In a follow up to my recent blog about eating out in Singapore, I thought I would come up with an easy guide on what to eat in terms of street food. Its ironic that my initial impression of Singapore turned out to be a lasting ( hopefully accurate) impression of the general South Asian attitude to food- “there must be food in every corner, plenty of food, for thou shall eat!” It seems that anytime is a good time for Makan( when roughly translated from Malay, it means “eat”)
It’s hard not to escape sampling or nibbling an odd bite or two, especially when every office building, shopping mall & high street is crammed to full capacity with food courts catering to a gamut of cuisines, reflecting the cultural diversity of a city island nation that is made up of so many immigrants from all over Asia.
So I thought I’d come up with a guide of what to try when here..
GETTING STARTED WITH BREAKFAST
The best place to sample the local breakfast is in a Kopitiam in a food court. Other satisfying options are bigger chains such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast and the Toast box that offer a standardized selection of breakfast staples
Kopi O – I can never get over its caffeine kick! Kopi O is strong bitter black coffee said to be traditionally roasted with lard, thankfully that’s all in the past & I am to believe that the roasting process typically omits the lard
Kopi C- is nothing but Kopi O with the addition of sweetened condensed milk. It still gives you a good kick thanks to the high caffeine and sugar content
Teh Tarik- inspired by our Indian masala chai and filter coffee foam, Teh Tarik uses a strong brew tea with evaporated/condensed milk. It is then poured “pulled” back and forth two cups to give an attractive foam on the top
Kaya toast– “Kaya” refers to a spread made with coconut cream, pandan, eggs & sugar. This delicious spread is applied on freshly toasted thick bread with generous helping of butter and makes for a delicious accompaniment to your Kopi
Rice Porridge-similar to a congee, here bits of meat or seafood are added to a porridge base of rice usually topped with spring onions, fried shallots & garlic bits and sometimes chilli padi. A very popular Asian breakfast choice for people who prefer savory to sweet
This unique cuisine was born when the first wave of Chinese immigrations arrived from many different provinces. The provinces of Cantonese, Hainan, Hokkien & Sichuan have the most dominant influence on food.
Char Kway Teow- stir fried thick rice flour noodles in dark soya sauce ( sweet) with prawns, seafood, leafy Chinese spinach & bean sprouts. Traditionally it was considered a fatty dish for laborers as it incorporated using pork lard, thankfully that’s all in past as healthier cooking oils are used
Carrot Cake- a rather misleading name in my opinion, as it contains nothing next to a carrot but is delicious nonetheless. Steamed rice flour and radish cakes are diced to be stir fried with garlic, egg, prawns and sometimes dark soya sauce( sweet) or regular light soya sauce. Carrot cake is usually garnished with a generous dose of spring onions.
Hokkien ( Prawn) Mee- popularly known as “prawn mee” noodles is derived from stir frying egg noodles and rice vermicelli( bee hoon) in pork lard and adding eggs, prawns, seafood, bean sprouts & soy sauce. It is almost always served with a Sambal sauce and lime.
Mee rebus– Boiled yellow noodles ( Hokkien) are put in a bowl with a thick curry like gravy. It is usually garnished with a boiled egg, limes, spring onions, green chillies, shallots, beansprouts & tofu
Bak kut Teh-a dark colored delicious pork rib soup rich in flavors due to the addition of star anise, fennel seeds, cloves and cinnamon in the broth
Chicken Rice- derived from Hainan, this delicate dish is made by serving steamed chicken( usually cut into small pieces) over fragrant rice with a chilli paste. It is usually almost always accompanied with a light chicken soup, sliced cucumbers & Kailan( baby spinach)
Char Siew Rice- “Char Siew” refers to diced pieces of boneless barbequed Chinese pork ( Cantonese origins) It is commonly found in Chicken rice/ Roast duck stalls and served over steamed rice topped with dark “sweet” soy sauce & diced cucumbers
Yong Tau fu- traditional preparation where tofu is stuffed with a prawn/ pork paste. Now it broadly encompasses a variety of vegetables stuffed with the prawn/pork paste such as eggplant, okra/ladies finger, bitter gourd & mushroom
Mapu Tofu– a traditional dish of the Sichuan province. Extremely spicy yet delicious, it is typically composed of tofu with ground pork, fermented black beans and Sichuan peppers.
Chilli Crab – You cannot come to Singapore & not try a Chilli or Black Pepper crab! The red tangy sauce is flavored with notes of garlic & vinegar. The sauce is then thickened by adding flour & egg. This is best enjoyed with a bun to soak up the delicious sauce. The Black Pepper crab is equally popular
Bak Hwa- is the Cantonese version of Barbequed Pork with a unique sweet salty flavor profile. Bak Hwa is commonly added to most rice and noodle preparations
Popiah- the Malay version of a fresh spring roll usually served on the side with a hoisin or peanut sauce. The base is typically a paper thin wheat pancake with bean sprouts, lettuce leaves, grated carrots & turnips & finely chopped peanuts
Laksa- This classic Peranakan dish is said to have its roots in Penang, where the ethnic Chinese settled down to create a unique cuisine incorporating local ingredients. Laksa refers to a thick coconut based noodle soup to which assorted seafood is added with beansprouts, chilli padi & sambal sauce as a garnish
Fish Otak Otak- a classic Peranakan dish is prepared my mixing the fish with garlic, lemongrass, coconut milk & chilli padi paste. This mashed fish is then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed before being placed on an open fire grill rendering a smoky taste to the final preparation
Nasi Lemak– Traditionally eaten by the Malays during breakfast, Nasi Lemak refers to a rice cooked in coconut milk. Pandan leaves are usually added to enhance the flavours.
Rojak- when literally translated means “Wild mix” in Malay. This refers to a preparation where bean sprouts, Chinese greens, cucumber, fried tofu & fried pineapple are tossed together with chopped peanuts and a spicy prawn paste
Satay- the quintessential Malay street food favorite remains as ever so popular here in Singapore. Served in bunches of 10 with a sweet peanut dipping sauce, Satay consists of pieces of meat placed on skewer sticks and grilled over an open flame with generous doses of oil and peanut sauce slathered to give it a lovely brown glaze.
A unique cuisine created by the first wave of Indian settlers in Malaysia, today Singaporean “Indian” food is extremely popular and can be best sampled in institutions such as- Samy’s Curry or Muthu’s Curry. I’m always amused by how Singaporeans excitedly exclaim “ I love Indian food especially your Roti Prata and Fish head curry!” to which I always say this is virtually unheard off in India! ( Except maybe in Bengal and Kerala!)
Fish Head curry- A spicy and sour stew like dish comprising of the head of a Red snapper fish cooked in various Indian masalas with assorted vegetables and tamarind rendering the dish the loved ‘sour’ taste
Roti Parata( pronounced “Praaaataa”)- similar to our Indian paratha( or flat bread cooked in a pan) only slightly more softer and stringy. Its usually served with a flavorful curry but now we find interesting variations such as Ice cream, cheese and even durians!
Nasi Goreng- The Indonesian version of a fried rice. Steamed rice is tossed with greens, seafood/chicken, shallots, garlic and a generous dose of sweet soy sauce also called “Kecap Manis”. Usually served with fried egg as a garnish and satay too.
Nasi Padang – originated from the Padang province in Indonesia. This refers to an Indonesian buffet which typically consists of steamed rice- yellow & white, served with many choices of meat and vegetarian preparations.
Rendang- diced pieces of beef are marinated with a spicy paste consisting of lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger, turmeric & galangal; it is then slowly cooked with coconut milk for at least 3-4 hours giving the meat a divinely rich taste!
I must admit I’m not a big fan of South East Asian desserts which usually incorporate red beans and fruits. Having said that this is my personal choice, so I would recommend that you be adventurous and try some of these interesting concoctions
Iced Kachang- grated ice is packed into ice balls and served with sweet red beans, jelly, corn & finally topped with assortment of colored and flavored sugar syrups
Cendol- said to have its roots in Penang, Malaysia, this iconic dessert has been modified to suit Singaporean tastes. Cendol consists of a coconut milk base to which thin green noodles, glutinous rice, red beans, jelly and ice shavings are added, the flavor is sweetened with the addition of palm sugar
King of all fruits, the smelly sweet Durian: visitors have been forewarned off the tales of the stinky smelly Durian. Singapore’s favorite fruit has been written about by food lovers across the globe, the fact that there are signs all over the MRT stations banning travelers from carrying durian on train, makes it all the more compelling to try! You could either love it or hate it. So my advice is put aside the “toiletty, stale cheese” smell and be surprised by its delicious “custardy” texture and sweet taste
So to all my readers headed to Singapore for a short city break, I hope you find this blog informative. Remember, always make time to sample the diverse food and tickle your taste buds…if you discover something delicious along the way( excluding BUBBLE TEA) feel free to share the same with me 🙂
Note to readers: Some images in this post have been sourced from the internet, special credit to Rasa Malaysia & Seriouseats.com