Exploring the Food Culture of Singapore’s Local Cuisine

A little dot. On the map, Singapore is so close to invisible that a little red dot is used to identify its presence. Despite its trivial existence, however, Singapore is undoubtedly one of the world’s most culturally diverse country– and if there’s anything in this small city that we’re bound to notice, it’s the food culture. Singapore’s food culture offers a unique fusion of local ingredients and plates together with a variety of mouth-watering dishes. Undeniably, the five dishes below are just some of the local dishes that never fail to satisfy one’s craving, and of course, present Singapore’s diverse culture on a plate. 

  1. Chicken Rice
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Plate of Chicken Rice with three different sauces. Photo courtesy of Honeycombers.

Chicken rice is undoubtedly Singapore’s number one dish; it has been listed in CNN Travel’s “the world’s 50 best foods” and publicized under Singapore Tourism Board’s “food & dining” suggestions. This applauded dish consists of unique elements: fragrant rice, steamed or roasted chicken, and sides of special sauces. What makes this dish so distinct from others is that the rice is cooked in chicken broth, dried, and then sprinkled with some local cucumbers and leafy cilantro. Sometimes, the rice is cooked with pandan leaves to enhance its flavor. The steamed or roasted chicken is then cut into bite-sized pieces and placed on top of the rice. The chicken is poached in chicken broth, as well as soya sauce and local spices and aromatics. Finally, the dish is perfected with the addition of dipping sauces– a concoction of chili sauce, ginger paste, dark and thick soy sauce, and a few drops of chicken broth. At the end of the day, chicken rice is an authentic local cuisine that can be found almost everywhere in the city.  It can be seen in every single hawker center, and even some high-end restaurants as well.

  1. Laksa
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A bowl of Laksa that portrays Singapore’s food culture. Photo courtesy of Ang Sarap.

As Evelyn Zhang, a SAS junior claims, “Laksa is simply delicious…  the soup is rich and unique from other noodle dishes.” Indeed, the specialty of this rice noodle dish lies in its spicy soup, which is a savory concoction from the following ingredients: curry, coconut milk, chili, and shrimp paste. Aside from its distinct soup base, this luscious dish is topped with fish balls, fishcakes, bean sprouts, tofu, prawns, a boiled egg, and a tiny scoop of laksa paste (this paste is made by mixing chillies, onion, lemongrass, nuts, garlic, shrimp paste together). This dish originates from Malaysia, and it includes aspects of the Malaysian food culture as shown by coconut milk soup base. After all, Singapore is a diverse city, and it’s the fusion of cultures and cuisines that makes dishes like Laksa so appealing to local and foreign groups. If you haven’t tried this dish yet, then it’s definitely time to head over to Bukit Timah’s Nonya Delicatessen– a local restaurant which has claimed famous clienteles like former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong. 

“Laksa is simply delicious… the soup is rich and unique from other noodle dishes.”

      3. Chili Crab

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Singapore’s “bloody delicious chili crabs” . Photo courtesy of Google Images

When world-renowned British celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, visited Singapore, he identified himself as a zealous enthusiast of Singapore’s “bloody delicious chili crabs”. And many can probably express confidence with this statement; chili crab is, indeed, Singapore’s finest, most iconic seafood dish. This irresistible, savory dish will even make haters of seafood (like me) into fans. The plate consists of a deep fried crab placed in a bowl of sweet, chili-tomato based sauce. Beaten eggs are added to make the sauce thicker as well. It is part of the culture of this dish to have the crabs still served with its shell so that people can eat with their hands.  Many locals tend to indulge in this dish with a side order of Chinese steamed buns called mantou, and the leftover chili sauce is usually eaten with a side order of fried rice. So the next time you and your family experience a dilemma on what to eat, make sure to head over to Long Beach Seafood Restaurant to try some chili crabs!

  1. Fishball Noodles
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Bowl of dry fish ball noodles with aesthetically placed toppings. Photo courtesy of Delishar.

This next dish is another local bowl of noodles that can make one’s stomach growl any time.  A bowl of fishball noodles can be served as either dry or with soup, and it is topped with generous amounts of fish balls and fishcakes. Fishball noodles consist of yellow noodles or rice vermicelli; furthermore, each fishcake and/or fishball is fried until its outside is golden brown and crisp, while the inside remains white and soft. As a final touch, spring onions and minced pork are sprinkled on the noodles. The next time you find yourself wandering around one of Singapore’s hawker centers, make sure to target this delectable and reasonably priced dish! 

  1. Kaya Toast
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Plate of Ya Kun Kaya Toast with a slice of melting cheese. Photo courtesy of Ya Kun Kaya Toast. 

If the go-to breakfast for Americans is a plate of sweet and crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Singaporeans’ ultimate breakfast choice is the toothsome plate of kaya toast. Kaya toast is Singapore’s iconic breakfast, snack, lunch, or supper that goes well with either a cup of coffee or tea. The toasted slices are charcoal grilled for a few seconds to a minute until they are crisp and golden brown.  A soften butter is then spread on two slices of the toast, along with a generous amount of Kaya jam. Kaya is a Singaporean “jam” with a greenish hue made from a mixture of coconut milk, eggs, and pandan that not only has a creamy texture, but also a nectarous local taste to it. Kaya Toast includes a fusion of the Malay and Indo culture, which once again reflects on Singapore’s diverse food culture. Kaya jam has also been used to bake Kaya flavored cookies, egg tarts, and ice cream all over the city. If you ever find yourself craving for some sweetness, make sure to visit Singapore’s most renowned local Kaya stall: Ya Kun Kaya Toast.

Singapore’s food culture offers a unique fusion of local ingredients to plate together a variety of mouth-watering dishes. 

Singapore’s local cuisine is viewed as a unifying cultural thread among different ethnic groups and serves as a cultural attraction for many visitors to the island. The next time you find yourself in a dilemma regarding where to eat, visit one of the local hawker centers or food courts. After all, eating from one of the hawker centers or food courts is part of Singapore’s unique food culture. Make sure you don’t forget to taste the local dishes listed above for a culturally immersive experience!

Author: Brenda Lee

Brenda Lee is currently a junior, and this is her first year as a reporter for The Eye. This is her sixth year studying in Singapore American School, and despite coming from a Korean, American, and Hong Kong background, she considers Singapore her home. In her free time, she loves to indulge in bubble tea and consume food from all kinds of cuisine. In addition, she finds happiness in travelling around the globe and exposing herself to different cultures. She can be contacted at lee45288@sas.edu.sg.

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