most popular Singaporean dishes is chilli crab, which consists of a (usually) mud crab stir fried in a thick sweet, savoury and chilli tomato sauce. Despite its name, chilli crab is not particularly spicy, it is however delicious. It’s considered one of Singapore’s national dishes and can be found all over the island. No Signboard Seafood Restaurant and Jumbo Seafood Restaurant are 2 places that are constantly vying for the title of Singapore’s best.
Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow literally translates as “stir-fried rice cake strips” and is one of the best things to eat in Singapore. It consists of flat rice noodles stir fried over a high heat in a wok with light and dark soy sauce, chilli, belachan, prawns, deshelled blood cockles, bean sprouts, chopped Chinese chives, egg, slices of Chinese sausage and fishcake. It’s traditionally stir-fried in pork fat, with crisp croutons of pork lard, although many versions today use vegetable oil and omit the pork lard croutons. Healthy no? Delicious? Definitely.
Mee Goreng is most commonly associated with Indonesia but is very popular in Singapore too. Literally translating as “fried noodles”, that’s exactly what the dish is – thin egg noodles fried with with garlic, onion or shallots, fried prawn, chicken, pork, beef, chili, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, egg, and other vegetables. The wide range of ingredients means that, like much of Singapore’s street food, everyone’s version is a bit different.
Bee Hoon Goering / Economy Noodles
Bee Hoon are simply rice vermicelli noodles. Bee Hoon Goering are fried rice vermicelli noodles but are often just called Bee Hoon. The noodles are fried in a wok along with bok choy, bean sprouts, prawns, thin sliced pork luncheon meat (kind of like Chinese Spam) and dark soy sauce. It’s generally garnished with sliced fried egg. Sometimes thicker egg noodles are also added to the dish, the combination which is called bee hoon-mee. It originated as a low cost meal that was carbohydrate rich – perfect for poor labourers. Today it’s comfort food at its best.
These are the thick yellow egg noodles that many Westerner associate with Chinese food. In Singapore the dish Hokkien Mee generally consists of these noodles served with rice noodles all stir fried in a fragrant fish/meat stock along with garlic, eggs, soy sauce, yellow noodles, bee hoon, bean sprouts, prawns and squid.
Cornflake / Cereal Butter Prawns
This is a dish that seems to make no sense at first (well it still doesn’t make much sense to be honest) but many Singaporeans love the stuff. It involves prawns that have been lightly battered in a milk powder and flour mixture deep fried in a wok, then fried again (not deep fried though) in a butter, cereal, chilli and curry leaf mixture. The cereal used is a Nestle product called “Nestum” which is a multi-grain mixutre of wholewheat, corn, rice and milk amongst other things. You’ll either love it or hate it.
Nasi Lemak aka Breakfast of Champions is a Malay dish that’s commonly eaten for breakfast, but available throughout the day. It’s literal English translation is “fatty rice” due to the texture of the rice, which is soaked in coconut cream then steamed with pandan leaves. The rice is served with a variety of things – common in Singapore is sambal, sliced cucumber, fried chicken, fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, a fried or hard boiled egg and fish cake. A delicious combination of ingredients that will delight your taste buds – it sure beats cereal and toast for breakfast.
Roti Prata is a fried, flour based pancake that’s cooked over a flat grill. It’s commonly served with a side of curry and is also known as roti canai (Malaysia). The “Prata Man” at Prata Saga Sambal Berlada in Little India’s Tekka Centre is famous for his on-point roti prata.
Murtabak was originally created by Yemen’s Indian diaspora and over the years became popular elsewhere, especially in South-East Asia. The Sinagporean version uses the same dough as roti prata filled with egg, minced meat, garlic, egg and onion.
Roti John is a popular Singaporean snack that consists of a baguette filled with pan fried egg, minced meat and onions, and topped with a tomato chilli sauce.
Rojak is a fruit and vegetable salad that can consist of all sorts on ingredients. Common ingredients include fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish, cucumber, and sweet and spicy peanut sauce. The fruit version often contains cucumber, pineapple, benkoang (jicama), bean sprouts, taupok (puffy, deep-fried tofu) and youtiao (cut-up Chinese-style fritters).
A dish that will be familiar to most people around the world, satay is simply seasoned, skewered meat grilled over charcoal, most commonly served with a mildly spicy peanut dip and sliced cucumber. The satay at Kwong Satay in Geylang is excellent, especially the chicken satay.
Frog Leg Porridge
The name gives away what this street food favourite is all about. A hot pot of smooth, luscious, gooey hot Cantonese rice porridge served with either a spicy or mild sauce. Spicy versions tend to use dark sweet soy sauce, with wine, dried chilli and spring onions while the mild versions are cooked win dark sweet soy sauce with ginger, spring onion and a dash of wine. The frog legs come with the sauce and, for lack of a better term, taste like chicken. Even if you can’t bring yourself to eat the frog legs, frog leg porridge is worth trying for the porridge and sauce.
The reputation at Geylang Lor 9 is well deserved, and you can find some of the best frog leg porridge in town there. Eminent Frog Leg Porridge, also in Geylang also does a great version.
Fried carrot cake (chai tow kway) isn’t a cake and doesn’t contain carrots. Rather is a cubed rice flout and radish pancake of sorts, which is then stir-fried with eggs, preserved radish, and other seasonings such as garlic. It is served black (fried with sweet dark soya sauce) or white (original). The version at Changi Village Carrot Cake is particularly delicious.
Oyster Sauce Vegetables
There’s no big secret to this dish – it’s simply assorted vegetables stir fried and served with oyster sauce. A good option for anyone is worried about “getting all their greens”.
Kangkong is also known as water spinach and this dish simply involves stir fried kangkong served with spicy sambal. A definite kick compared to the more common oyster sauce vegetables.
Also known as Mi Rebus, this dish is of yellow egg noodles served in a gravy of sweet potatoes, curry powder, water, salted soy beans, dried shrimps, and peanuts. It’s garnished with a hard boiled egg, calamansi limes, spring onions, Chinese celery, green chillies, fried firm tofu, fried shallots and bean sprouts.
Laksa is one of the most popular and well known examples of Peranakan cuisine, which fuses Chinese and Malay influences. It consists of a spicy coconut milk (and sometimes tamarind) soup filled with rice vermicelli and chicken, prawn or fish. There are several types of laksa, but the most popular version in Sinagpore is curry laksa, which adds rice vermecelli, bean curd puffs, fish sticks, shrimp and cockles to the coconut milk soup. It can be given an extra kick by the addition of a generous dollop of sambal.
Crispy Fried Baby Squid
This dish is super simply and delicious and a staple across Singapore. Baby squid fried in oil with salt, dark soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce. The addition of sugar means you get a beautiful caramelised element to each bite.
This Chinese style steamed fish is another simple favourite. Fresh fish stuffed with ginger and garlic, topped with dark soy sauce and coriander, and sometimes crispy fried shallots. It’s commonly served with steamed rice.
Briyani is a mixed rice dish. There are many regional variations to the dish but commonalities between most versions are the use of rice, Indian spices, a meat or vegetable base and yoghurt. Other ingredients such as dried fruits or vegetables can also be added to the mix.
The photos below, taken in Little India’s Tekka Centre are a perfect example of joining the line of locals for a good feed.
This prawn dish is simple and while it won’t challenge your taste buds it’s delicious. Prawns coated in breadcrumbs (and sometimes coconut too) and deep fried. It’s as simple as that.
Where To Find Street Food In Singapore
As mentioned earlier, the best stuff can be found simply by visiting a hawker centre and seeing where the locals are lining up. The advantage of hawker centres is that they are covered, and almost every kind of street food that you could want to try can be found in the one place. Check out The City Lane’s list of Top 10 Best Hawker Centres In Singapore for a breakdown of which hawker centres you should visit and what you should be eating at each.
Geylang isn’t a Hawker centre but it’s a district in Singapore that’s well known for it street food (as well as for being the home of Singapore’s red light district). Take a stroll along Geylang Road and let your nose guide you to some of the best street food in Singapore. For a closer look at what Geylang has to offer lovers of good food, check out The City Lane’s Geylang Food Guide.
Traditional Chinese Food
Singapore has a strong Chinese, Malay and Indian communities and all have contributed to the city’s vibrant food scene. Traditional Chinese food is particularly prevalent owing to the fact that 74% of Singapore’s population is ethnically Chinese. A good option for visitors who want to get a taste of traditional Chinese food is Paradise Inn. Asia is a part of the world where the term “restaurant chain” isn’t necessarily a bad thing and when it comes to Paradise Inn this is mostly true. We have heard that service and food quality can vary between outlets however the food and service at the Suntec City branch makes the grade.
The hot plate tofu is a surprising highlight, and is served with preserved caixin and minced pork.
The Stewed Pork Belly with Lotus Bun (Kong Ba Bao) is outstanding, with the flavoursome, tender pork belly literally melting in your mouth with each bite.
The noodles in a gooey soup with vegetables (please let me know the name of this dish if you’re a reader who knows what it’s called) is another highlight. Reminiscent of chicken soup almost.
The crisp fried crystal prawns with pork floss are one of the best things you’ll ever try. For the uninitiated, pork floss is a dried pork product with a cotton candy like texture. Crunchy and decadent, you won’t be able to stop at one.
Suntec City Mall
3 Temasek Boulevard
Coffee / Kopi
Traditional Kopi (the Malay/Hokkien word for coffee) was synonymous with coffee in Singapore for a long time, and can be found all over Singapore in traditional Kopitiams and hawker centres. Useful suffixes to know when ordering your Kopi are:
- “Peng”: with ice
- “C”: with evaporated milk
- “Siew dai”: less sugar
- “O”: black, no milk
- “O Kosong”: black, no sugar
More recently though, the island has seen several Western-style cafes open up. Approximately 50,000 Singaporeans live in Australia at any given time, with many over to study and when they return home they are keen to satisfy their Australian-style coffee cravings. Local entrepreneurs (and some Australians) noticed this gap in the market a few years ago and today there are local roasteries and several third wave coffee shops in Singapore. Here are just a few of the places that you can get a great drop of coffee from in Singapore
Common Man Coffee Roasters
A partnership between Harry Grover of Singaporean roaster 40 Hands, Aussie coffee maestros 5 Senses and the Spa Esprit Group, Common Man Coffee Roasters roast all of their beans in house and offer some of the best coffee in town. Any brewing method you can imagine is offered here and staff are able to explain exactly what’s going on with the flavours of each single origin and blend. Common Man do great breakfast and lunches too – check out The City Lane’s full review here.
Common Man Coffee Roasters
22 Martin Road
Nylon Coffee Roasters
Nylon is a small venue with a limited menu. 4 seats, and your choice or black or white coffee, small or large. They source their own beans and are serious about making sure that they serve a great cup of coffee every time.
Nylon Coffee Roasters
4 Everton Park
Cozy Corner Cafe
If you want to sit down and aren’t having luck nabbing one of the 4 seats at Nylon you can always try Cozy Corner Cafe. While it’s not worth visiting in its own right, they do a decent cup of espresso based coffees that hits the spot. Food is hit and miss.
Cozy Corner Cafe
4 Everton Park
The Clue-less Goat
The clue-less goat is a no-nonsense spot that serves simple all day breakfast and sandwiches and, more importantly, serves black and milky espresso based coffee using Common Man beans.
The Clue-less Goat
189 Thompson Road
Aussie coffee brand Toby’s Estate have been busy taking over the world in recent years and their Singapore branch offers up the same great food and coffee that their Australian and Brooklyn venues do. They roast their own beans, and offer a range of single origins and blends brewed how you like. Some of the best coffee in town.
8 Rodyk Street
Papa Palheta operate out the back of the fantastic brunch spot Chye Seng Huat Hardware and practice micro production roasting meaning that they obsess over every little detail in the roasting process. What this means for you is fantastic coffee.
150 Tyrwhitt Road
Liberty are roasters foremost and retailers second, with their irregular opening hours a case in point. Check out their Facebook page to find out when they are open while you’re in town and get there if you can to be treated to some amazing coffee.
37 Mactaggart Road
Craft beer has taken the world by storm in recent years, as discerning drinkers turn towards brewers who put a focus on quality ingredients and most importantly, flavour. Beer is no longer synonymous with watered down lager and today there are so many different styles to choose from that it’s hard to know where to start. Locals and expats in Singapore have seen what’s happening in the craft beer scene around the world and are looking for great beer. Entrepreneurial individuals have taken note and as a result it’s a great time to be a beer drinker in Singapore, with a spate of craft beer venues opening up to cater for those looking for their craft beer fix.
Check out The City Lane’s Singapore Craft Beer Guide to find out where to find the city’s best craft beer.
You’ve always been able to get Western food in Singapore, but in recent years there has been an explosion of chefs and restaurateurs who have set up shop on Singapore’s shores. There’s opportunity and demand for good quality Western food in Singapore, and people are willing to spend good money for it. Here are just a few of the places places from the mid to high end where you can get your fix of Western food in Singapore.
From food truck to one of London’s hottest dining spots to Singapore in just a few short years, it’s been quite a whirlwind adventure for MEATliquor founders Scott Collins and Yianni Papoutsis. Just like in London, the Singapore branch offers a range of burgers and other fried goodies (and …salads) in a space that’s grungy, hip and oh so cool. Thankfully the food more than just style over substance and the burgers are by all accounts just as good as the ones we’ve tried in London. There’s a lot of good stuff on the menu, but to our mind you can’t go past the classic Cheeseburger (beef patty, cheese, red onions, pickles, lettuce, mustard, ketchup) and the ridiculously tasty Dead Hippie (2 x mustard-fried beef patties, dead hippie sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, minced white onions).
99 Duxton Road
Potato Head Folk
Brought to you by the folks (geddit) behind Bali’s Potato Head Beach Club, Potato Head Folk occupies the space that for 74 years housed one of Singapore’s most famous Kopitams, Tong Ah. A textbook example of the gentrification that’s sweeping through Singapore. Regardless of what you think about that topic, there’s no denying that Potato Head Folk is an impressive venue. Spread over 4 levels you have Three Buns Kitchen, Three Buns Dining Kitchen, Studio1939 Lounge and The Rooftop Garden. Drinks are expensive (the cocktail are fantastic) and while food is, as you might have guessed from the name “Three Buns” burgers with a range of American burger joint sides. Beef is sourced from Australia and the UK, the buns are baked especially for the venue and everything else is made on site.
Potato Head Folk
36 Keong Saik Road
Tippling Club has been around for a few years now, although its only been at its current location since late 2013. This is one of those restaurants that’s received so many accolades over the years that it finds itself by default on the list of many a diner looking to sample the best of what Singapore has to offer. The food that is served up by part owner/head chef Ryan Clift is best described as modern gastronomy. Fine dining technique and precision with creative elements and a style that happily bounds between European, Asian and a whole lot more. As long as the produce is fresh and of the highest quality and the flavours work well together, there are no rules. Check out The City Lane’s full review on the degustataion experience at Tippling Club here.
38 Tanjong Pagar Road
Cure is the brainchild of chef Andrew Walsh (formerly of Esquina) and Joel Fraser (The Cufflink Club) and it puts the focus squarely on the season’s best produce, gathered by a variety of local and global artisans. There’s a big focus on British and Irish produce, and the food follows the trend of pared back gastronomy – fine dining technique combined with simplicity and casualness. The seasonal, ever changing food menu is offered as a range of set menus ranging from 2 to 6 courses depending on the time of day while the drinks menu is focused and contains a carefully selected variety of wines, beers and spirits, along with cocktails created by Joel Fraser. You can find The City Lane’s full review of Cure here.
38 Tanjong Pagar Road
Dave Pynt’s “modern Australian barbecue” restaurant Burnt Ends sits at number 30 on the San Pellegrino list of Asia’s 50 best restaurants and also made Zagat’s list of “Top 10 restaurants in the world” in 2014. Thankfully the food and overall dining experience justifies they hype. The food takes inspiration from not just Australian barbecue, but American, Spanish and British barbecue too. Smoking, slow roasting, hot roasting, baking, grilling and cooking directly on coals are all methods that are employed to get the best out of the fresh, high quality, seasonal product that’s used. Read what we thought when we visited Burnt Ends here.
38 Tanjong Pagar Road
Kaya is a coconut jam and is very popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Kaya toast consists of 2 pieces of crunchy toast filled with kaya, sugar, coconut milk and eggs, pandan and, if you’re up for it, a thick slice of butter. It’s sometimes dipped in a soft boiled egg too. The easiest way to get your kaya toast fix is at one of the many branches of the chains Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Killiney Kopitiam but you can easily find it at any kopitam or place serving traditional Sinagporean breakfast fare.
Bao (Pau in Hokkien) are a steamed, filled bread like bun that have been part of traditional Chinese cuisine since, legend has it, the 3rd century AD but in recent years have gained popularity in Western countries too. Bao aren’t hard to find in Singapore and a range of flavours are available, sweet and savoury. Just a few of the types of fillings you can find include:
- Cha sui bao / manapau: filled with barbeque char sui pork
- Doushabao / tāu-se-pau: filled with sweet bean paste
- Lotus seed bun: filled with lotus paste
- Shāobāo: filled with chicken, pork, shrimp or salted egg
- Bah-pau: filled with pork
- Bah-pau: large bau filled with pork, eggs and other ingredients
One of the tastiest places to find bau in Singapore is Tanjong Rhu Pau & Confectionery. They have a few branches around town, but the Geylang one is the best. A bit more expensive than you can find elsewhere, but worth it.
Tanjong Rhu Pau & Confectionery
389 Guillemard Road
Desserts in Sinagpore are quite unique compared to Western style desserts. While typical Western style desserts and sweets aren’t hard to come by in the city, it’s some of the local delicacies that you’ll want to try when you’re visiting.
Ice (Ais) Kacang
Literally translating as “ice beans” the ice kacang is one of the most ubiquitous desserts in Singapore. It consists of shaved ice, attap chee (palm seed), red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly and cubes of agar agar. It’s then topped with condensed milk, and one more more syrups. It’s super sweet, super wrong, and super delicious.
A few of the other desserts you might come across while in Sinagpore are:
- Cendol: a combination of coconut milk, pandan rice flour jelly noodles, shaved ice and palm sugar.
- Grass jelly: a jelly made by boiling Chinese mint with water, starch, and a setting agent. It has a sweet, herbacious flavour to it and can be eaten alone or as part of other desserts. The black dessert below.
- Fresh bean curd: A sweet, wobbly, custard/tofu like dessert with a silky smooth texture. The white dessert below.
- Moon cake: flaky, slightly sweet biscuits filled with either red bean or lotus paste.
- Layer cake: steamed rice flour batter, often flavored with pandan and coconut milk, layered as to form a “rainbow”. The texture is kind of like a more solid, gum like jelly.
- Youtiao: Nothing fancy here – fried dough (sometimes called Chinese doughnut). The sticks in the photo below.
- Sesame peanut ball: A bready dough filled with black sesame paste. The ball in the photo below.
Ice Kacang along with most other Singaporean desserts can easily be found at hawker centres and street side shops.
No article on food in Singapore would be complete without mention of the durian. Some call it the “King of Fruits” and love the stuff, smelling a sweet, perfume like fragrance while others liken its smell and taste to that of sweaty socks and rotting onions. It’s perhaps the most divisive fruit on the planet and it smell is such that it’s actually banned on public transport in Singapore. It’s one of those things you’ll either love or hate, and something that everyone should try once in their life. It’s commonly used in a range of desserts in Singapore as either a flavour or an addition.
Originating in China, Bakkwa is a sweet dried meat product akin to beef jerky. It’s traditionally made using pork and comes in a range of flavours. It’s super tasty and makes for a great snack. It’s not hard to find in Singapore, with local chain Bee Cheng Hiang being one of the most popular places to try it. It’s delicious and you need it. We always grab some from the Bee Cheng Hiang at Changi airport before flying out. The plan is to take some back home but it’s always gone by the time we get on the plane.