Singapore, situated just north of the equator, is one of my favorite places to visit in South-East Asia. There are so many reasons why I love this country – the culturally diverse population and the tropical climate to name a few. However, I have to say that the amazing food on offer is definitely my main reason for going back again and again. Here is a list of my Top 15 all time favorite foods to eat in Singapore and the best places to eat them.
15. Fish Head Curry
A dish that is exactly what it sounds like – the head of a fish in a deep spicy curry – Fish Head Curry is truly Singaporean. It combines the flavors of India with the sensibilities of China to create a unique and very popular dish.
I have to admit that I avoided eating this particular dish for quite some time. My western taste buds told me that a fish head was not something I wanted on my plate. I should never have listened. The cheeks of the fish are particularly wonderful and when placed in a curry become a savory joy. The tamarind coconut curry is often served with drumsticks (moringa vegetables) and has a deep, complex taste that hints of the sea.
While Fish Head Curry can be purchased all over Singapore, I recommend heading to Little India and Muthu’s Curry Restaurant where it is their signature dish.
14. Paper Dosa
This South Indian staple is an incredibly thin and crispy ‘pancake’ filled with curry potatoes. It is generally served with sambar and green chutney for dipping. The ‘pancake’ is made from a fermented rice and lentil paste spread thin and cooked on a griddle sprinkled with ghee (clarified butter).
The Paper Dosa is one of the first meals I ever ate in Singapore and served as my introduction to South Indian food. The tang of the fermented lentils, the earthy depth of the potatoes, and the richness of the ghee combine perfectly to produce a savory delight. I have eaten this dish as a light lunch, a mid-day snack, and even for breakfast.
Available at most hawker centers (think outdoor food courts), especially in Little India, the Paper Dosa is a very popular dish. For a particularly good version, I recommend trying the one on offer at Komala Vilas on Serangoon Road in Little India.
13. Mee Siam
This Malay dish consists of rice noodles, bean sprouts, and omelette served in a sweet, spicy, and tangy sauce. The sauce, made from tamarind and salted soy beans, is absolutely mouth-watering and hints of Thai flavorings. A hard-boiled egg tops off the dish.
Mee Siam is one of my favorite dishes to have for breakfast in the morning. It has just the right combination of taste (sweet and spicy) plus nutrition (protein and carbs) to be the perfect kick-start to the day. Add a Singaporean coffee (kopi) and I am definitely in heaven.
This dish can be found in almost any hawker center or shopping center food court.
12. Malay Mix Rice
One of my great joys when visiting a shopping center food court in Singapore is the Malay Mixed Rice stall. Basically, the stall is like a mini-buffet where you add to a generous portion of rice the meat and vegetable dishes of your choice. Some of my favorites include sambal chicken, fried okra, and spicy sautéed water spinach.
11. Bak Kut Teh
Bak Kut Teh, or pork bone soup, is a peppery and savory bowl of hearty happiness. This Chinese Malay dish is filled with deep complex flavors and is the perfect option after a long day on your feet. The unique peppery flavor of the pork bone broth is achieved with a mixture of cinnamon, fennel and garlic.
While some versions of the soup contain vegetables and other add-ons, I have always preferred the simple option with just the broth and the pork ribs. I tend to eat this dish in the late afternoon or late evening as a healthy and cooling snack.
Bak Kut Teh can be found all over Singapore. I highly recommend the version on offer at the Chinatown Seafood Restaurant on Pagoda Street in Chinatown.
10. Dry Noodles with Fish Balls
Another dish that is exactly what the name suggests, Dry Noodles with Fish Balls is one of my all-time favorite Chinese dishes. Dry Noodles are soft, cooked noodles tossed in a spicy garlic sauce and topped with crispy fried onions and chives. The Fish Balls are generally served in soup, but can occasionally be added directly to the noodle portion of the dish.
Besides the flavor, one of the things I like about this dish is that you can choose the type of noodle that is used – flat rice noodle, round egg noodles, or flat egg noodles (see below) are all on offer. After you choose your noodle, you can also select the level of spiciness for the sauce. I often choose Dry Noodles with Fish Balls for lunch.
Almost every hawker center and shopping mall food court has this particular dish on offer.
9. Mutton Curry
Slow cooked until incredibly tender in a coconut based curry sauce, Mutton Curry is absolutely delicious. Served on rice, this Indian dish is filling and the perfect option for a late night meal after a long day out and about. Really good Mutton Curry uses fresh mutton that is cooked for hours in order to ensure the perfect level of tenderness. You know you have found a good one when it is possible to cut the meat with a spoon.
Maxwell’s Food Center located in Chinatown has a stall near one of the entrances that is open until later at night and servers the best Mutton Curry I have ever tasted.
Not exactly a specific dish, but one of the things I love about Singapore is the variety of unique desserts available. The three in the picture below are my favorites – from left to right – Nyonya Sago Coconut Kueh, Kueh Dadar, and Sweet Jalebi.
The Malay Nonya Sago Coconut Kueh is truly wonderful. Slightly firm, the dessert combines palm sugar, coconut, sago and pandan to create the perfect tri-colored bit of perfection.
The Kueh Dadar is another Malay dessert that combines pandan and coconut perfectly. The green outer pancake is folded around a coconut pandan mixture that is surprisingly moist.
The Indian Sweet Jalebi is a rose water dessert that is both sticky and chewy. Every bite sends rose water syrup bursting into your mouth – pure pleasure!
Malay desserts can be found in some hawker centers and most bakeries. Indian desserts can be found at various locations in Little India.
7. Black Pepper Crab
Take a fresh crab, fry it while still in the shell in black pepper paste and you have Black Pepper Crab – an incredibly popular Singaporean dish. The flesh is slightly dry and perfectly absorbs the black pepper making this dish seafood with a kick. Often served on a bed of lettuce, Black Pepper Crab is not only fun to eat but also surprisingly filling and rich tasting.
Black Pepper Crab can be acquired at many restaurants throughout the city. I recommend the one available at Chinatown Crab Master in Chinatown Food Street on Smith Street.
Every good meal needs a drink to go along with it and Singapore’s tropical climate makes this especially true. Some of my favorite options include Lime Soda, fresh pressed Sugarcane Juice (pictured), and Kopi (Singaporean coffee). Kopi is a thick blend served with condensed milk stirred in to taste.
Hawker centers and food courts all have separate stalls that specialize in cold and hot beverages. These stalls often serve fresh-cut fruit and juices as well.
5. Chili Crab
Similar to the other crab dish on the list, Chili Crab is wok-fried in the shell with an aromatic and spicy chili sauce. Unlike the other crab dish, Chili Crab is incredibly moist, perfectly spicy, and decadent.
I have to admit that I made several trips to Singapore before I tried this dish. When you go to the stall you are asked to select the crab from a container filled with live crabs. For the longest time I couldn’t bring myself to actually select a crab to be cooked. Silly really as all the crabs there were already caught and we going to get eaten no matter what. I have always loved crab, so why should I deprive myself of something so awesome? When I finally ordered Chili Crab I was amazed. This dish is like no crab I had ever had and I look forward to having it every time I go to Singapore.
Chili Crab can be acquired at many restaurants through the city. I recommend the one available at Chinatown Crab Master in Chinatown Food Street on Smith Street.
4. Hainanese Chicken Rice
Originally from Hainan, China, Hainanese Chicken Rice consists of perfectly steamed chicken topped with coriander and rice cooked in chicken stock. The dish is generally served with a clear rich broth and chili and ginger sauces. The broth is made from chicken stock and occasionally contains winter melon.
This dish is one of my all time favorites. The first time I had it was under the stars, late at night, in an outdoor hawker center. The delectable, fragrant chicken, the savory rice, and spicy-sweet chili sauce complement each other nicely and create a perfectly balanced dish.
Hainanese Chicken Rice can be found all over Singapore, but as with any popular dish, not all chicken rices are created equal. I recommend one of the chicken rice stalls at the Maxwell’s Food Center in Chinatown.
Skewered marinated meat grilled to perfection and served with a peanut sauce, what’s not to love? Singaporean satay options include chicken, beef, lamb, and prawns. Generally eaten late at night and out in the open, whole streets are blocked off to host these satay clubs.In addition to the peanut sauce, Satay is normally served with fresh cucumbers, onions, and rice cakes.
I recommend checking out the Satay Club at Lau Pa Sat in Raffles Quay. The large number of satay stalls and smokey atmosphere is magical and it is always busy until very late at night. Best Satay at stalls 7 & 8 is particularly good.
2. Char Kway TeoW
Flat rice noodles stir-fried with fish cakes, bean sprouts, spring onions, Chinese sausage, cockles, and small pieces of crispy pork skin – Char Kway Teow is quite literally perfection on a plate. This succulent dish is a harmonious blend of savory and smokey elements with a hint of the sea and an occasional crunch.
Char Kway Teow was the second meal I ever ate in Singapore and it was a love affair from that first bite. I simply love every delicious bit of it.
Available from most hawker centers and food courts, I recommend trying the one on offer at the Wisma Artia Food Court on Orchard Road. Another very good option can be found at the Maxwell’s Food Center in Chinatown.
An item that is probably not on too many food lists, the Bhatura is number one on mine. Simply put, if I only had time to eat one meal while in Singapore, I would choose to eat the Bhatura. A large fluffy bread, it is hollow in the center and made from flour and ghee. The dish is served with chana masala (chickpea curry) and limes. Each bite is a crispy bit of buttery happiness.
This hidden gem found in Little India is a must eat for anyone visiting Singapore. I recommend going to Komala Vilas on Serangoon Road for the best Bhatura.