Last Updated on August 28, 2016
What to Eat – Where to Go in Singapore:
It is perhaps inevitable that Singapore, with its burgeoning financial district, has a wealth of top quality International restaurants. The recently launched Michelin guide to the city has awarded 29 places with Michelin stars and the only three star in the listing is Restaurant Joel Robuchon (there’s a two star for l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon too). What is most remarkable though is that both two and one star listings are liberally scattered with independent, locally inspired, restaurants and the one star category includes, for the first time anywhere in the world, two hawker stalls, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. Be prepared to queue for an hour or more if you want to try the world’s cheapest Michelin star food – but once you get there you can fill your belly for just a couple of pounds!
There are a number of traditional dishes you should try in Singapore. All of Asian origin you’ll probably spot Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian influences and, depending on where you eat, you may try the same dish ‘Indian’, ‘Peranakan’ or ‘Chinese’ style.
One of the best known, Chilli Crab, is a deliciously messy affair, with bibs handed out to save the clothes of hungry diners. We went to Red House Seafood to try for ourselves. E stablished in 1976, Red House is a seafood restaurant specialising in Asian seafood dishes and Singaporean favourites and started life as a family restaurant in a red colonial house. The original restaurant is now closed and the restaurant has two new sites in Prinsep Street and Robertson Quay. Serving traditional Singapore food, it is as popular with locals as with the expat community and tourists. If you prefer not to get down and dirty with the Chilli Crab, try the takesumi buns, made with bamboo charcoal. The gritty black exterior reveals a luscious stuffing of chilli crab – a good way to escape the picks and claw crushers you’ll need to eat Chilli Crab.
Hainanese Chicken Rice is another popular local dish. Made by carefully boiling chicken at 99 degrees, to avoid the skin tearing, it is accompanied by rice that has been cooked in the resultant chicken stock, with garlic, ginger and chilli and served with ginger sauce. Perhaps the best-known place to try this is at Chatterbox restaurant, in the five star Mandarin Orchard hotel. But you’ll find the same dish for sale at hawker stands and cafes throughout Singapore
Rojak means ‘mixture’ in Malay and it’s a favourite dish throughout Singapore. You’ll find it served with Indian spices to complement the basics of deep fried dough, vegetables, tofu with prawn paste, peanuts and sugar or Chinese style, with lots of cucumber.
Various noodle dishes include ‘Char Kway Teow’ (fried, flat noodles), Hokkein Mee (stir fried egg or rice noodles with vegetables, prawn or pork), Mee Goreng (a spicy fried noodle) and Laksa (a mild curry noodle.
Roti Prata is a kind of fried bread pancake which can be served with savoury curry sauce, mince or dipped in sugar and Nasi Lemak is rice steamed in coconut milk and pandan leaves.
Singaporean ‘carrot cake’ or Char Tow Kuey is a kind of steamed rice flour and radish cake, cut into cubes and then fried with garlic, eggs and preserved radish and sometimes served with sweet dark soya sauce.
Popiah, a dish which originates in the Fujian province of China, is another dish worth seeking out. You’ll find it in cafes and hawker stands. It’s made with special popiah skins which are a bit like papery pancakes, a stuffing made from marinated and slow cooked vegetables (sometimes with added pork) and a variety of extra fillings and sauces. Some of the hawker stands and cafes serve pre-stuffed popiah, while at others, like Good Chance Popiah Eating House you’ll get to make your own, adding as much or as little chillie sauce as you want and wrapping the whole thing up a bit like a Vietnamese Spring Roll. A piping hot claypot of popiah filling – turnip, cabbage, carrot, long beans, bamboo shoots, garlic and shrimps is the base for what ends up being a substantial snack. We tried another version in the home of local Singaporean cook Jeffrey Yeo, who runs a small supper club. It takes him three days just to make the filling – you can find out how on his own site.
For fabulous traditional Peranakan food, head to Joo Chiat. We visited Kim Choo‘s Kitchen, a building that has been transformed into a living museum dedicated to Peranakan life. Three Peranakan dishes had been prepared for us, including Ayam Buah Keluak, a chicken dish cooked using the nuts from the “Kepayang” tree. You use a tiny fork to scrape out the inside of the nut and eat it with the sweet, spicy chicken stew. Delicious.
They offer guided walking tours and cookery events, and, since it is right in the centre of Joo Chiat, it’s the perfect way to find out more about traditional Sinaporean life. A good alternative, if you want to try Peranakan food at its best might be to visit Candlenut, newly awarded a Michelin star, which offers what they describe as ‘modern Peranakan cuisine’.
What is most evident in Singapore is the option to eat extremely well without spending a fortune. While traditional style food in some restaurants and hotels will be priced accordingly, you can eat very well in the local eating centres cafes and hawker centres. At one time the hawker stalls for which Singapore is famous, were on the streets. Now though, they have been moved into carefully regulated areas. Each one carries a mandatory hygeine certificate which has to be on display at all times. We only had a chance to visit the Tekka Centre, a hawker centre, wet market and shopping area on the edge of Little India. While the food there is dominated by North and South Indian dishes, there are a number of Chinese stalls too. Try it out for yourself. Find a spot to sit, reserve your space by leaving a pack of tissues on the table, then make your choice. You’ll eat well for no more than £3.00 depending on which of the local specialities you end up trying.
Next up – more about fine dining in Singapore.