By Anusha K, on May 3, 2015

Beginner’s Guide to Singaporean Food

Good food is a staple of Singapore. If you’re new in town, you’ll quickly learn that to carry a conversation with most Singaporeans requires a often requires huddling around the topic of food, food and more food. “Makan already?”, “Had lunch yet?” are common conversation openers replacing “How are ya?” So of course you’re looking for the staples that you must try. so you can do more than smile and nod!

But where to get started? Here are the important dishes to get you started on discovering the best food in Singapore that means so much more than just a passing meal. These involve a little bit of history, a little bit of “mine is better than yours” debates, and a lot of satisfaction. We welcome your stomach to our food paradise.


Singapore Laksa

What is it?

This Peranakan dish features a delicious fragrant gravy, rich with coconut milk and Asian spices. Singapore laksa is a little more creamier and coconut-based than the slightly-sour Penang laksa you would get across the Causeway in Malaysia.

Our gravy envelopes thick rice noodles, boiled eggs, prawns, bean curd puffs, fried fishcakes, bean sprouts, laksa leaf and, traditionally, cockles. It’s often served with piquant sambal chilli for a fiery kick. Noodles are cut before serving, so you simply use a spoon to scoop and enjoy. Fun fact: Mel Gibson loves it!

Where’s the best?

It’s widely accepted that Katong is where the ‘original best’ laksa comes from, but the debate about exactly which stall is almost as fiery as the dish itself! The most well-known Katong laksa these days is probably 328 Katong Laksa – these guys beat Gordon Ramsay in the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge, which was a competition where the public voted for the best version of the local dish.


Chilli Crab

SIngapore Chilli Crab

What is it?

The locals prefer this dish to be prepared with fresh, sweet crab in a spicy, eggy chilli sauce. Crisp, fluffy buns known as man tou are an absolutely must, to dip in the delicious gravy and enjoy once the crab has been devoured. Not a one-man operation when it comes to chilli crab! Set it down in the middle of the table and enjoy with a group of people and lots of messy messy hands.

Where’s the best?

Similar to the other must-eat places, the title of best chilli crab is highly contentious. Top contenders include No Signboard Seafood, Long Beach Seafood and Jumbo Seafood, which also won public votes against Gordon Ramsay in the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge. Jumbo Seafood is a popular chain and easily accesible. But No Signboard Seafood out in East Coast Park is definitely more authentic an experience.


Kaya Toast

Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Soon Koon

What is it?

Kaya toast is made with sliced white bread toasted to a crisp and a generous slather of thick cold butter and fragrant kaya (an egg and coconut jam, which is sometimes flavoured with pandan or gula melaka sugar). It’s often served with a side of soft boiled eggs and thick condensed milk-sweetened kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) to wash it all down with.

Where’s the best?

There are several varieties (some feature thick fluffy bread, others serve up thinner, crisper slices), but the general consensus is that you can’t go wrong with Ya Kun Kaya Toast. This local chain, known for its consistency, has outlets across the island and serves its signature sweet kaya with salted butter between thin, crisp slices of bread. Otherwise, join the Uncles in your local neighbourhood ‘coffeeshop’ or ‘kopitiam’ and order your basic kaya toast breakfast set from the local drinks hawker.



Singapore Satay

What is it?

This Malay dish is a favourite among locals for good reason. Satay is essentially skewered meat (usually chicken, mutton or beef) coated in a sweet and spicy mix, which is then barbecued to charred perfection. It’s served with a side of freshly sliced cucumber, onion, ketupat (rice dumplings) and a thick peanut gravy. The gravy is the key!

Where’s the best?

Everything in this dish has to come together to achieve the perfect harmony of taste and texture. This means the meat has to have the best marinade and be barbecued to achieve the perfect charring, the ketupat has to be just cooked without being too hard or soggy and the peanut sauce has to have the right balance of spicy and sweet flavours without being too thick or thin in consistency.

Not many do everything right, but these names come up often: Chuan Kee Satay (Old Airport Road Food Centre, #01-85), Haron Satay (East Coast Lagoon Food Village, Stall 55) and Fatman Satay (of the iconic Satay Club fame before it closed down – now located at Old Airport Road Food Centre, #01-45).


Roti Prata

Roti Prata

What is it?

Introduced by the Indian Muslim community, these flatbreads are fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside. It’s usually eaten with your choice of fish or dhal curry or simply with sugar. Traditionally served plain or with an egg, the newer versions include paper prata (thin and crisp), banana prata (sweetened with banana slices) and cheese prata (with cheese).

For a more filling meal, go for the murtabak, which is mutton, chicken or fish enveloped in layers of prata that has been coated in egg, fried and sliced into easy-to-eat rectangles. Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds!

Where’s the best?     

The Jalan Kayu stretch is famous for its roti prata stalls – try Thasevi Famous Jalan Kayu Prata (237/239 Jalan Kayu). It was hailed as king but lately their pratas seem to shrink in size. Other well-known prata spots recommended by locals and food bloggers alike include Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata Shop (7 Crane Road, Poh Ho Restaurant), Sin Ming Roti Prata (Blk 24 Sin Ming Road, #01-51) and Casuarina Curry (136 & 138 Casuarina Road).

As always with local food, don’t be afraid to try a local stall you pass by. Just because they aren’t famous doesn’t mean they don’t serve up a delicious meal. Random prata shops are pretty satisfying too! Plus they’re generally open 24 hours, so perfect for supper.


Chicken Rice

Singapore Chicken Rice

What is it?

This local favourite is so popular, it could well be the poster dish for Singaporean cuisine. Chicken rice is made with flavourful rice cooked in chicken stock and served with your choice of steamed or roast chicken, cucumber slices and an unmistakable garlic chilli sauce. Popular optional add-ons include boiled eggs marinated in soy sauce and stir-fried kailan (a leafy green vegetable).

Where’s the best?

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxell Food Centre also beat out Gordon Ramsay in the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge and boasts a high recommendation from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, too – so start there.

Other famous plates come from Boon Tong Kee (399 Balestier Road), Loy Kee Best Chicken Rice (342 Balestier Road) and Ah-Tai (Maxwell Food Centre, #01-07). If you’re feeling fancy, plan a visit to Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard, where you can enjoy a wine with your meal. Again, don’t be afraid to order up a plate of Chicken Rice at any kopitiam you pass. I would definitely recommend a good hawker Chicken Rice over an overpriced serving at your hotel.


For a Taste of Everything…

These iconic dishes all share a taste steeped in nostalgia and are the best way to whet your appetite as you uncover even more deliciousness in the city. Yet these are just some of the stalwarts that mark our iconic food trail. There are many other must-eats, encompassing a range of tastes that make up the local palette (think Indian, Malay, Chinese, Eurasian, Peranakan, Western and more), so go forth and explore!


Photo Credits: Shutterstock