If Bangkok is renowned for its mouth-watering street foods, the tiny city-state, Singapore is equally famed for its hawker fare. For the uninitiated, Singapore hawker fare refers to the indigenous local foods of Singapore that are served at the island nation’s many food courts and hawker centers.
These dining centers are of various grades while those ensconced within Singapore’s plush malls are usually air-conditioned; others located on the lower floors of housing estates are usually more rustic. The regularly inspected and regulated hawker food centers are clean and hygienic. As a result, it is safe to indulge in their delicious eats and they are the favored haunt of locals and visitors alike.
Popular and must-try offerings at hawker centers include: -
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Often referred to as the ‘National dish’ of Singapore, no hawker food center is complete without a chicken rice stall. A whole chicken is usually cooked in chicken stock so that it infuses with flavor. It is then served with a portion of tasty rice, similarly cooked in chicken stock flavored with ginger, garlic and pandanus (screw pine) leaves.
Most stalls offer diners a choice of ‘black chicken’ (roasted) or ‘white chicken’ (steamed). The dish also features a serving of accompaniments, consisting of a special chili sauce made with garlic, vinegar and red chili (sambal), soy sauce and thinly sliced cucumber. If you are not happy eating chicken on the bone, you can always ask for it to be de-boned.
Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Center near Chinatown Singapore is renowned for its Chicken Rice meals.
Popiah or spring rolls have their origin in Singapore’s indigenous ‘Straits Chinese’ or Peranakan culture. These spring rolls feature a wafer-thin covering made out of wheat flour. The popiah maker anoints these crepes with hoisin sauce and liberally stuffs them with fillings of julienned and stir-fried jicama and carrots, bean sprouts, tofu, dried–shrimp, Chinese sausage and finely, sliced scorching chilies called ‘chili padi.’
Several varieties of this tasty noodle soup, Laksa feature on Singapore’s culinary scene. Singapore Curry Laksa is one such variation that typically features vermicelli, fish slices, shrimp, fried tofu, fish sticks served in a fragrant coconut curry soup. Also on offer is the Malaysian Asam Laksa that hails from Penang and features tangy fish broth as its base.
Another variation of Laksa served in Singapore is the Katong Laksa, which bears the name of a residential enclave in Singapore. Vendors who serve this variation of the dish cut up the vermicelli into smaller bits in order to make it easier to eat.
Singapore Chili Crab
Being a coastal city Singapore has easy access to fresh seafood and this tasty crustacean preparation is a huge favorite. A Chili crab dish in Singapore features either tomato-chili gravy or a piquant black pepper sauce. The crabs are served in dollops of curry and are accompanied with a plate of steamed bread for dipping. The best chili crabs can be sampled at the many seafood restaurants that line the beaches of the island’s East Coast.
In sultry Singapore, frozen deserts are prevalent and one of the most popular heat quenchers is Ais Kacang popularly known as ABC. Almost ubiquitous on the island, Ais Kacang features a mountain of shaved ice, anointed with multi-colored syrups and topped with a scoop of ice cream. The base of this mountain of shaved ice also features several unusual ingredients such as red beans, palm seeds, sweet corn and bits of agar agar or jelly made with palm sugar. An acquired taste, no doubt but Ais Kacang hits the spot in sweltering Singapore.
Bak Kut Teh
Akin to a winter warmer, Bak Kut Teh is a soup dish made by boiling pork bones and flavoring the broth with exotic spices like star anise and pepper. This dish was introduced to Singapore by Chinese coolies or workmen who drank it to fortify themselves. The most flavorful Bak Kut Teh soup features slow cooked pork rib meat and bone.
Wonton Mee, colloquially called ‘Wantan Mee’ is a noodle and dumpling dish much loved in Singapore. The noodles and pork dumplings feature toppings of roasted pork (char sieuw) slices, greens and sweet sauce. The dish is usually served with a clear soup on the side. The spiciness of the dish can be altered to suit individual preferences.
In Singapore, carrot cake doesn’t usually refer to the traditional American desert but to a fried cake made with preserved radish and eggs. This crispy savory dish is crowned with a sprinkling of spring onions and usually offered with a black sweet sauce as an accompaniment.
A quintessential breakfast dish in Singapore, Kaya toast features a thick slice of toasted white bread, smeared with lashings of butter and a locally made coconut jam (kaya). A plate of Kaya toast often features a serving of piping hot soft-boiled eggs. You are expected to crack open the eggs and season them with traditional seasonings like pepper, salt and soy sauce before dipping your toast and consuming it. A simple yet delicious, hearty breakfast.
Fish head curry
Singapore’s population composition is an amalgamation of races and ethnicities mainly Chinese, Indian and Malay. Immigrants from Southern India brought fish-head curry to Singapore and Malaysia centuries ago. Now this curry dish, which traditionally features a head of Red snapper cooked with spices, tamarind juice, okra and eggplant is a favored meal choice. Fish-head curry is usually served with a bowl of steamed rice.
Roti Prata is yet another dish associated with South Indian immigrants. The British brought South Indian laborers to work on the plantations in Malaya during the late 19th century. The laborers regularly consumed a dish of Roti Prata, consisting of flaky flour Roti (bread) and a gravy-filled chicken curry for breakfast before heading out to the fields.
This Indonesian dish of skewered meats (pork, chicken, beef and mutton) represents yet another culinary influence. A dish of Satay usually features a variety of skewered meats, pieces of spongy rice cake called (called ketupat) and diced onions and cucumbers served with rich peanut -based dipping sauce.
Biryani is a dish with Indian Muslim origins. This dish features a long grain rice like basmati, which is slow-cooked along with meats (traditionally chicken or mutton) and rich spices like cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon and bay leaves. The rice is usually served with a curry or a spiced yogurt accompaniment known as raita.