Eight local food you should never miss out in SingaporeBy Eytan Uliel
Find yourself in Singapore on business with a few days to spare? Bored with room service and hotel buffets? Be like a true local and try these quintessentially Singaporean delights.
Laksa – a spicy coconut based soup, packed with noodles, fish cake, shrimps, tofu and bean sprouts. This is a classic Peranakan dish (the culture of the mixed Malay-Chinese communities of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia). Hawkers will usually ask if you want cockles (yes!) and spicy (yes, yes!). Almost every food court will have a laksa vendor; 328 Katong Laksa (51 East Coast Road) is routinely rated amongst the Island’s best ($6 for a large bowl).
Chilli Crab – mud crab stewed in a savoury-sweet, thick chilli and tomato based sauce. The closest thing Singapore has to a National Dish, and according to a recent CNN survey, #35 on the list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods. Dig in with your hands, and be ready to get sticky and dirty. Order pau (dough balls either steamed or fried) and use to mop up the sauce. Singaporeans will argue for hours over who makes the tastiest chilli crab in the land – try any of Jumbo Seafood, Long Beach Seafood or No Signboard Seafood (outlets island-wide; around $40 for a good sized crab).
Popiah - fresh spring rolls of Fujian Chinese origin and hugely popular in Singapore. A wheat flour pancake is stuffed with assorted ingredients and then rolled (but not fried). Every popiah maker has a signature mix, which can include sauce (sweet, chilli or shrimp) grated veggies (turnip, beans sprouts, lettuce, carrot) and other titbits like tofu, Chinese sausage, peanut, fried shallot and shredded omelette. At Long House Popiah the recipe is a seventy year old family secret (22 Lorong 7, Toa Payoh, 6am - 5pm, closed Mondays, around $5).
Chicken Rice – chicken steamed or roasted in the traditional Hainanese way, then chopped into slithers and served with rice that has been cooked in the chicken’s broth. Normally accompanied with a bowl of clear chicken soup, and dipping sauces (garlic and sweet soy). Chicken-rice is eaten everywhere in Singapore - even primary school canteens sell it. Famous chicken-rice places are Tian Tian at the Maxwell Food Centre, Boon Tong Kee (outlets at 399 Balestier Road or 425 River Valley Road) and Loy Kee (342 Balestier Road) (all around $6 a plate; for an extra few dollars you can order the drumstick or wings – the best bits!).
Carrot Cake – don’t be fooled, there isn’t a shred of carrot in this savoury dish. Cubes of radish cake are stir-fried with egg, spring onion, garlic and sauce. Order it “white” (natural) or “black” (thick sweet soy is added). Available at any food court in Singapore, the Lau Goh Fried Carrot Cake stall is one of the best (Zion Road Food Court, 70 Zion Road, closed Tuesdays; $5 for a large plate).
Kaya Toast – strictly for breakfast, served at kopitiams (local coffee houses). Thin crisp toast is spread thick with butter and kaya – a green jam made from egg yolk, sugar, coconut and pandan leaf. Traditionally served with a pair of runny boiled eggs (you dip the toast in) and super-strong kopi (brewed coffee). The original and still the best is Killeney Kopitiam (67 Killeney Road, but there are outlets island-wide; around $5 for a complete breakfast).
Ice Kacang - a dessert designed to beat the heat. A mountain of fresh shaved ice, covered with red bean, sweet corn, grass jelly, and cubes of agar agar, and drizzled with condensed milk and either rose or gulu melaka syrup. It is super-sweet, but cool, refreshing and totally addictive. Almost every hawker centre will have an ice kacang vendor; recently Qing Tian Hot & Cold Desserts was voted Singapore’s favourite (Redhill Food Centre; Wednesday-Sunday 3ppm to 11pm, about $4).
Fried Butterfly – no, not the winged variety. This personal favourite is a dough fritter, slightly sweet, fried, and coated with crunchy sesame seeds. In the frying it splits into two halves that look a bit like a butterfly. Try from Yong Soon (there is one in most Food Republic food courts, $1 per butterfly).
Singapore Fried Noodles – Only in America! Don’t embarrass yourself by asking for these - no-one will have the faintest idea what you are talking about. This “authentic” Singaporean dish exists only on Chinese menus in America. You’ve been warned!