Singaporeans are unabashed about their love for food. In fact, food is viewed as a unifying cultural thread in this cosmopolitan city, an emblem of national identity. Over our brief history, we’ve managed to gain a reputation as a food paradise, full of international cuisines and styles, but none more loved than our multicultural take on local food. Here are some signature local dishes to try.
BBQ Sambal Stingray
The grilling of seafood is popular globally but what makes this dish uniquely Singaporean is the topping of spicy sambal – a chilli-based paste of shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallots, scallions, sugar and vinegar – and grilling the fish within a banana-leaf packet for additional flavour.
Ayam Buah Keluak
This iconic Peranakan dish of chicken stewed with spices and black nuts from the Kepayang tree is a labour of love. The distinctively tasting nuts require at least two days of soaking to be edible and the rempah (pounded spice paste) is made of seven ingredients and takes half a day to fry.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Originating from Hainan, this dish has been adapted to local tastes. Everyone loves chicken rice for their own reason, be it for the succulent chicken meat, the flavourful rice cooked in chicken stock and spices, or the appetising chilli sauce, ginger paste and dark soy sauce accompaniments.
Singapore’s most popular seafood dish is made of mud crabs stir-fried in a sweet and savoury tomato and chilli-based sauce. Not exactly spicy, its sweet ketchup-laced gravy is what makes it finger-licking good. The dish is commonly served with fried man tous (buns) to mop up the sauce.
This dish is a delightful riot of flavours. Rojak consists of cucumber, pineapple, benkoang (jicama), bean sprouts, taupok (deep-fried tofu) and youtiao (Chinese dough fritters); doused in a dressing of belacan (shrimp paste), sugar, chilli, and lime juice; and topped with chopped peanuts.
There are many variations of Laksa across the region, but the one in Singapore is Peranakan in origin, its curry gravy redolent of coconut. Swimming in the gravy are usually thick rice noodles, prawns, boiled eggs, taupok and fish cake. You can choose to add raw or lightly blanched cockles.
Our local version of the kebab, Satay consists of seasoned and skewered meat – typically chicken, goat, mutton or beef – grilled over wood or charcoal fires, and served with a peanut dipping sauce plus accompaniments such as rice dumplings, cucumbers, and onions.
Originally a technique to preserve meat in a tropical climate, rendang is a meat stew rich in spices. Along with the meat – beef, mutton, goat etc, it has coconut milk and a paste of mixed ground spices, which includes ginger, galangal, turmeric leaves, lemon grass, garlic, shallot, and chillies.
The local evolution of the Indian paratha is popular for breakfast and late night supper. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, good plain pratas are commonly eaten with curry or sugar. Modern variations see ingredients like egg, cheese, chocolate, and even durian filling the pancake.
Take a bowl of chewy jelly and attap seeds, and sweet red beans and corn, heap on a mound of grated ice before pouring over various kinds of coloured sugar syrup such as palm sugar, rose syrup and evaporated milk, and what you’ll have a yummy cool treat!