Singapore is famous for its unique architecture, remarkable cleanliness, and food-obsessed culinary scene. Flavors from Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines have been perfectly blended to create a food culture unique to the island country.
In no particular order, here are sixteen of the best foods in Singapore:
Hainan Chicken Rice
Often referred to as one of the national dishes of Singapore, Hainan chicken rice originates in the Hainan province in southern China. Today it consists of poached chicken that is served with rice cooked in chicken stock and garlic. A chili sauce and soy sauce are also provided for an added kick of flavor.
Although the dish has origins in China it has become largely associated with Singaporean cuisine. During the Japanese occupation of Singapore in World War II, Hainanese servants found themselves out of work and began to sell Hainan chicken rice in order to support themselves.
The dish became a hit and over the years has become a staple food for Singaporeans throughout the country. In 2016 a food stall, Hawker Chan, specializing in chicken rice was even awarded a Michelin star for its outstanding version of the meal.
Another Singaporean dish cherished by locals, chili crab is made by stir-frying mud crabs with tomato and chili-based sauce. The end result is a sweet, spicy, and rich mix of flavors that leaves you wanting more.
Often served with a Chinese steamed bun used for dipping or scooping the deep red sauce, chili crab is another dish that can be found at hawker centers, Singapore’s version of a food court, all around the country.
The beloved dish was invented in the 1950s when Cher Yam Tian began to sell crabs mixed with a tomato and chili sauce from a small food cart. Chili crab was a hit and Tian’s business grew, ultimately leading to the opening of the famous Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant.
A spicy rice noodle dish with a coconut or tamarind broth, Laksa is a food with Peranakan origins. The Peranakan came about when ethnic Chinese migrated to Southeast Asia and began to marry persons of Malay or Indonesian origin.
Laksa is believed to have been the result of mixing traditional Chinese foods with local Malay ingredients. It’s no surprise that each region of Southeast Asia will have its own version of the famous dish.
In Singapore, one of the more common versions of the dish is known as Katong laksa named after the Katong precinct that is home to many of Peranakan descent. This version of the soup has a coconut milk base and contains rice noodles, dried shrimp, Vietnamese coriander, chili, and a protein such as prawns or shellfish.
Another dish with Malay origins, Nasi Lemak is hugely popular in Singapore. Literally translating to “fatty rice” in Malay, the dish consists of rice that has been cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf and is served with a spicy sauce called sambal and sides of anchovies and cucumbers.
The Singaporean version of the famous food is known for its sweeter sambal and is most often served with sides of anchovies, peanuts, and a fried egg or omelet. It’s also common to add a side of fried chicken or other protein to your dish if you are feeling extra hungry.
Introduced to Singapore by the large ethnically Indian population of the country, murtabak is a folded flatbread filled with vegetables, meat, and eggs and fried until golden. Often the street food is served with a side of curry for dipping.
There are also sweet versions of the food available known as martabak manis that are topped with peanuts, chocolate, cheese, or sesame seed.
Chai Tow Kway
Many Teochew people, hailing from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, have made a home for themselves in Singapore. They brought with them a dish that has become a hit in their new country known as chai tow kway, made of radish cakes that are stir-fried with various ingredients.
Two popular versions of the fare can be found in Singapore today. The “black” version of the food is stir-fried with molasses and egg giving the meal a hint of sweetness. The “white” version of the dish omits the molasses but still uses eggs giving the cakes a crispier texture.
A comfort dish, chai tow kway can be eaten at all hours of the day and is one of the most popular meals in the country.
A breakfast favorite, kaya toast consists of a couple of slices of toasted bread that is generously topped with butter and kaya, a coconut jam made from coconut milk, eggs, and sugar. The toast is usually served with a side of two soft-boiled eggs and enjoyed with a cup of coffee.
Originally intended to be a substitute for Western-style fruit jams, kaya become a hit with Singaporeans and now this toast is one of the most popular breakfast dishes consumed in the nation. It can be found at hawker centers and coffee shops throughout the country.
Similar to murtabak, roti prata is a dish made of dough that is fried and has origins in Indian cuisine. The difference between the two lies in the preparation and the way that they are served.
Also called roti canai, roti prata is skillfully stretched out until the dough is very thin before being placed on a griddle and fried until golden brown. This results in a lighter texture that is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
Often served plain with gravy for dipping, roti prata is considered a lighter dish that will often be consumed at breakfast. Egg roti prata is common too, which adds an egg to the side.
Originating in the nearby country of Indonesia, satay has become a huge part of Singaporean cuisine, often enjoyed at food stalls that specialize in this skewered meat.
Chicken, beef, mutton, or tripe are cubed into small pieces, placed on a skewer, marinated, and then grilled to perfection. There are two popular versions of satay served in Singapore, Chinese and Malay styles.
Chinese-style satay is marinated with five-spice powder and lemongrass. It can also be sweetened with pineapple puree. Malay style will be marinated with a sweet dark soy sauce. All satay is served with a sweet and spicy sauce for dipping made of ground peanuts and fresh spices.
Hugely popular in south Asia, it is no surprise that nasi biryani has made its way to Singapore and firmly embedded itself into the country’s cuisine. The dish is made with spiced rice and served with a protein such as mutton or chicken.
The Singaporean version of the famous food is unique in its preparation. Traditionally the rice in the Indian version of the famous food is cooked together with the meat in a process called dum. The rice in Singaporean nasi biryani is cooked separately, resulting in a slightly different texture more in line with Malay-style rice.
This local favorite was inspired by the Hokkien Chinese noodle dish known as lor mee. The Singaporean version, called Hokkien mee, was invented by Chinese immigrants from the Hokkien province in southern China following World War II.
The modern version of the food consists of both egg and rice noodles that are stir-fried with egg, pork, prawns, and squid. Although not a soup, one of the key components of the dish is the broth, made of pork and prawns, that’s simmered over many hours and added to the noodles during cooking.
A sambal chili paste is served on the side alongside calamansi limes that can be added according to taste for an extra kick of spice and acid.
A popular food at hawker centers, chwee kueh is another fare from the Teochew Chinese that have made Singapore home. Rice flour and water are mixed to form a dough that is then steamed into a small bowl-like shape that is then topped with preserved radish and served with a side of chili sauce.
The texture of the rice cake varies in firmness from stall to stall and the best versions are appreciated for their aroma and subtle sweetness. Combining the sweet and salty preserved radish and the kick of the chili sauce, chwee kueh makes for a satisfying breakfast or afternoon snack.
Char Kway Teow
Often compared to pad see ew, char kway teow is a noodle dish made with wheat and rice noodles that is a popular breakfast option on the island. The noodles are stir-fried with dark and light soy sauces, eggs, Chinese sausages, cockles, bean sprouts, chives, and chili paste.
An adaptation of a dish from Guangdong in southern China, char kway teow was originally conceived as a low-cost and highly nutritious option to support the work of physical laborers. Today it has gained a reputation as a less healthy meal with many chefs offering lighter versions of the dish featuring more vegetables and less oil.
Also known as wonton noodles, wonton mee is a much-loved noodle meal. It consists of egg noodles that are served in a broth, usually chicken, along with leafy vegetables and wonton dumplings made of shrimp or another protein.
The noodles are popular all throughout Southeast Asia with each region having its own spin on the dish. The noodles can be served in soup form or dry, omitting the broth. Barbecue pork is another popular addition as well as choosing to have the wontons fried as opposed to boiled.
One of Singapore’s oldest brands, Tiger beer was first produced in the 1930s in collaboration between local drinks producer Fraser & Neave and the popular Dutch brewer, Heineken. The beer is made in the lager style and sits around 5% ABV. They also make a lighter version called Tiger Crystal, which is about 4.5% ABV.
The drink quickly became welcomed as a refreshing way to deal with the warm tropical climate of the island nation. Despite ingredient shortages during World War II, Tiger remained in business and today is the most popular beer in Singapore and is currently exported to over 60 countries around the world.
A shaved-ice dessert with origins in nearby Malaysia (where it’s called ais kacang), ice kacang is the perfect way to cool down on a warm Singaporean day. Shaved ice is packed into a bowl and topped with red beans, sweet corn, condensed milk, palm seeds, cendol, and grass jelly. Syrups of different colors are also used to add flavor and color.
The dessert became popular following the first World War when the price of ice become more affordable. Over the years, ice kacang has constantly evolved and been served in new and interesting ways. Today, additional fruits, nuts, and even chocolate malted powder are offered as additional toppings.
Despite its small size, Singapore is packed with an endless variety of dishes that have become unique to the island. With influences from mainland China, the Malay peninsula, and the Indian subcontinent, the country has become a true melting pot resulting in one of the most interesting and delicious cuisines in the world.