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Indian, Malaysian and Chinese cuisine have heavy influences on Singaporean cuisine. I would almost go as far as saying that Singaporean cuisine IS Indian, Malaysian and Chinese; however, Singapore does have its own unique flair.
Many dishes in Singapore are served with Sambal, a chili sauce. Chili peppers, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic scallions, sugar, lime juice and vinegar, and occasionally tamarind, are combined to make this signature chili sauce. Many different variations and levels of heat exist. Many Singaporean dishes include sweet, spicy, fishy, sour base flavors, with noodles, rice and seafood acting as the vehicles. Singapore has some of the best street food in the world, with many dishes at SGD 4 or less. I fell in love with hawker centers and enjoyed the dishes here just as much, if not more, than the more upscale restaurants. Eating 5+ times a day is the norm, as dishes tend to be less heavy as those served in Western countries.
While there are so many wonderful dishes to try in Singapore, these top 10 Singapore "must eat" dishes are my favorites. And since eating 5+ times a day is the norm in Singapore, it should be easy to try all these!
This is perhaps one of the best known dishes in Singapore, especially among tourists, and can be found almost anywhere. A whole crab is stir fried with chili sauce consisting of sambal, tomato sauce, vinegar and egg. The sauce can vary greatly from vendor to vendor with flavors ranging from a sweet version to an extremely spicy version. Long Beach Seafood has what I consider to be the perfect mix of both. The restaurants range from sit-downs such as Jumbos, and Long Beach Seafood, to hawker stalls like Mellben Seafood. Be sure to get at least one order of mantou buns to sop up the sauce. That's my favorite part of the dish!
Bak Kut Teh
This Chinese dish, also called pork bone tea soup, can be best described as ribs simmered in a broth of spices for many many hours. The rich, fatty broth created is far from being considered tea. There are a couple different version, a lighter peppery version (Teochow version - my favorite) and thicker, cloudier soup with more of an herbal taste (Klang version). I personally hold the peppery version close to my heart, especially on a cooler rainy day (I LOVE rainy day soups!). Some of the best places to get bak kut teh are Song Fa Bak Kut Teh, Ng Ah Sio, and Founder Bak Kut Teh. Many of these places will also serve boiled peanuts as a side dish (some charge, some are free, depends on the restaurant).
Singaporean Laksa is a Perenakan (mix of Chinese and Malay) dish consisting of a rich, spicy coconut curry broth, rice noodles (typically thicker than vermicelli) and seafood. Many vendors serve the laksa with sambal (chili paste) and fresh cockles. It bears a slight resemblance to noodles with gravy due to the thickness of the broth. I struggle a little to find words that adequately describe the delicious flavor of this dish: talk about your perfect rainy day food! It's the perfect mix of sweet, sour and spice. There are many, many great Laksa options in Singapore, but these three stand out as some of the best: Sungei Road Laksa, 328 Katong Laksa, and Janggut Laksa. My personal favorite is Sungei Road Laksa as I discuss in more detail here.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice is one of the most iconic dishes of Singapore. The chicken is poached in sub-boiling water, and then the water reserved and spices added to cook the rice. This makes for a flavorful, oily rice; a perfect complement to the chicken. The dish is typically served with a side of minced red chili, garlic, soy sauce and ginger. If you visit Singapore, I recommend trying your hat at Tian Tian Chicken Rice, or if you're up to wait in line for an hours or two, Hong Kong Soya Sauce (recent Michelin star recipient). Tian Tian also gets crowded, but if you arrive close to opening time, the line is much shorter. The chicken is moist and tender and excellent paired with the fragrant rice.
Hokkien Fried Mee (Big Prawn Noodle)
The dish is one of my personal Singaporean favorites. It consists of egg and rice noodles cooked in a fragrant broth of shrimp and chicken or pork, with egg, pork, prawns, squid, fried pork lard, and deep fried shallots, served with sambal, soy sauce and lime on the side. There are many places in Singapore for great hokkien mee, but some of the best are Geylang Lor 29 Fried Hokkien Mee, Nam Sing Hokkien Mee and Tian Tian Lai Hokkien Mee.
Minced Pork Noodle
Also called bak chor mee, minced pork noodle is typically prepared with thin noodles (however, certain vendors have a thick noodle option) served in a sauce with minced pork, pork slices, pork liver, mushrooms, meatballs, deep fried lard, and wantons. The sauce consists of vinegar, chili, oil, soy sauce and pepper. Tai Hwa Pork Noodle is one of the first Michelin Star hawker stalls (Hong Kong Soya Sauce is the other in Singapore). A strong vinegar flavor is at the heart of this dish, so if you don't like a slightly sour dish, this may not be for you. My absolute favorite part of this dish is the pork liver as I discuss here. The vinegar and pork liver complement each other perfectly.
Lor mee is Chinese comfort food. It is a braised noodle dish (usually thick, yellow noodles) with a thick gravy-like sauce made with eggs and spices. The noodles are served with fish cake, pieces of fish, braised pork, meat dumplings (chicken or pork), vinegar, minced garlic and sambal. The sauce has a starchy quality making the dish one of the heavier in Singapore, but incredibly satisfying to this girl! Check out Feng Zhen Lor Mee, Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee and Tiong Bahru Lor Mee for some of the best lor mee stalls in Singapore.
Char Kway Teow
This stir fried rice noodle dish is a comforting, oily, flavor packed dish that brings happiness to my heart. The noodles are stir fried over very high heat with belachan (shrimp paste), cockles, prawns, beansprouts, eggs, garlic, Chinese sausage and crisp fried pieces of pork lard. The noodles have a mild sweetness, combined with heat, depending on how much chili you use. This dish is often considered unhealthy due to the high fat content, but that's what makes it so good! What was originally coined a poor man's dish evolved into one of Singapore's most popular dishes, and a favorite of mine. No. 18 Fried Kway Teow, Hill Street Char Kway Teow, and Outram Park Fried Kway Teow are some of the best places to get this dish.
Fish Head Curry
Talk about your comfort food - what's better than the head of a fish stewed in a sweet, spicy curry served with bread and/or rice? Tamarind, coconut milk, and spices are combined to make the curry broth used to braise the fish head and vegetables. The dish is served in Indian, Chinese, Peranakan and Malaysian restaurants. It is really a multi-cultural dish. Each culture has its own variation, however, the basic ingredients and principles remain the same. The taste can range from a sweeter, milder version, to a fiery hot, light your tongue on fire version. Either way, this is a warm your belly kind of dish. Sop it up with some bread or mix it with some rice and you're ready to go. Some of the best spots for fish head curry are Ocean Curry Fish Head, and Zai Shun Curry Fish head.
I'll be honest, the idea of roti prata at first glance was not overly exciting to me; I mean bread dipped in curry sauce, I can get that back in the states. Once I tried it, it took all the self control I had to not drink the curry sauce once the bread was gone. The flatbread is typically cooked over a flat grill and served with a fish, chicken, mutton or vegetable based curry. Sometimes the bread is filled with onion, eggs, cheese, mutton or other meats (known as Murtabak). Check out Zam Zam for some of the best roti prata around.
So there it is, my top 10 Singapore dishes that you have got to try. It took me a very long time to narrow it down to 10!
I would love to hear what some of your favorite dishes are, and the best places to get them. I'm always looking for some new ideas for my next visit!