Indicative of the ethnic richness of the city nation, Singapore’s seemingly endless variety of mouth-watering delicacies have since made it a culinary destination for the rest of the world. Influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western cultures, the diversity of the spices and localized versions of traditional dishes have given Singapore food its own distinctive flavour and style. Here, we highlight what some of the much-beloved local dishes:
Hainanese Chicken Rice
If Singapore had a national dish, it would have to be this gift from the Hainanese culture. Known for its delightful fragrance and warm, comforting flavour, there are variations all over the city, from the traditional ones found in any hawker centre to the modern and sophisticated re-inventions found in swanky restaurants, the secret to this dish is the rice, soft and succulent containing the juices of the chicken and enhanced by sprinklings of soy sauce and sometimes sasame oil. The chicken can be served broiled or roasted depending on the customers’ preference.
Again, the secret to this dish lies in its rice. The literal translation of the name means ‘fatty rice’. Unlike the delightful Hainanese chicken rice, which is flavoured with pandan leaves, this dish benefits from the luxurious smoothness of coconut and occasional herbs. Brought in by the Muslim culture, it is enjoyed by every race in Singapore, and is served with hearty roasted nuts, crispy anchovies (ikan bilis), cucumbers and often a meat by the side (usually deep fried fish or chicken). A hot chilli sauce called the Sambal chili is sprinkled on the rice to bring out the flavour of the spices. Served in banana leaves, the heartiness of this dish is worth every calorie.
This superstar is a localized version of the Indian paratha. Deceptively simple, this fried flour pancake packs an extraordinary amount of taste and satisfaction. Taken with Indian curry, the ideal version of this dish is tender in the middle and crispy on the outside. Even if not for the taste, the preparation of this dish is quite an entertainment for one’s eyes; the dough starts off as a small clenched ball and the chef kneads and tosses it to the desired thickness and shape. Eaten plain or with stuffings of egg, chicken and even chocolate, the curry lends a delightful heady richness to the crispiness of the flat bread. A friendly word of advice- this dish is known to be highly addictive to eager tastebuds.
Char Kuay Teow
Do not be turned off by the charred black appearance of this dish. Made from flat rice noodles stir-fried in a huge wok and drenched with thick soy sweet sauce, this Hokkien dish is decorated by prawns, cockles, lard, bean sprouts, egg, fishcake and chilli. Originally the food of choice for chinese labourers in the past due to its affordability and high fat content, it has since evolved to become one of the top favourite dishes amongst all Singaporeans. The richness of the taste, combining sweetness with plentiful texture and satisfying flavour, makes it a wonderful lunch choice.
If it’s one noticeable trend amongst the Singaporean taste, it is the love for seafood. Hugely popular across the nation, one wonders if it is due to the wide availability of seafood around the island. In any case, seafood dishes in Singapore encompass everything, from crabs to prawns to fish to lobsters. The most highly acclaimed dish is the Chilli crab, a local invention which uses mud crabs stir-fried in a semi-thick and savoury tomato and chilli-based sauce. Contrary to its name, this dish will not light one’s tongue on fire. The sauce is often mopped up by crispy bread to savour the most of its wonderful flavour.