Singapore is a melting pot of international cuisines, and many Singaporeans are food connoisseurs who love to eat (“eat” in Malay). This city-state has excellent Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, American, and other cuisines.
Most meals are eaten with a fork and spoon, with the fork in the left hand pushing and cutting and the spoon in the right hand eating. Noodles and Chinese meals usually arrive with chopsticks, while Malay and Indian cuisine may be eaten with your hands. However, if you ask for a fork and spoon instead, no one will bat an eye. If you’re eating by hand, always select your food with your right hand, since Malays and Indians often use their left hand to handle filthy items. When using chopsticks, keep in mind the typical traditional Chinese etiquette, and most importantly, do not insert your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. Serving plates are usually shared while dining in a group, but you’ll receive your own bowl of rice and soup. It’s customary to pick up food from shared plates using your own chopsticks, although serving spoons may be requested.
Singapore is well-known for its cuisine, which is a unique blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Western influences. The list below is only a sampling of the most popular meals.
Peranakan or Nonya cuisine is the most well-known cuisine in the area, having evolved from the mixed Malay and Chinese populations of what were formerly British possessions in the Straits Settlements (modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca).
- Chilli crab is a whole crab that has been smothered in a sticky, acidic chilli sauce. It’s a little hot at first, but it becomes better as you eat more. It’s notoriously tough to eat, so skip the white shirt and simply dive in with your hands, ignoring the mess. This is a specialty of East Coast seafood eateries. Black pepper crab is a less messy but equally delicious option.
- Kaya is a jam-like spread made with egg and coconut, an unusual yet delicious combination. For breakfast, it’s traditionally served on toast with runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee (kopi). There are two different styles: a greenish Nonya variant with pandan leaf coloring and a brownish Hainanese variation.
- Laksa, especially Katong laksa or laksa lemak, is perhaps the most well-known Singaporean dish: white noodles in a creamy, rich coconut-based curry broth with cockles or prawns on top. Although you may request less or no chilli to reduce the intensity, the typical version seen at hawker centres is extremely hot. The Katong version is considerably less spicy and is often exclusively seen in Katong.
- Mee siam is rice flour noodles served with bean curd cubes and hard boiled eggs in a sweet-sour soup prepared with tamarind, dried shrimp, and fermented beans. Despite the fact that the Chinese, Malays, and Indians all have their own variations, Singaporeans prefer the Peranakan version. This is usually seen at Malay stalls.
- Popiah (薄饼), or spring rolls, come fresh or fried. They’re made out of a filling of boiled turnip, fried tofu, pork, shrimp, and a variety of other ingredients wrapped in a thin crepe slathered with sweet black soy sauce and eaten like a fajita. They are connected to other Chinese groups in Asia’s lumpia and runbing.
- Rojak – In Malay, rojak means “a combination of everything,” and there are two kinds. Pineapple, white turnip, cucumber, tau pok (fried bean curd), and thinly sliced bunga kantan (torch ginger blossom buds) are mixed in shrimp paste sauce and sugar, then topped with crushed peanuts in Chinese rojak. Indian rojak is mostly composed out of fried fritters consisting of wheat and different pulses, as well as cucumber and tofu, and served with sweet and spicy sauces.
- Satay bee hoon is rice vermicelli (bee hoon) served with the same peanut and chili sauce as satay. Cockles, dried squid, and pig pieces are often used.
- Ice cream is available in the same way it is in Western nations. However, there are a variety of unique flavors in Singapore, like as durian and red bean, that are not available anywhere else in the world and are well worth trying. Request ice cream in roti to wow the natives (bread).
Apart from these meals, the Peranakans are famous for their kueh, or snacks, which vary from Malay counterparts owing to greater Chinese influences.
Despite being outnumbered by the Chinese, the Malays were the first residents of Singapore, and their unique food remains popular to this day. Most Malay meals are curries, stews, or dips of some kind, and nasi padang restaurants, which serve a variety of them to pour over your rice, are extremely popular.
- Mee rebus – Egg noodles are served with a spicy, somewhat sweet sauce, a piece of hard boiled egg, and lime in mee rebus.
- Mee soto is a Malay-style chicken soup made with shredded chicken breast and egg noodles in a clear broth.
- Nasi lemak is the quintessential Malay breakfast, consisting of rice cooked in light coconut milk, anchovies, peanuts, a piece of cucumber, and a dab of chilli on the side. A bigger ikan kuning (fried fish) or chicken wing is a popular side dish. Frequently served with a variety of curries and/or sambal.
- Otah/Otak is a kind of fish cake composed of minced fish (mainly mackerel), coconut milk, chili, and many other spices, then fried in a banana or coconut leaf. It is often eaten with other meals such as nasi lemak.
- Rendang, a hot (but rarely flaming) coconut-based curry paste that originated in Indonesia and is often referred to as “dry curry,” is meat that has been cooked for hours in a spicy (but rarely scorching) coconut-based curry paste until nearly all of the water has been absorbed. The most frequent rendang is beef, but chicken and mutton are sometimes seen.
- Sambal is a general name for a variety of chilli sauces. Sambal belacan is a famous condiment created by combining chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, whereas sambal sotong is a popular meal made with squid (sotong) fried in red chilli sauce.
- Satay are grilled meat skewers, usually chicken, mutton, or beef. The spices used to season the meat, as well as the somewhat spicy peanut-based dipping sauce, distinguish satay from regular kebab. One famous venue for this delicacy is the Satay Club in Lau Pa Sat near Raffles Place.
Malay dishes, particularly sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made mostly from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka), resemble Thai delicacies. In the scorching heat of the tropics, though, try one of the numerous ice-based concoctions:
- Bubur cha-cha is a coconut milk soup with cubed yam, sweet potato, and sago. This dish may be served either hot or chilled.
- Green pea noodles, kidney beans, palm sugar, and coconut milk are used to make Chendol.
- Durian is a native fruit with a unique odor that can be detected from a mile away and a sharp prickly husk. Both the scent and the taste are difficult to describe, but I can imagine eating garlic ice cream next to an open sewer. You should try it if you’re brave enough, but be warned: you’ll either love it or loathe it. The rich creamy yellow flesh is often sold in handy pre-packaged packets in areas like Geylang and Bugis, costing anything from $1 for a small fruit to $18/kg depending on the season and kind of durian. Ice cream, cakes, sweets, puddings, and other delicious treats are all created using this ‘king of fruits.’ Durians are not permitted to be carried on the MRT or buses, and they are prohibited in many hotels.
- Ice kachang literally translates to “ice bean” in Malay, which gives you a hint about the main ingredients: shaved ice and delicious red beans. However, gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, attap palm seeds, and whatever else is on hand are often added, and the entire dish is then drizzled with canned evaporated milk or coconut cream and colored syrups. The final product is intriguing — and invigorating.
- Kuih (or kueh) is a term used to describe a variety of steamed or baked “cakes” made mostly with coconut milk, shredded coconut meat, sticky rice, or tapioca. They’re frequently brightly colored and sliced into whimsical shapes, but despite their wide range of appearances, they all taste very much the same.
- Pisang goreng is a deep-fried banana that has been battered.
The majority of Chinese cuisine consumed in Singapore comes from southern China, especially Fujian and Guangdong. While “genuine” food can be found in fine dining establishments, the everyday cuisine offered at hawker centers has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the liberal use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belacan as condiments. Noodles may be served not just in soup (tang), but also “dry” (gan), which means the noodles will be tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl and the soup will be served in another.
- Bak chor mee （肉脞面）consists of minced pig noodles mixed in a chilli-based sauce with fat, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), veggies, and mushrooms. You may also use black vinegar.
- Bak kut teh (肉骨茶), literally “pork bone tea,” is a simple-sounding soup made with pork ribs cooked in stock for hours until they come off the bone. The light and peppery Teochew variety (“white”) is preferred among Singaporeans, although a few stores provide the original dark and fragrant Fujian version (“black”). Bak kut teh is traditionally served with white rice, mui choy (pickled vegetables), and a pot of strong Chinese tea, despite the broth’s lack of tea. Order some you tiao fritters from a neighboring vendor and chop them up into bite-sized pieces to dip into your soup to wow the locals.
- Char kway teow (炒粿条) consists of various kinds of noodles in a rich brown sauce with pieces of fishcake, Chinese sausage, a token vegetable or two, and either cockles or shrimp. It’s inexpensive ($2–3/serving), satisfying, and has nothing to do with the meal known elsewhere as “Singapore fried noodles.” (And which, in Singapore, does not exist.)
- Chee cheong fun (豬腸粉) is a popular breakfast dish made of folded up lasagna-style rice noodles with different fried meats such as fishballs and fried tofu. A large quantity of sauce is typically served on top of the meal.
- Chwee kway （水粿）is a breakfast meal made of rice cakes topped with chai po (salted fermented turnips) and served with chili sauce.
- Fishball noodles (魚丸面) occur in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the most common noodle type is mee pok, which are flat egg noodles. The noodles are mixed in chili sauce and served with a dish of soupy fishballs.
- Hainanese chicken rice (海南鸡饭). Steamed (“white”) or roasted (“red”) chicken flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil is served over a bed of fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth and flavored with ginger and garlic in Hainanese chicken rice (). Chilli sauce prepared with fresh crushed chillis, ginger, garlic, and thick black soy sauce, as well as cucumber and a small bowl of chicken broth, are served alongside. Despite its name, only the chicken-preparation technique originated in Hainan, while the rice-cooking method was developed by Hainanese immigrants in what is now Singapore and Malaysia.
- Hokkien mee (福建面) is a soupy fried noodle dish with prawns and other shellfish in a light, aromatic stock. Surprisingly, it bears little similarity to the same-named Kuala Lumpur dish, which employs thick noodles in black soy sauce, or even the Penang version, which is served in a hot soup.
- Kway chap (粿汁) is a dish consisting of rice flour sheets served in a brown stock with a platter of braised pork and pig parts (tongue, ear and intestines).
- Prawn noodles (虾面, hae mee in Hokkien) A dark-brown prawn broth is served with egg noodles and a big tiger prawn or two on top of prawn noodles (, hae mee in Hokkien). Some vendors also offer it with cooked pig ribs. The greatest versions are extremely addicting, and you’ll find yourself sucking up the remaining MSG-laced droplets (most likely off the shrimp heads).
- Steamboat (火锅), (also known as hot pot) is a Chinese-style do-it-yourself soup. You start a pot of broth on a tabletop burner, then choose your meat, fish, and vegetables from a menu or buffet table, and prepare it to your preference. When you’re done, add noodles or rice to fill you up. This generally requires at least two individuals, but the more the merrier.
- Tau huay (豆花), commonly known as beancurd, is a bowl of tofu curds in syrup eaten hot or cold, and is perhaps the most popular traditional Chinese dessert. A wonderful custard-like variant (“soft tau huay”) that contains no syrup and is very soft while being solid has recently swept the island.
- Wonton mee (云吞面) is a thin noodle dish topped with seasoned minced pork wantan dumplings. It is typically served ‘dry’ with soy sauce and chilli, as opposed to the soupy Hong Kong version.
- Yong tau foo (酿豆腐) simply translates as “stuffed tofu,” but it’s a lot more interesting than that. The diner chooses their favorites from a wide variety of tofu, fish paste, seafood, and vegetables, which are then cut into bite-size pieces, boiled quickly in boiling water, and served either in broth as soup or “dry” with the broth in a separate bowl. The meal is delicious on its own or with any kind of noodle. Spicy chili sauce and sweet sauce for dipping are required accompaniments.
Indians, the smallest of Singapore’s three major ethnic communities, have had the least effect on the local culinary scene in terms of population, although there is no lack of Indian cuisine at numerous hawker centres. Little India serves delicious and genuine Indian cuisine, including south Indian favorites like dosa (thosai) crepes, idli lentil-rice cakes, and sambar soup, as well as north Indian favorites like curries, naan bread, and tandoori chicken. A number of Indian cuisines, on the other hand, have been “Singaporeanized” and embraced by the whole community, including:
- Fish head curry – True to its name, fish head curry is a massive curried fish head cooked entire till it falls apart. This may be found in Singapore’s Little India. It’s worth noting that there are two different styles: hot Indian and gentler Chinese.
- Nasi briyani is rice that has been cooked with turmeric to give it an orange hue. It’s generally fairly bland, unlike the Hyderabadi original, but specialty stores do produce more flavorful variations. It’s typically accompanied with curry chicken and Indian crackers.
- Roti prata – The local equivalent of paratha is roti prata, which is a flatbread thrown in the air like pizza, quickly fried in oil, and consumed dipped in curry. Modern-day variants may contain unusual components such as cheese, chocolate, and even ice cream, but classic forms include roti kosong (plain), roti telur (egg), and murtabak (layered with chicken, mutton or fish). Beware, vegans: unlike Indian flatbread, roti prata batter often contains eggs.
- Putu mayam is a delicious delicacy made of vermicelli-like noodles and shredded coconut with orange sugar on top.
Hawker centres, basically former pushcart sellers pushed into massive complexes by government decree, are the cheapest and most popular places to eat in Singapore. Prices are cheap ($2.50–5), cleanliness standards are good (every booth must publicly display a hygiene certificate rating it from A to D), and the cuisine may be superb. Although the ambiance is often lacking and there is no air conditioning, a trip to a hawker centre is a must when visiting Singapore. Be wary of pushy pushers-cum-salesmen, particularly at the Satay Club in Lau Pa Sat and the Newton Food Centre in Newton Circus: the best booths don’t require high-pressure methods to get consumers. Touting for business is against the law, and reminding individuals of this may cause them to back off a little.
To place an order, first chope (reserve) a table by parking a buddy near it, note the table number, and then make your order at your preferred stall. Employees bring the meal to your table, and you pay when you get it. Note that certain stalls (especially the most popular ones) are “self-service,” as stated by a sign, although they will generally deliver if it is quiet or you are seated close. Almost every stall offers takeaway (also known as “package” or “ta pao () in Hokkien dialect), in which case workers wrap your food in a plastic box/bag and even provide disposable cutlery. Simply get up and go after you’ve done, since the tables will be cleaned by professional cleaners.
Every district in Singapore has its own hawker centre, and as you go farther out into the countryside, costs drop. For tourists, the most popular options are Newton Circus near (Newton MRT Exit B), Gluttons Bay near (Esplanade MRT Exit D), and Lau Pa Sat near (Raffles Place MRT Exit I, the River). However, this does not mean they are the cheapest or the tastiest, and the demanding gourmand would be better off heading to Chinatown or the heartlands instead. In the busy Tekka Centre on the outskirts of Little India, a dizzying variety of food vendors with a strong South Indian presence can be found. The easiest method to discover the finest food stalls is to ask locals for suggestions. Many of the best food stalls are situated in residential areas off the tourist route and do not promote in the media, so asking locals for recommendations is the best way to find them. Old Airport Road Food Centre (near Dakota MRT Exit B) and Tiong Bahru Market (near Tiong Bahru MRT) are two good examples closer to the city center, both of which are vast and home to a lot of popular booths. Botak Jones provides relatively genuine and moderately large American-restaurant type meals at hawker rates in a number of hawker centres.
Despite their name, coffee shops, or kopitiam, offer much more than coffee; they are essentially mini-hawker centers, with just a few booths (one of which will, however, sell coffee and other drinks). People gather here for the classic Singaporean breakfast of kopi (strong, sweet coffee), kaya (egg-coconut jam) toast, and runny eggs, as well as to drink a beer or two and talk away in the evenings. Although English ability is occasionally limited, most stall owners are able to explain the essentials, and even if they are unable to do so, surrounding residents will generally assist you if you ask. For supper, many coffee shops provide zi char/cze cha (), which is a menu of local foods, mostly Chinese-style seafood, served at your table at mid-range rates.
Any shopping mall will have Starbucks and other local cafe chains like as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but an iced coffee or tea can cost you back $5 or more, while a teh tarik (“pulled”) milky tea or kopi coffee would set you back closer to $1 at any hawker centre. While touring the city, you’ll certainly come across a slew of independent cafes serving gourmet coffee, pastries, and cakes, which have sprung up all over the place in the previous decade.
Food courts are the air-conditioned counterpart of hawker centres, and they may be found in the basement or top level of almost every shopping mall. The range of cuisine on offer is almost similar, but costs are $1–3 more on average than at hawker centres and coffee shops (depending on the region, it is slightly more costly in tourist-heavy areas), and the quality is excellent but not always value for money.
McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Burger King, KFC, MOS Burger, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius, Subway, and other international fast food brands may be found in most shopping malls. The cost of a standard burger ranges from $2 to $5 for a set meal. Self-service is available in all restaurants, and cleaning your table after your meal is optional.
Singapore also has a diverse range of full-service restaurants to suit every taste and budget.
Because ethnic Chinese make up the majority of Singapore’s population, there are many Chinese restaurants in the city-state, most of which serve southern Chinese cuisine (mostly Hokkien, Teochew, or Cantonese), though due to the large number of expatriates and foreign workers from China these days, cuisine from Shanghai and further north is also available. Due to the mix of their southern Chinese origins and local influences, true local Chinese restaurants typically offer foods that are seldom found in Chinese restaurants abroad or in Mainland China.
Prices vary significantly depending on where you go and what you get. Ordinary restaurants charge between $15 to $35 per person, while top-end restaurants in luxury hotels charge up to $300 per person for delicacies like abalone, suckling pig, and lobster. Food is eaten with chopsticks and served with Chinese tea, as it is at all Chinese restaurants.
As a coastal city, seafood restaurants are popular, including Chinese-influenced Singaporean classics like chilli crabs. It’s a lot more enjoyable to go with a group, but be cautious what you order: gourmet delicacies like Sri Lankan gigantic crab may quickly add up to hundreds of dollars on your tab. Menus usually state “market price,” and if you ask, they’ll tell you the amount per 100g, although a large crab may easily weigh more than 2kg. The finest seafood restaurants are concentrated on the East Coast, although the riverfront eateries at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay can’t be matched for atmosphere. Always ask about costs if they aren’t mentioned explicitly, and be cautious of touts.
Singapore also boasts a number of excellent Western restaurants, with British and American-influenced cuisine being particularly popular among Singaporeans. The majority of the more inexpensive franchises can be found in different shopping malls throughout the island, with main dish pricing ranging from $14 to $22. Try Hainanese Western food for a more regionalized version of Western cuisine, which may be traced back to Hainanese migrants who worked as chefs for Western employers during the colonial era. Food from France, Italy, Japan, and Korea is also widely accessible, but costs tend to be on the high side, while Thai and Indonesian restaurants are more reasonably priced.
High tea is a popular British import in Singapore. This is a small afternoon meal consisting of tea and a variety of British-style savory nibbles and sweet pastries such as finger sandwiches and scones, typically provided by better hotels throughout the island. However, the phrase is rapidly being used to all types of afternoon buffets, with Chinese dim sum and other Singaporean cuisines being popular additions. Prices vary, but expect to pay between $35 to $80 per person. Many restaurants only offer high tea on weekends, and hours may be limited: for example, the renowned feast at the Raffles Hotel’s Tiffin Room is only accessible from 15:30-17:00.
Buffets are popular among Singaporeans, particularly foreign buffets that provide a large range of meals at a set price, including Western, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines as well as certain indigenous specialties. Sakura, Pariss, Vienna, and Todai are popular chains.
Buffets are available at most hotels for lunch and supper. Champagne brunches on Sundays are especially popular, but expect to spend over $100 per person and make reservations at famous places like Mezza9 at the Hyatt on Orchard.
While Singapore was historically renowned for its outstanding casual eating but a dearth of fine dining choices, the construction of the two casinos in Marina Bay and Sentosa has resulted in many of the world’s best chefs, including Santi, Waku Ghin, and Guy Savoy, establishing local branches of their restaurants. Prices are typically in line with what you’d expect to pay in a fine dining restaurant in the West, with tasting menus costing $400 or more per person.
Almost everyone can find something to eat in Singapore. Certain Indians and small numbers of Chinese Buddhists are vegetarians, thus vegetarian choices may be available at Indian stalls, and some hawker centres may include a Chinese vegetarian stall or two, frequently dishing up excellent gluten-free meat imitations. Chinese vegetarian cuisine is nearly always vegan since it does not utilize eggs or dairy products; Indian vegetarian food, on the other hand, often uses cheese and other milk products. In regular Chinese restaurants, however, be cautious since even meals that seem to be vegetarian on the menu may include marine items such as oyster sauce or salted fish – ask the waiter if you’re unsure. There are eateries that utilize “no garlic, no onions.”
Muslims should be on the lookout for halal certifications given by MUIS, Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council. This can be found at almost every Malay booth, as well as many Indian Muslim businesses, although it’s more uncommon in Chinese businesses owned by people who aren’t Muslims. However, there are a few halal food courts in the area that are a great place to try halal Chinese cuisine in a safe environment. In Singapore, many Western fast-food restaurants utilize halal meat; check for a certificate at the ordering area or ask a manager if you’re unsure. A few establishments forego the official certification and just post “no pork, no lard” signs; it’s up to you to decide whether this is sufficient.
Kosher-observant Jews, on the other hand, will have a tougher time finding kosher cuisine in Singapore, which is almost non-existent outside of the Central Business District’s two synagogues at Oxley Rise and Waterloo Street.