Pound for pound, Singapore has to be one of the world’s best countries for food. It’s little more than half the size of Hong Kong but it’s home to one of the most delicious and diverse cuisines we’ve experienced anywhere in the world.
Food is an obsession in Singapore. It forms an important part of their national identity and is viewed as a unifying cultural thread. As you can probably tell from the plethora of Singapore food blogs, eating is a national pastime and a frequent topic of conversation among Singaporeans.
Being from Southeast Asia, Singapore is a frequent destination for us and much of that has to do with delicious Singaporean dishes like laksa, nasi lemak, chili crab, and Hainanese chicken rice.
If you’re visiting Singapore and looking for the best dishes to eat, then I hope this Singaporean food guide leads you to many shiok meals in Singapore.
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WHAT IS SINGAPOREAN FOOD?
Singaporean food is characterized by its diversity. It’s a multiracial and multicultural country with a population consisting mainly of ethnic Chinese, Malays, and ethnic Indians.
Singapore’s geographic location – between the Pacific and Indian oceans – and its history as a former British colony helped lead to this confluence of cultures.
When Stamford Raffles sought to convert the island into a trading post for the British Empire in 1819, immigrants from China, the Malay Peninsula, India, Indonesia, Europe, the United States, and the Middle East flocked to Singapore. With them came their cultures and culinary traditions which led to Singaporean food becoming the mixed cultural cuisine that it is today.
This culinary diversity is no better exemplified than at the many hawker centers and food courts found throughout Singapore. Walk into any hawker center and it isn’t uncommon to find a stall selling Chinese Singaporean food next to a stall selling Malaysian food next to a stall selling Indian food next to a stall selling Indonesian food.
This melting pot aspect of Singaporean cuisine is what I love most about the food in Singapore. It truly is a food lover’s paradise.
THE BEST FOOD IN SINGAPORE
To help organize this Singapore food guide, I’ve broken the dishes down by category. Some dishes can fall under more than one category but I’ve done my best to make it as organized and easy to read as possible. Click on a link to jump to any section.
1. Kaya Toast
Kaya toast refers to a traditional breakfast food in Singapore. It consists of two slices of toast or charcoal-grilled bread spread over with butter and kaya, which is a jam made with coconut, eggs, and sugar.
Kaya toast is believed to have been invented by Hainanese immigrants as a kope tiam (traditional coffee shop) dish. It’s served with either coffee or tea and two soft-boiled eggs drizzled with dark soy sauce and white pepper. To eat, the eggs are stirred into a sludge and used as a dip for the kaya toast.
Though kaya toast is a popular breakfast food in Singapore, it can also be enjoyed as an afternoon snack. It’s best eaten immediately upon serving when the toast is still warm and the butter cold.
2. Tau Huay
Tau huay refers to a soft tofu dish popular in many Asian countries. It’s a dish of Chinese origin also referred to as douhua, tofu pudding, or bean curd.
Depending on where it’s from, it exists in varying forms though the Singaporean dish is usually served with a clear sweet syrup with or without toppings like gingko nuts or red beans. It can be served hot or cold with different syrups and varying levels of sweetness.
Tau huay is a popular breakfast food in Singapore often enjoyed with Portuguese egg tarts and/or youtiao (fried dough sticks).
3. Roti Prata
Roti prata is an Indian-influenced flatbread dish found in many Southeast Asian countries. It’s known as roti canai in Malaysia or parotta in South India.
To prepare, a wheat-flour-based dough is flipped and stretched into a large thin layer on a flat grilling pan. It’s cooked for about 3-5 minutes till lightly browned and crisp. It can be eaten on its own though it’s often served with a vegetable- or meat-based curry dipping sauce.
Roti prata is a popular breakfast food in Singapore though it can be enjoyed as a snack at any time of the day.
Murtabak is basically a stuffed version of roti prata. It’s common in Southeast Asia and the Arabian Peninsula and can be filled with any number of sweet or savory ingredients.
In Singapore, murtabak is typically filled with spiced beef, chicken, or mutton and served with either a curry sauce, sweet pickled onions, or cucumbers in ketchup. A version filled with mozzarella cheese is also popular.
Appam or hoppers refers to a South Asian pancake dish that’s also popular in Singapore. It’s made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk and can be served in both sweet and savory varieties.
Appam is a popular breakfast food in Singapore though it’s commonly enjoyed for dessert as well. It can be served plain or with various ingredients added as a topping. The plain appam I enjoyed below was served with a side of orange sugar and a cup of coconut milk.
If you try appam for breakfast, then you may want to have it with egg. A whole egg is cracked into the center of the pancake while it cooks so you’ll have a beautiful sunny-side up egg in the middle.
Congee refers to a rice porridge dish that’s popular in many Asian countries. It’s a common breakfast food in Singapore though it’s the type of comforting dish that’s often enjoyed for supper as well.
Teochew or Singapore-style congee is typically served plain with a slew of Singaporean-Chinese side dishes like lor bak, steamed fish, salted egg, tofu, omelette, and vegetables.
7. Chwee Kueh
Chwee kueh refers to a type of steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish. Like Singapore-style porridge, it’s a Teochew dish that’s popular in China and in other parts of Southeast Asia.
To prepare, a rice flour mixture is poured into small, saucer-like aluminum cups and then steamed. The cakes take the form of the cups when cooked and are served with diced preserved radish and a side of chili sauce.
If you like strong Asian flavors, then you’re going to love chwee kueh. The steamed cake itself is mild in flavor but the preserved radish is what really makes this dish. It has a strong sweet/savory flavor that’s loaded with umami.
Chwee kueh is a popular breakfast food in Singapore though personally, I prefer to enjoy it as a midday snack. It’s super tasty but I find its flavors to be too potent for breakfast.
SNACKS / SMALL MEALS
8. Curry Puffs
The curry puff refers to a small pie stuffed with various fillings in a deep-fried or baked pastry shell. It’s believed to be a snack of Malayan origin that was invented during the colonization area, mainly due to its similarities to pastries like the British Cornish pasty, the Portuguese empanada, and the Indian samosa.
They’re enjoyed in various forms throughout Southeast Asia but in Singapore, the most common types are made with a thick or flaky English-style crust with a variety of Chinese- and Indian-style fillings.
More traditional fillings include chicken curry, sardine, and tuna but more modern puffs can be filled with less conventional ingredients like durian, yam, corn, and red bean. Pictured below is a classic chicken curry puff with egg.
Popiah refers to a Fujianese/Teochew-style fresh spring roll. Originally from Fujian province in China, it’s become a popular dish in Taiwan and in many parts of Southeast Asia.
Popiah is made with a thin, pancake-like wrapper smeared with a sweet bean sauce and filled with a variety of ingredients like finely grated turnip, jicama, bean sprouts, and lettuce leaves. Depending on the individual vendor, it can be filled with other ingredients as well like fried tofu, crushed peanuts, shredded omelette, pork, shrimp, and crab.
Rojak is an Indonesian dish that’s become a popular food in Singapore and Malaysia. It’s basically a salad made with fresh fruits and vegetables.
To prepare, various ingredients like fresh cucumber, pineapple, and unripe mango and green apple are placed in a bowl and mixed with a thick brown sauce made with shrimp paste, tamarind, sugar, chili, and crushed peanuts.
It doesn’t look all that appetizing but it’s a refreshing and surprisingly delicious dish. It’s sweet, sour, savory, juicy, and crunchy with a good punch of umami from the shrimp paste.
Some westerners may find the combination of tangy unripe fruit and shrimp paste to be odd and off-putting but it’s actually a classic pairing in many Southeast Asian countries.
Satay or sate refers to a popular Southeast Asian dish of seasoned and skewered grilled meat served with a sauce. Different types of meat like chicken, pork, mutton, or beef are skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over a charcoal or wood fire.
Depending on the vendor, satay can be served with different sauces though the most common variety is made with soy and peanut sauce. In Singapore, peanut sauce is most common.
Satay is believed to have originated in Indonesia where it’s considered a national dish. Because of its popularity and universal appeal, it can be found pretty much anywhere from street food carts to hawker centers to proper sit-down restaurants and banquet feasts.
12. Orh Jian
Orh jian is a popular hawker food in Singapore. It refers to an oyster omelette dish made with fresh raw oysters, tapioca starch, and eggs.
Orh jian is originaly a Hokkien or Teochew dish that’s become popular in many parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia. Depending on where it’s from, it’s known by many names like oh chien, or luak, or o-a-tsian.
To prepare, starch (typically sweet potato starch) is mixed into the egg batter to give the omelette a thicker, gooier texture. It’s fried till crispy and served with a side of chili sauce.
13. Chai Tow Kway
Chai tow kway refers to another popular hawker food in Singapore. It’s a dish of Teochew origin that’s made with radish cake stir-fried with eggs, preserved radish, and seasonings.
Oddly enough, chai tow kway is commonly known as “carrot cake” even though it isn’t made with any carrots. It doesn’t have any connection to western carrot cake either. Instead, it’s referred to as carrot cake because the words “chai tow” can mean either “radish” or “carrot”.
Chai tow kway is prepared in different ways throughout Southeast Asia but in Singapore, it’s typically cut into pieces and stir fried with eggs, garlic, and spring onion. It comes in white or black versions.
The black version gets its color from a sweet dark soy sauce. The white version isn’t made with this sauce so it tastes saltier and is cooked more like an omelette.
14. Yong Tau Foo
Yong tau foo is a Hakka dish popular in Singapore and in other Southeast Asian countries with large Hakka, Teochew and Hokkien populations.
Traditionally, it consists primarily of tofu filled with a ground meat mixture or fish paste. It can be eaten dry with a sauce or served as a soup dish.
But in Singapore, yong tau foo refers to a dish that can contain any number of ingredients like stuffed tofu, fish balls, bitter melon, okra, cuttlefish, and other types of vegetables, meat, and seafood.
After cooking the ingredients briefly in broth, they can be served in a soup or offered dry with the broth served in a separate bowl. It can be eaten on its own or enjoyed with a bowl of steamed rice, noodles, or rice vermicelli.
MEAT / SEAFOOD
15. Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh refers to a Teochew pork rib dish cooked in a complex broth of different herbs and spices. It’s a signature food in Singapore that’s also popular in Malaysia and in parts of Indonesia and southern Thailand.
The name bak kut teh literally translates to “meat bone tea” though no tea is actually used to make this dish. The name is in reference to a strong oolong Chinese tea that’s usually served with the soup to help dissolve the fat from the pork ribs.
To prepare, meaty pork ribs are simmered for hours in a broth of herbs and spices that include garlic, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, dang gui (Chinese angelica root), and fennel seeds. Depending on the cook, other ingredients may be used like offal, mushroom, Chinese cabbage, and tofu.
Bak kut teh is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch with a bowl of rice or youtiao and a dark soy sauce dip with chopped red chilis.
16. Sup Tulang
Sup tulang refers to a Singaporean dish made with mutton or beef bones stewed in tomato paste, chili, and spices. It’s considered a true Singaporean food invention, created and popularized by an Indian Muslim food stall along Jalan Sultan in the 1950s.
In spite of its appearance, sup tulang isn’t very spicy at all. It’s more savory-sweet than spicy and is served with soft bread to mop up the sauce. The bread with the sauce is heavenly.
Just be warned, this dish is incredibly delicious but it’s also incredibly messy. It’s impossible to slice off the meat and tendon with utensils so you’ll need to hold the bones in your hands and gnaw at them with your teeth.
Be sure to have a fresh packet of napkins ready cause you’ll need them to wipe the tomato sauce off your hands, face, hair, shirt, pants, and shoelaces.
As you can probably tell from the picture above, there isn’t much meat on the bones. The real star of this Singaporean dish is the marrow which you’re meant to suck out of the bones with straws. My god was this good.
17. Chili Crab
If you were to eat just one dish in Singapore, then it should probably be chili crab. It’s a Singaporean food classic and considered by many to be the single most important dish in Singaporean cuisine.
Chili crab is prepared by stir-frying crabs — commonly mud crabs — in a thick, tomato- and chili-based sauce. Egg is often added to make the sauce thicker and richer.
Despite its name, chili crabs aren’t very spicy at all. They taste sweet and tangy with just a hint of spiciness.
Chili crab is best eaten with fried mantou bread to mop up the sauce. The fluffiness of the mantou with the sweet tanginess of the chili sauce is a perfect match. The sauce is flavorful and nuanced so be sure to try it with some plain rice as well.
Singaporeans are extremely proud of their chili crab and consider it to be a national dish. In 2011, CNN Go included chili crab in their list of the “world’s 50 most delicious foods”.
18. Fish Head Curry
Fish head curry refers to a dish made with the head of a red snapper stewed in a Kerala-style curry with assorted vegetables like eggplant and okra and over a dozen spices. It has mixed Indian and Chinese origins and is a popular dish in Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean cuisines.
The gravy in fish head curry has a sour-sweet flavor that goes very well with rice and/or naan bread. The entire fish head was excellent but the best parts for me, are the eyeballs (pictured below), jaw, and tongue.
We enjoyed this fish head curry at the legendary Banana Leaf Apolo along Race Course Road. They serve their food on banana leaves and are considered by many to be one of the best restaurants in Singapore for fish head curry.
19. Sambal Stingray
Sambal stingray refers to a Malaysian/Singaporean dish of barbecued stingray served with a spicy sambal paste. It’s a popular hawker food in Singapore that’s cooked and served in banana leaves.
Stingray has a firm, meaty texture that’s different from other fish. To cook, a sambal paste made up of various spices, Indian walnuts, and shallots is spread over the stingray before it’s wrapped in banana leaves and charcoal-grilled.
Personally, sambal stingray is one of my favorite Singaporean foods to eat with beer. It’s spicy and delicious.
20. Peranakan Cuisine
Peranakan cuisine or Nyonya cuisine refers to the food of the Peranakans. The Peranakans are an ethnic group comprised of the descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, and Indonesia between the 15th and 17th centuries. They inter-married with local Malays and produced a fusion of cultures that manifested itself in many ways, including their food.
Chinese ingredients were used with local spices and cooking techniques to create Peranakan interpretations of Malay food that’s known to be tangy, aromatic, spicy, and herbal. If you enjoy food with bold flavors, then you’re going to love Peranakan cuisine.
For the best example of Peranakan food in Singapore, I suggest trying it at Candlenut. From what I understand, it’s the only Peranakan restaurant in the world that’s been awarded a Michelin Star.
Laksa is one of my favorite Singaporean foods. It’s a spicy Peranakan noodle soup consisting of thick wheat noodles or rice vermicelli made with chicken, prawn, or fish.
Laksa is a popular food in Singapore and in other parts of Southeast Asia. It exists in three basic types – curry, asam, and a combination of the two. Curry laksa is made with a rich and savory coconut milk base while asam laksa is made with a sour, tamarind-based (or gelugur) soup.
Depending on the ingredients, there are many sub-types of laksa but katong laksa is the type you’ll typically find in Singapore. It’s a type of curry laksa known for its gravy thickened with ground dried shrimp.
22. Bak Chor Mee
Bak chor mee is a popular hawker food in Singapore. It’s made with noodles tossed in vinegar and a myriad of ingredients like minced meat, pork slices, liver, mushrooms, meatballs, and bits of deep-fried lard.
It can come in soup or dry versions. Pictured below is the dry version from Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, one of two Singapore hawker stalls awarded a Michelin Star in 2016. It’s absolutely delicious and a must-try dish in Singapore.
23. Prawn Mee / Hokkien Mee
Prawn mee refers to a popular Southeast Asian noodle soup made with egg noodles, rice noodles, prawn, and pork slices. From what I understand, it can come in a dry version as well known as hokkien mee.
I often saw the terms prawn mee and hokkien mee referring to what seemed like the same dish so I asked a Singaporean food blogger to clarify. She told me that prawn mee is a soup dish while hokkien mee is a dry noodle dish. Unless I’m mistaken, I believe the ingredients for both are similar.
Pictured below is prawn mee. It’s known for its dark and spicy broth flavored with prawn heads, dried shrimp, white pepper, garlic, and other spices. It’s topped with fried shallots and spring onions and typically served with chopped red chilis in a light soy sauce with lime.
We haven’t tried it but hokkien mee is made by sir-frying the noodles with egg, slices of pork, prawn, and squid. It’s garnished with vegetables, bits of chicken lard, sambal, and lime.
24. Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow is a popular food in Singapore and in other parts of Southeast Asia. It refers to a stir-fried noodle dish made with flat rice noodles cooked over high heat.
To prepare, kway teow noodles are stir-fried in pork fat with light and dark soy sauce, chili, and a slew of other ingredients like belachan (shrimp paste), prawn, blood cockles, Chinese sausage, fishcake, and bean sprouts.
It’s a cheap and delicious dish that’s often eaten for breakfast or sold as hawker food in Singapore.
25. Crab Bee Hoon
Like chii crab, crab bee hoon is considered a true Singaporean food invention. It refers to a rice vermicelli dish made with whole mud crab.
Crab bee hoon is available in soup or dry versions. The soup version is served with a milky broth in a claypot while the dry version (pictured below) is prepared by stir-frying the bee hoon in a wok before braising it in broth.
The crab is usually the star of any dish but in crab bee hoon, it’s the noodles. Vermicelli noodles do an excellent job in soaking up all that sweet and seafood-y crab flavor.
26. Mee Rebus
Mee rebus means “boiled noodles” and refers to a noodle soup dish popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It consists of egg noodles served in a spicy and slightly sweet curry-like gravy.
The brown gravy is made with a slew of ingredients like shrimp or tauchu (preserved fermented yellow soybeans) broth, shallots, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaf, and corn starch as its thickening agent.
It’s typically garnished with a hard boiled egg, dried shrimp, boiled potato, fried shallots, bean sprouts, and other ingredients.
27. Nasi Lemak
Nasi lemak refers to a beloved Malay dish consisting of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. It’s a popular food in Singapore and in other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia where it’s considered a national dish.
Nasi lemak is typically eaten for breakfast in Singapore though it’s often enjoyed throughout the day. It’s served with a spicy sambal and a variety of garnishes like fresh cucumber slices, ikan bilis (small fried anchovies), roasted peanuts, and hard-boiled or fried egg.
When eaten for lunch or dinner, it’s usually accompanied by heavier proteins like ayam goreng (fried chicken), sambal sotong (cuttlefish in chili), or small fried fish.
Depending on where it’s from, nasi lemak can exist in varying forms but in Singapore, it’s commonly found in two variations – the Singaporean Malay and Singaporean Chinese versions.
The Singaporean Malay version is made with a sweeter, less spicy sambal and served with ikan bilis, peanuts, and an omelette or fried egg. The Singaporean Chinese version is served with a wider variety of sides like deep-fried drumstick, chicken franks, fish cake, curried vegetables, and tongsan luncheon meat.
28. Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice is one of the most important Singaporean foods and considered by many to be a national dish. It refers to a dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice served with sliced cucumber and chili sauce.
After their British employers were forced out of Singapore during the Japanese occupation, Hainanese servant-class immigrants created the dish as an alternate source of income. They opened the first chicken rice restaurants in the early 1940s and the dish has since become one of the most popular hawker foods in Singapore.
To prepare, whole chickens are poached at sub-boiling temperatures. The resulting stock is skimmed off while some of the fat and liquid, along with ginger and garlic, are used to cook the rice. The result is an oily, flavorful rice sometimes referred to as “oily rice”.
Hainanese chicken looks colorless and bland but it’s actually very tasty. It’s usually served with a trio of dipping sauces that include chili sauce, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and pureed ginger.
29. Claypot Rice
Claypot rice refers to a traditional southern Chinese dish that’s become a popular food in Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.
To prepare, rice is pre-soaked and sometimes par-cooked before being finished in a claypot with a mix of ingredients that help impart flavor to the rice. It can be made with any number of ingredients with some of the most common being chicken, salted fish, Chinese sausage, and vegetables.
30. Duck Rice
As its name suggests, duck rice is a dish made with braised or roasted duck served with steamed white rice. It’s a popular hawker food in Singapore and in other parts of Southeast Asia.
The braised duck is usually cooked with yam and shrimp and served with a heavy dark sauce over rice. It can be served on its own or with other ingredients like braised hard-boiled eggs, preserved salted vegetables, and hard beancurd.
DESSERT / DRINKS
Durian is a fruit that many people love to hate. They can’t get past the smell which is a shame because it’s absolutely delicious. For me, it’s one of the best and most unique-tasting fruits in the world.
Known as the “king of fruits”, durian is popular in Singapore and in many parts of Southeast Asia. It’s known for its strong odor and spiny, thorn-covered rind. Because of its odor, durian is a polarizing fruit that elicits a range of reactions from deep fondness to intense disgust.
People who can’t stand the odor describe it as being similar to the smell of raw sewage or dirty gym socks. I happen to love durian so I don’t mind its smell. It does have a strong and unusual odor but in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay for a creamy and custardy fruit that tastes similar to almonds.
Because of its strong and lingering odor, durian is banned in many public places in Singapore, including the MRT.
Also know that not all durian are created equal. Some are more prized (and thus pricier) than others with some of the most sought after brands being Mao Shan Wang, D24, and Red Prawn. Check out this article for a list of the best durian in Singapore.
Kueh refers to a family of bite-sized snacks or desserts popular in Southeast Asia. It’s a broad term used to describe a wide spectrum of food products like cakes, dumplings, pudding, or pastries usually made with rice or glutinous rice. Most are sweet but some, like chwee kueh, can be savory.
Pictured below is kueh lopis, a type of kueh made with glutinous rice, banana leaf, gula melaka, and shredded coconut.
If I remember correctly, the green and white kueh below is kueh salat while the other one is kueh bingka jagung. Kueh salat is made with pandan and tapioca while kueh bingka jagung is made with corn pudding and palm sugar.
Cendol refers to a shaved iced dessert made with strands of green rice flour jelly mixed with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. It’s a popular dessert in Singapore and in many parts of Southeast Asia.
Depending on where it’s from, other ingredients can also be added like red azuki bean, diced jackfruit, glutinous rice, sweet corn, and durian. In Singapore, cendol is typically made with sweetended red bean with the palm sugar poured over as a syrup.
34. Ice Cream Sandwich
To many westerners, this may be the oddest entry in this Singapore food list. Ice cream wrapped in a slice of white bread may be weird to some people but in some countries like Singapore and the Philippines, it’s an iconic snack.
You can have your choice of ice cream flavor like strawberry, vanilla, or durian wrapped in bread (either white or rainbow-colored) or between wafers. For the truest Singapore food experience, I suggest going with the bread.
35. Teh Tarik
Teh tarik refers to a hot milk tea beverage popular in Singapore and in other Southeast Asian countries. Its name literally means “pulled tea” and is in reference to the way the tea is poured back and forth from a distance.
As you can see below, teh tarik vendors have mastered the art of “pulling” the tea without spilling a drop. They do this to aerate and mix the drink, as well as to cool it and improve its flavor.
Teh tarik is a sweet and rich milk tea drink that’s great to have after a heavy meal in Singapore.
It’s funny, the more I explore a country’s cuisine, the more I understand how much more there is to learn. We’ve been to Singapore many times but every visit always leaves me wanting for more.
As fond as we are of Singaporean food, we’ll definitely be back to refine and build upon this guide. Like Japan and Vietnam, Singapore is one of our favorite countries for food and a place we will never grow tired of. It never ceases to amaze how much good food there is to be had in a country as small as Singapore.
If you love Singaporean food and have recommendation on which dishes to look for on our next trip, then please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading and we hope this Singapore food guide leads you to many memorable meals in the Lion City!
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Friday 20th of November 2020
It tastes delicious. I hope I can travel there someday to taste these amazing foods!
Saturday 28th of November 2020
@myline: Go for it! :)