Singaporean Food 101
Top Things To Try
- Hainanese Chicken Rice
- Oyster Omelette
- Chili Crab
- Kaya Toast
- Ice Kachang
Greetings fellow ChronicFoodie!
What can one say about this fascinating “city-state” island country that has become a global phenomenon in every way possible. A global city like no other and an absolute must for anyone who has an appetite for great food. I was there eating as much as I could in the Spring of 2015. I was sad that I was only there for 4 days but I did what I could to make sure I got a solid taste of this “otherworldly” destination.
If you’ve not been to one of the technologically advanced cities of Asia, you will be in for quite a treat. Whether it is Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, there is just a very different buzz compared to any European or North American city. Coming from Toronto, I felt like I moved into the future by a few decades. However, the food scene is incredibly diverse where you can have dinner at a 5-star French restaurant one day and explore the “Hawkers” centre to find some of the most delicious cheap eats you’ve ever had.
Hawkers can mean different things, depending on the region but for cities in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, it is where great food happens on the cheap. Essentially, a Hawker Centre is an open-air food court on steroids. The one I went to in Singapore’s Chinatown is where I spent most of my time eating and as always, I looked for the stall that had the longest lines and each time, never disappointed. For those who have heard, Singapore is the place where a local hawker was given a Michelin-Star rating for a famous chicken and rice dish. Here’s a great read if you’re interested in learning more from CNN: Link
Quite amazing that Singapore was essentially a “Developing Country” 50 years ago but now… Singapore is a significant financial powerhouse. This is a phenomenal feat for a country that is also a city and an island that is half the size of Los Angeles in terms of sq/ft.
There is no shortage of things to see and do but the food… not to be missed! As always, I will cover just a few of the eats to try but you can easily spend a month in Singapore and still feel that you’ve not scratched the surface.
Taste of Singapore
Hainanese Chicken Rice
If there is one thing that is a stand-out dish that one must try in Singapore is this favourite for Singaporeans: Hainanese Chicken Rice. This import brought by Chinese migrants from the Hainan province can be easily found throughout Singapore. This delicious boiled chicken dish can give you a perspective on what the pallet of a Singaporean is like. In every country or culture in the world, you can learn a lot about the people by what the “National Dishes”. Hainanese Chicken is so delicious that it is easy to see why it is so beloved. Traditionally served with fragrant rice and a spicy chilli and ginger paste can be found both in hawkers or at fine dining restaurants. After it is boiled, the whole chicken is thrown into cold water. Don’t be surprised if the chicken is then roasted or braised in dark soy sauce. Pay attention to the rice as most Singaporeans will judge this dish by the overall attention paid to the rice, chicken and the chilli sauce. So so yum!
I love LAKSA and every variation of this amazing soup and noodle dish! Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from the Chinese Peranakan culture, which is a merger of Chinese and Malay elements found in Indonesia, Malaysia and of course… Singapore. Just imagine a fusion of Chinese noodles and Southeast Asian curries all in a delicious pool of goodness. I will say that Malaysians take pride in their Laksas and I’ve had my fill when in Penang, Malaysia but that is for a future blog about Malaysia. In the meantime, let’s just simply celebrate this curry noodle soup and that coconut milk… A perfect mix of flavours all in one delicious bowl and a must try if ever in Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia!
My personal experience, oysters seem to fall under the “like” or “don’t like” buckets with people and seldom do I meet people who are indifferent. So, I suspect that if oysters are not your thing, then this is a dish you should avoid. I personally like oysters, both cooked or raw but that goes to show that I do live my “foodie agnosticism” where I can enjoy and believe in all things food, regardless of its origins. This is not an exclusively Singaporean indulgence as it can be easily found in places like Hong Kong, Thailand or any East or Southeast Asian country that is near the ocean. Origins seem to be from Teochew, a coastal region Northeast of Hong Kong. I find that my personal experience with the Oyster Omelette is the kind of dipping sauce it comes with. It won’t be hard to find this in Singapore and I personally loved it as a snack to share with people.
Don’t let the name scare you as it has been my experience that Chilli Crab is not as spicy as one may assume. The flavours are rich and savoury and the crab of choice is often the Mud Crab which is indigenous to the Malay archipelago. I have yet to figure out a way to eat this without making a complete mess of myself and I have yet eaten this without it all over my hands, face and clothes. BUT… totally worth it! There doesn’t seem to be a consensus of “one” dish that can be considered “THE” national dish of Singapore but along with the Hainanese Chicken Rice, Chilli Chicken is right up there. Sweet, savoury and with yummy meat that has great texture, I cannot tell you how good this is! There is claims that this is originally Malaysian but this dish has certainly established itself really well in Singapore and glad that I found my way to this foodie delight!
At pretty much every café and snack bar, you will find this breakfast favourite available to have with your coffee or tea. Essentially, it is either toast or crackers that have “kaya” as the spread which is coconut jam made from a base of coconut milk, eggs and sugar. I’ve not done this but I’ve been told that it is great to dip it into the yolk of a soft boiled egg or any kind of egg with runny yolk. Sometimes even having soy sauce to add that savoury to the sweet of the kaya spread is done by Singaporeans. It was an interesting treat and with a cup of coffee, it was a nice experience to have while chilling out in a café.
I’ve had variations of this in Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam and so it is no surprise to see this icy treat in Singapore, especially to find something cold to beat the heat of the often hot and muggy Summers. The two main things about Ice Kacang is shaved ice and sweet red bean. From there, the variations are numerous and often quite creative. From fruits to aloe to durian, the varieties are endless but a final touch that is very common is a generous pouring of evaporated/condensed milk. On a hot day, which are many in Singapore, this is a dessert that is most welcomed and not to be missed!
If you’re looking for your caffeine fix, then look no further than Singapore’s take on coffee but make sure you call it “Kopi” which essentially is coffee in Malay. Coffee shops or “Kopitiams” are everywhere and this stuff will make your hair stand on end and perk you up pretty darn straight. There is really no easy way to describe the process on making this so here’s a link to watch how it’s done:
Recommendations in Toronto
I would say that the only place I’ve been that serves up several of the dishes mentioned on this blog is Lion City Restaurant. The food is solid and it does give you a pretty solid sense of the flavours and tastes of Singapore. However, like many places that serve up Southeast Asian food, you often get options to try Malay, Indonesian, Thai cuisine too.
If you’re looking for really really good Hainanese Chicken Rice, Phoenix Restaurant is a great place to go. It is not a Singaporean restaurant but this Hong Kong restaurant serves it up pretty darn good! Four locations around the Greater Toronto Area with only one in the 416 located in Scarborough. It’s a very popular chain and the Hainanese Chicken Rice is pretty legit!
As always, I like to mention that this is not an exhaustive list nor do I claim it to be a thorough walk through the flavours of Singapore. It is meant to be a taste and a list of things people should seek out if they are looking for what locals like to eat and drink. I hope that this got things started for those who are new to Singaporean delights. My visit wasn’t very long but I did pack in as much as humanly possible for the short time I was there. Besides the food, there is so much about this city-state island country that is amazing. It’s impeccably clean, comfortably safe, public transport is impressive and the sheer wealth is staggering. Singapore is ranked #3 for the highest per capita based on their gross domestic product and it shows. Just think Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California on growth hormones and steroids. Hard to put in words and a definite place to visit if ever you’re in the Southeast Asia region. A truly remarkable place to explore and eat!
Till next time my Chronicfoodie friends…
Jusep, the Chronicfoodie
Chopsticks+Forks is a Toronto Food Tour company that celebrates the great ethnic diversity of Toronto by taking guests on food adventures tasting the flavours of the world, one delicious bite at a time.