Food-lovers rub their tummies in glee when they visit Singapore because it is no secret that this little red dot is a true foodie paradise.
Singaporeans are obsessed with food and the pride we have for our food is one of the few things that unite all of us unanimously. Our local dishes are a culmination of exciting flavours, influenced by various cultures of the Chinese, Malay, Indian and other early European settlers. This rich heritage that we have gave rise to an intoxicating variety of famous Singapore dishes that will leave your taste buds craving for more.
If you are not a local, you would probably have little clue on what to eat in Singapore. Forget fancy Michelin-starred restaurants and gourmet eateries; the best authentic Singapore dishes that you have to try are found in hawker centres.
Discover the vibrant Singapore food culture with this lovingly put-together Singapore Food Guide and eat your way through the Top 10 Best Local Foods!
Why Is Hawker Culture Unique In Singapore?
A Hawker Centre is basically Singapore’s cleaned-up version of street food. A mind-boggling selection of food and drink stalls housed together in what seems like a huge community dining room, where different groups of people come together to eat and mingle.
Evolved from street food culture, many of the hawker food dishes we have now actually originated from the food traditions of the immigrant groups who settled in Singapore. Our food is a perfect reflection of the country’s multicultural make-up and it is in hawker centres, that travellers get to experience the real side of Singapore.
The atmosphere is boisterous and a feast for the senses. You can see hawkers busily preparing food, hear them banter among each other, smell a mixture of spices wafting across different stalls and listen to multi-lingual exchanges between diners. It is also common to see strangers eat together at the same table, regardless of race, religious or dietary differences.
Dining at a hawker centre is a quintessential Singapore heritage and it is a wonderful cultural experience that you have got to try! Oh, and it is also very affordable!
It may be a little daunting for first-time tourists who do not know the unspoken rules of the locals, but not to worry. Let Monster Day Tours’ foodie guides take you to the best local places to eat on the first and only Singapore Food Free Walking Tour, where you can learn more about Singapore’s unique Hawker Culture and eat to your heart’s delight.
So What To Eat In Singapore?
(in no particular order)
1. Chicken Rice
Do not underestimate this humble-looking dish of sliced chicken on white rice. Singapore’s famous Chicken Rice is ranked in CNN’s list of “50 Best Food in The World” and it is considered by many Singaporeans as the unofficial “National Dish”.
This distinctive dish is adapted from early Chinese immigrants and the cooking method hails back to its original Hainanese roots.
Over the years, with a few uniquely Singaporean tweaks, what we have today is succulent steamed white chicken served on the most aromatic rice that is cooked in chicken broth. Oh, and you have to eat it with the signature garlic-chilli dip because chicken rice is not complete without it.
Nowadays, there are variations of Hainanese chicken rice that you can choose from - steamed, roasted or braised in soya sauce. Most stalls also offer side dishes such as blanched vegetables, chicken innards and braised eggs.
The local people love chicken rice because it is simply delicious, found everywhere and affordable. And the world seems to share our sentiments of our adoration for this simple dish because Singapore now has 8 Michelin-listed Chicken Rice spots. If you have only time for 1 dish while you are visiting Singapore, chicken rice is the dish to go for!
2. Nasi Lemak
Meaning “rice in cream” in the Malay language, Nasi lemak is thus named because the rice is cooked in coconut milk. Nasi Lemak has its roots from the Malay community in Southeast Asia and has become one of Singapore’s culinary pride. Simply put, this dish is rice steamed with coconut milk, and often paired with fried fish or chicken, egg, ikan bilis (anchovies) and sambal chilli.
"Although it looks quite ordinary, Nasi Lemak is so important to Singaporeans that we have a verbal war with neighbouring Malaysians over whose version is better!"
The highlight of this famous Singapore hawker food is the aromatic rice that is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. Fragrant and fluffy, a sniff of the Nasi Lemak rice is enough to whet your appetite. Another important part that completes this dish is the homemade sambal – a chilli paste made from blending chilies, belacan (shrimp paste), garlic and other spices.
Back in the older days, Nasi Lemak was traditionally eaten as breakfast and sold by the streets wrapped in banana leaf. Today, the signature dish remains a common sight in hawker centres and many stalls now offer a variety of other vegetables and meats that can be added to complement the meal.
Another classic famous Singapore food is Laksa, an exquisite spicy noodle soup dish that is loved by all races here. Thick rice noodles with slices of fishcake, prawns, beansprouts and cockles are served in a rich soup made from curry, coconut milk and spices.
Savoury, creamy and fragrant, Laksa is a dish with an explosion of flavours that will leave you lingering for more!
This amazing dish is inspired by the Peranakan cuisine, resulting from the harmony of Chinese and Malay cultures. There are other types of laksa that are more commonly found in Malaysia, such as the tangy Penang Assam Laksa. But most locals prefer the Singapore version, also known as “Katong Laksa”.
Created by a man called Janggut in the 1960s in a neighbourhood area called Katong, this exceptional noodle dish won the hearts of Singaporeans and spawned countless other stalls replicating its recipe.
The highlight of this famous local hawker dish is obviously the curry-coconut broth. Every stall has its own recipe and every laksa-lover in Singapore has their own favourite. At some places, they also cut the noodles into smaller strands so that you can slurp it up together with the scrumptious soup using a spoon. Yums!
4. Fried Carrot Cake
No, it is not a fried version of the western-style spiced carrot cake. In fact, it is neither a cake nor dessert. Every time our guides introduce this local favourite to the guests, we are met with puzzled looks and worried faces. Fried Carrot Cake is actually a savoury dish made with white radish, rice flour, eggs and preserved radish (chai poh), and it is a definite must eat when you are in Singapore!
Colloquially known as “Chai Tow Kway” (in Teochew dialect), this pan-fried goodness is a popular breakfast food among the locals because it is easy to eat, delightfully tasty and filling enough to start the day. However, it is also common to see Singaporeans eating it as a side dish to a main meal or for late-night supper.
Fried Carrot Cake is well-loved and famous local hawker dish with two variations - black and white. The black one is fried with dark soya sauce which gives it a slight smoky sweetness, while the white one is fried only with eggs that result in a crispier crust. That being said, both versions are lip-smackingly good and each have its own fans.
If you cannot decide, why not order both the black and the white fried carrot cake? It only costs around SGD$2.50 and the intriguing contrast of textures and flavours is totally worth it.
5. Kambing Soup
Every country has their own version of a comforting bowl of piping hot soup. In Singapore, we have the beloved Kambing Soup, which means Mutton Soup. Hearty and chock-full of flavours, this stew-like rich soup is the ultimate late night indulgence for Singaporeans.
"Kambing Soup is a uniquely Singaporean dish and is invented by the Muslim Indian community here in Singapore. "
This remarkable dish is made by cooking various parts of the lamb in a rich broth of spices such as coriander, fennel, cumin, star anise and cinnamon. After brewing it lovingly for hours, the meat becomes so tender that it falls off the bone. The soup is intensely satisfying with a strong meaty flavour that is enhanced by the spices and herbs used.
Merely thinking about it makes us salivate. If you are wondering what to eat in Singapore on a gloomy rainy day, trust us - Kambing Soup is what you need!
Travellers who want to try this nourishing soup can find it in hawker centres and Mamak stalls (local eateries that serve a variety of Indian Muslim foods). Served hot with bread pieces on the side, enjoy it like the locals do by dunking the break into the savoury and slightly spicy soup.
6. Hokkien Prawn Mee
Sloppily served on a plate or a banana leaf, this messy goop of noodles does not look that promising at first glance. However, a whiff of that aromatic seafood goodness is sure to awaken your taste buds and kick in the hunger pangs!
As its name suggests, Hokkien Prawn Mee is a dish created by the Hokkien people. Its exact origins are a little hazy but aren’t we glad that this noodle dish was invented.
Also known simply as Hokkien Mee, this flavoursome stir-fried noodle dish is a work of culinary art. Yellow noodles and thick rice noodles are cooked in a rich stock made from pork bones and prawn heads, topped with succulent prawns, squid, pork belly and egg.
It is then served with a homemade sambal chilli and a squeeze of lime as a finishing touch. Some places also throw in a smattering of golden crispy pork lard for crunch and to enhance the seafood flavours. Absolutely drool-worthy!
Generally found in hawker centres, it is a local fave but tourists usually do not get the chance to eat this dish because it is not highly promoted by guide books and bloggers. However, Hokkien Mee is unquestionably a must-eat local food in Singapore.
7. Kaya Toast & Soft-Boiled Eggs
Ahh, this traditional Singaporean breakfast brings back memories for many of the older generation and is an integral part of our Singapore food culture. Thin, well-toasted slices of bread are slathered with Kaya (coconut jam) and a luscious slab of butter. This is then served alongside two soft-boiled eggs drizzled with soya sauce and pepper.
Its origins is believe to have come from the Hainanese Chinese workers who served aboard British ships and adapted the British penchant for toast, eggs and coffee when they landed in Singapore
Every local has their own favourite way of eating this. Some dip the toast into coffee while others dip it into the runny eggy concoction. Of course, this nostalgic breakfast is not complete without authentic Singapore-style Kopi, the local slang for coffee. Roasted with butter under high heat to caramelise the beans, the resulting brew is strong and sweetened with condensed milk.
"Ordering coffee in a hawker centre or local coffeeshop is an art and travellers often get baffled over the many variations. When in doubt, just say “Kopi”!"
Satisfyingly delicious and comforting, the local people’s favourite breakfast of Kaya Toast and Eggs is definitely a must-try food in Singapore!
Meat-lovers, this is right up your alley. Satay is one of the most popular street food in Singapore and is an integral part of Singapore’s vibrant food culture.
Satay is actually grilled skewered meat and is a dish that resembles kebabs. It has origins tracing back to the Arab traders who came to Southeast Asia during the Spice Trade era. Since then, its cooking methods have been adapted to suit the multicultural palates of the local people.
Chunks of well-marinated skewered meat are grilled to charred perfection using bamboo skewers and Satay hawkers skilfully fans the charcoal flames so that the meat is delightfully infused with flavours. You can tell it is good by the glistening juices and oil covering the meat!
Chicken, beef and mutton are the most common meats used in Satay and it can be sold by Malay, Indian Muslim and Chinese vendors. Every hawker has its own special marinade concoction but they all typically use spices such as tumeric, cumin and ginger.
After being grilled, the meat skewers are then served with a sweet-spicy peanut sauce, together with cucumber slices, roughly-chopped onions and rice cake. Dunk the meat and rice cake generously into the peanut sauce for a gastronomic experience. It is well-worth the calories!
9. Oyster Omelette
This is another local favourite that is rarely found in food guides or travel programmes. Also known as Orh Luak (in Teochew dialect), this oily golden oyster omelette is so good that it has made it to the New York Times' lists of best food of the year in 2015.
Oyster Omelette is one of those unique foods that tourists must try when visiting Singapore. It is a luscious combination of eggs, flour and oysters. The ingredients are always the same but what makes a stall stand out from the other is the batter used.
Skilled Orh Luak maestros have a good control of the fire so that the omelette is fried to golden perfection and is slightly charred at the edges. A good Oyster Omelette is a palate-pleasing balance of crispy and chewy, accompanied by bursts of juicy oysters and the refreshing crunch of coriander leaves.
As with many local foods in Singapore, every dish has its own signature chilli dip that cannot be used for another type of food. Similarly, the Oyster Omelette is paired with a tangy chilli sauce that cuts through the grease and completes the dish like a triumphant ending to a symphony.
This sinful (but hard to resist) and utterly delicious dish can be found in hawker centres all over Singapore. You have got to try it!
10. Roti Prata
Introduced by Indian immigrants in the early trading days, this South-Indian-inspired flat bread has long since been one of Singapore's most adored local foods. Roti prata is not only an significant component of Indian cuisine, everyone in Singapore, regardless of ethnicity, loves eating it.
And, it is not hard to see why.
"A perfect Roti Prata is crispy on the outside while being fluffy and chewy on the inside. Served with fish or mutton curry, and sometimes sugar, Roti Prata is food for the soul at anytime of the day."
The basic versions are served plain or with an egg cracked in the middle and they are oh-so-yummy. However, there are plenty of modern and creative versions that incorporate a variety of toppings such as cheese, mushrooms, chocolate sauce, hot dogs, mayonnaise and even durian. Some are weird but hey, life is an adventure!
For a more immersive experience, go to Tekka Market at Little India and watch the prata-man deftly flip the dough until it is stretched out thin. It is a fascinating sight and you will appreciate the humble Roti Prata a lot more after that impressive performance.
And, this popular Singapore food is best eaten using your fingers. Tear it up into bite-size pieces, swirl it around the curry and pop that tempting morsel into your mouth while letting the curry dribble down your fingers. Mmm..heavenly!