If you’ve searched for Singapore on the Internet before you relocated here, images of enticing food will have appeared on your browser. Food heritage here is so well-revered, that Singapore has successfully applied for UNESCO Heritage status for its street food. Once you’re in Singapore, you’ll find that the most common greetings are always “Have you eaten?” alongside comments on the weather, and water-cooler talk with your colleagues will always center around the latest and coolest places to eat. In Singapore, there is always a new and upcoming restaurant somewhere, or eat as the locals do and opt for highly affordable street food sold at almost every corner in a hawker center. However, you’re not expected to sit by the roadside to eat; instead think of a heavily sheltered place, with shops lined alongside selling all kinds of cuisine! Here is a picture of a hawker center to help you visualize it:
Img url: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_centre#/media/File:Hawker_Center,_Singapore.jpg
If the food choices seem overwhelming, fret not – to help you blend in quickly with the locals, here’s a guide to the top three food items you have to try, neatly organized for you into the starter, main meals, and dessert.
1.) A light starter salad to whet your appetite: the humble rojak.
Rojak means “mix” in Malay. A dish that was inherited from Indonesia, the light salad mix of fruits, fried dough fritters, cuttlefish, hard-boiled egg, and fried tofu is covered in a thick, tangy peanut mix. This gives the dish a sour-sweet taste that wakes the senses with every bite. Pineapple and mango slices are usually generously strewn around, with slices of cucumber lending the blended salad a refreshing zest. This delicious dish can be usually found in food courts and hawker centers, but where do you go for the best rojak? Well, foodies in Singapore recommend Popiah and Cockle at Maxwell Centre. A quick search will uncover that this stall has even made its way into the Michelin Guide. But wait! There are two types of rojak found in Singapore. The other type of rojak is known as Indian Rojak. As the name suggests, this is also a blend – except that this dish is a rojak of fried goodies, commonly found sold at any Indian cuisine food stalls in Singapore.
As the above picture shows, this dish is quite unlike the Malay rojak and is instead a mixture of sinful yet oh so good fried food. Not much of a starter dish because it’s heavier on the palette. This is, however, a great sharing item!
2. Its name is Rice, Chicken Rice.
If you’re moving from an Asian country and are already well-attuned to the daily carb diet of rice, rice baby, then rice in Singapore as a staple food is no surprise to you. But if you’re new to this main dish, then congratulations, you’re in the right country for your first taste of delicious rice. But wait! This is no normal rice dish. Hainanese Chicken Rice is a rice dish topped with streaks of yummy chicken meat, served with a side of cucumber, and of course, spicy mouth-watering chili. What makes it special is that the rice is usually cooked in the meat oils of the chicken, so each grain is soaked soft with chicken oils. Additional side dishes include braised egg, or you can always add more vegetables for a better-balanced diet!
Chicken rice was created by the Hainan immigrants from China who resettled in Singapore in the late 18th century. Back in colonial Singapore, many of these immigrants worked for European employers. However, when Singapore became independent and many Europeans left, the workers found themselves unemployed and started to think of ways to stretch their dollar. Cooking rice in leftover meat oils was one way they saved money and still get to enjoy their meals! This dish has evolved into a truly local one and can be found in almost any local hawker center or food court. Of course, every dish has its master, and if you want to find a plate of chicken rice worth your bragging rights, perhaps check out Ah Boy Chicken Rice in the west of Singapore. Apprehensive about it? You can check out more drool-worthy pictures of chicken rice on their Instagram page here if you can’t decide whether to head there.
3. Satisfy the sweet tooth
Last but not least, desserts to end off your truly-foodie list! As a local living here, I don’t even know where to start recommending dessert choices. The many cuisines here mean that for a dessert lover, you’re spoilt for choice. Whether you want a sweet pick-me-up, or perhaps you prefer savory, salty foods, there is something for every tooth out there. To truly show you have done your research, I will recommend a national favorite, the gula melaka. Gula what? Gula melaka isn’t a dessert – it’s coconut palm sugar. What it is, is that it’s a game-changer when it’s used to fill sticky sweet ondeh ondeh. Ondeh-Ondeh looks like a furry ball of coconut sprinkles for the uninitiated, but buy one and bite into the soft gooey middle and you might just be hooked for life. A rice cake filled with liquid gula melaka and sprinkled generously with grated coconut, it is made with a lot of skill so that you get a tight compact dessert that won’t turn into a sticky mess when you bite into it. An interesting dessert commonly found in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, the ubiquitous ondeh ondeh makes its appearance here usually at restaurants that serve high-tea. Of course, local bakeries do sell it as well.
For your first time trying these rice balls, I suggest splurging on a high-tea set at a cafe first so you know what to expect. After all, its size makes it the perfect accompaniment for tea. Along with ondeh-ondeh, other Peranakan desserts known as kueh will also be served, so you get to sample a little of everything.
Img url: https://www.todayonline.com/sites/default/files/styles/new_app_article_detail/public/photos/43_images/29412828.JPG?itok=jCoKKCJK
Who are the Peranakans, you may ask? The Peranakans are a group of people with mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage. They trace their origins in Singapore to Chinese traders who married local Malay women here. Many Peranakan cultural practices still exist today, such as the wearing of the feminine Peranakan batik kebaya or dress, a familiar sight if you take Singapore Airlines as the stewardesses uniforms are in blue kebaya. The food also remains, with local pastries known as kueh (including ondeh-ondeh!) still a favorite here.
Wondering where to head to for a leisurely tea session? Marketplace at Pan Pacific comes to mind. The hotel offers a relaxed, casual vibe with a wide selection of Asian and Western delights.
So there you have it! My top three picks for cuisine you must try in Singapore. Of course, there are so many popular dishes here, and it is really difficult to say that these are the best foods you have to try in Singapore. Instead, treat your culinary journey in Singapore here as an unlimited exploration. To be like a local, you must learn to enjoy our favorite past-time – hunting for new places to eat, queuing at familiar food stalls we like, and eventually forming such a bond with our favorite places to eat that we can whip out a list immediately for any small-talk situation. As you realize, each dish has a rich history behind it. So as you go along on your journey, why not make use of your time to also Google for the history of the dish? You’ll be surprised how the creativity of the early immigrants contributed to such interesting fusion dishes. Hopefully, along with satisfying your taste buds, you also start to learn more about Singapore!