Singapore cuisine spoils the visiting gourmand in more ways than one - from a wide assortment of dishes from all around the world, to food choices for all budgets, Singapore's food scene has it all. Still, you shouldn't leave without trying the local favorites, the dishes that warm the average Singaporean's heart and fill his stomach.
These dishes aren't purely Singaporean in origin - most of them hail from the Malay peninsula, China, and India, but Singaporeans have embraced these dishes and made them part of their lives.
These are the top ten dishes you should try, should you ever find yourself in Southeast Asia's food capital. These delicious Singaporean dishes can be sampled at any hawker and food center on the island.
Bak Kut Teh - Tea from Pork Ribs and Assorted Herbs
Bak kut teh simply means “pork rib tea” – to make this dish, pork ribs are simmered to create a flavorful soup base, then combined with cloves of garlic and a variety of herbs. Bak kut teh fans love this dish for its distinct herbal aroma.
Bak kut teh is usually served with white rice on the side, as well as dough fritters and braised pork knuckles.
Carrot Cake - Savory Egg and Radish Treat (Carrot Not Included)
"Carrot cake" contains no carrots - the main ingredient is white radish, which is known locally as "white carrot", hence the name. The "carrot" is grated, combined with rice flour and water then steamed into cakes. These cakes are diced and stir-fried with eggs, pickled radish, garlic, and spring onion.
Some outlets will serve carrot cake with shrimp or diced mushroom, and all hawker centers will give you a choice of "black" (fried with sweet soy sauce) or "white" (straight). You can also ask for a dash of chili powder to give that carrot cake an extra kick.
Char Kway Teow - Noodles Done by an Expert
Char kway teow is a fried flat rice noodle dish, prepared with dark soy sauce, egg, Chinese sausage, prawns, cockles, and sliced fish cake, fried up by experienced hawkers - the high temperatures and quick cooking times required by Chinese stir-fry techniques makes this a dish made strictly by the pros.
This dish is best enjoyed with a dash of chili. A good Char kway teow is cooked just right, not burned, and not soggy with oil.
Chili Crab - Best Eaten with your Hands
Chili Crab is Singapore's most famous dish, a greasy and spicy seafood concoction that simply cannot be enjoyed unless you dive in with your bare hands.
Each hard-shell crab is cooked in a paste made of garlic, onions, ginger, sesame oil, black rice vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and ground chili. Eggs and cornflour thicken the mixture, until you get a velvety, savory sauce coating a piping hot crab in its shell.
To eat chili crab, diners hack at the shell with a mallet and use their fingers to tease out the crabmeat.
Hainanese Chicken Rice - A Pale Slice of Heaven
Chicken rice is the closest thing to comfort food for many Singaporeans - a pale but deceptively flavorful rice dish served with ginger mash, chili lime sauce, and sweet black soy sauce.
Chicken is poached in a broth containing herbs, garlic, chicken bones, and assorted spices. When the chicken is done, the broth is then used to cook the rice together with pandan leaves and garlic. The resulting rice is yellowish and fatty, thanks to the juices left over from the chicken.
Chicken rice usually comes with cucumbers on the side, and (for an extra charge) you can also have it with braised beancurd, braised egg, chicken liver, or vegetables in oyster sauce.
Satay - Barbecue Asian Style
Satay is marinated meat roasted on a skewer, then served with peanut sauce together with onions, cucumbers, and rice cake. This isn't your usual barbecued meat; the marinade and the sauce combine to give the meat a uniquely Asian identity.
Diners can choose from chicken, mutton, or beef satay at most hawker centers; Chinese hawkers will serve pork satay, but that's not as common. Satay meat is usually marinated with sweet soy sauce and turmeric.
Laksa - Noodle Dish in Curry
Laksa is a noodle dish bathed in a coconut milk curry, mixed with shrimp, egg, and cockles. The sauce is only slightly less thick compared to your regular curry, and garnished with tofu and shredded chicken. Lemongrass leaves complete the recipe, adding a dash of fragrance that no self-respecting laksa chef would forget to include.
Fish Head Curry - A Delicious Reward for the Adventurous
Fish head curry might turn off the less adventurous gourmand, but fish head is unusually meaty and flavorful, especially so when cooked in a spicy red broth made from belacan, chili, lemongrass, mustard seeds, and onions, blended together with tomatoes and okra.
Roti Prata - Flat Bread Treat from India
Roti prata is an Indian specialty, a simple pastry made from flour and fried. Half the fun is in watching prata being made - a prata chef will flatten the dough before twirling the dough in the air to stretch it.
The resulting pancake is then fried on a griddle, flipped until golden brown, then served. Prata can be enjoyed sweet with sugar or ice cream, or savory together with curry gravy or sardines.
Rojak - Medley of Flavors
Rojak is a crisp, savory fruit salad combined from cucumber, banana flower, bean sprouts, fritters, pineapple, and mango (and much more besides). A dressing made from prawn paste, tamarind sauce, and chili powder is added to the mix, then garnished with crushed peanuts. The medley of flavors in rojak is indescribably exquisite.
The dish is eaten with bamboo skewers (the type used in satay); you pick up the pieces one by one and pop them in your mouth.