Whenever I mention that I’m from Singapore, I inevitably get asked about Chilli Crab and Chicken Rice. And while they might be our most popular exports, Singapore is so much more than that. Yes, go to your Tian Tian Chicken Rice if you absolutely have to, but trust me, you’ll wanna hit up a few other dishes that you won’t get a chance to try otherwise. Here’s my list of Singaporean foods that will get you eating like a local!
This is one thing that I look forward to, pretty much straight as I step off the plane. Kway Chap really refers to the boil of silky rice noodles that sit in a spiced, soy based stock, but really, I think that this plate of choice ingredients is really the star of the show. Common ingredients include large and small pig’s intestines, skin, firm tofu, fried tofu, hard boiled eggs, and pork belly, all stewed to tenderness, and chopped up depending on your order. Don’t forget the chilli, which is an integral part of this particular eating experience. Hot, garlicky, and yet without the acrid burn of fresh garlic, a mouthful of rice noodle sheet, intestine and chilli is just something that tingles the tastebuds and soothes the soul.
A recent favourite for me is the Kway Chap outlet at Bishan. Located in the Kopitiam – a local term for ‘coffeeshop’, where hawker stalls are located – in Block 284, this stall is only open from 8pm till 4am, and has queues round the block from opening to closing.
Read my review of the Block 284 Kway Chap at Bishan, here.
Barbecued Chicken Wings
I know Australia is known for barbecuing, but not all barbecue is made equal. These particular kind of barbecued chicken wings first begin with a salty, spiced master stock of sorts. The wings are then meticulously threaded onto long skewers, marinated till they turn a dark brown – it’s like fake tan, for the chicken! – and then slowly barbecued over smouldering coals for an optimum glaze, nutty brown colour, and tender juicy meat. Served with a side of fresh lime, these wings are best torn apart with your hands, then dipped in the blow-your-mouth-off spicy chilli that is a crucial part of the whole chicken wing experience. There are many different stalls selling these wings to varying success, but I really like Chong Pang Huat at 409 Ang Mo Kio Food Centre.
When you mention ‘strong smelling fruit’ somewhere in the same sentence as ‘Asia’, you’re probably talking about the King of all that is delicious and stinky – Durian. Well, another childhood favourite of mine – Cempedak – is in the similar category when it comes to smell. In fact, if you were to put the fruit in your car for a 15 minute drive home, your car would be smelling of it for days. It’s less internationally popular than Durian, but let me assure you that it’s on par on the deliciousness front. Just remember to visit in the May/June period – Cempedak is extremely seasonal and unavailable most other times of the year. You can get it either ready-to-eat in styrofoam boxes, or as a whole fruit. Wanna know when it’s ripe? The fruit should have plenty of give when you press it, and be splitting open.
I don’t know why I’ve never seen this dish outside of Singapore, but it makes me wish it was more readily available, all the same. A slurry of rice flour, corn flour, wheat starch and water is steamed in moulds till they’re firm, and then released, and topped with salted radish cooked with garlic and lots of oil. Pro tip: always ask for more chye poh – the local name for this savoury radish mixture, with a bit of chilli on the side.
Many stalls sell this local delight for breakfast, but for a really good dish of Chwee Kueh, head over to Bedok Interchange Food Centre. Remember to go early, as they sometimes sell out.
Bak Chor Mee
Bak Chor Mee literally translates to “mince meat noodles”, but there are so many more elements to that. Besides the pork mince and noodles – you get a choice between thick and thin noodles. Go for the mee pok, that’s my favourite – a good bowl of Bak Chor Mee typically also includes tender, stewed mushrooms, as well as a chilli sauce for you to toss your noodles through. Pro tip: ask for a generous lashing of vinegar, as it gives this bowl of local noodles an addictive tang.
For a fantastic bowl of Bak Chor Mee, I like to go to Da Sheng Bak Chor Mee at 739 Bedok Reservoir Road. There is a sophisticated balance to what looks like a very simple bowl of noodles, and they have gorgeous crispy wontons that you can order on the side too!
We all love a good bowl of pho – the rich beefy broth, rice noodles, and various beef ingredients. Well, Singapore has our own version, in a soup and dry variation. The soup variation is quite similar to pho – just with a slight difference in spices – and the dry version…Well, the dry version comes with a thick gravy, pickled vegetables, and amazing chilli sauce for you to toss through the noodles. Geylang Lorong 9 Beef Kway Teow come highly recommended. Pro tip: ask for extra chinchalok – shrimp sauce with pickled eschallots give this bowl of goodness an addictive tang and balances out the rich beefiness.
Barbecued sting ray is something that I just can’t recommend enough. The fin of a sting ray is covered in sambal and wrapped in a banana leaf, before being barbecued over smokey coals. It’s then finished with a fresh lime and a dose of chinchalok – a pickled shrimp and eschallot condiment that also goes with beef kway trow (as mentioned above).
For the uninitiated, there is a piece of cartilage that separates the top and bottom of the stingray. Be sure to scrape off all the flesh on the top and bottom! Never let sting ray go to waste.
I always try to make a trip to Chomp Chomp food centre in Serangoon for supper when I visit Singapore, where you can get many other local favourites as well. But beware of the crowds – 11pm is the prime supper time for the Singaporean crowds.
Oh refers to the oysters in this dish, that is fried off with eggs and a slurry of sweet potato starch, to provide a chewy and crispy texture, all in one bite. I absolutely love the chilli that comes with this, it’s a mixture that adds a certain richness and acidity to the dish.
This dish is available at many hawker centres, but I quite like the one at North Bridge Road. There is sometimes a line, and they’ve sold out on me before, but it’s still been worth it for me.
Chai Tau Kueh
Alongside Chwee Kueh, this is another childhood favourite of mine. Roughly translated to ‘radish cake’, this dish involves salted radish being wok fried with beaten eggs and rice cakes. It comes with a ‘black’ and ‘white’ option. The black option involves frying it with dark soy and sweet soy, and the white version comes without the sauce. I love the black version, and always ask for a little bit of chilli, and extra chye poh (salted radish). Get a plate at chomp chomp while you’re there getting your stingray!
Rojak really is a term that refers to a mixture of items. There is another dish of the same name – turnip, cucumber, pineapple and local versions of croutons are tossed in a fermented shrimp paste sauce – but Indian rojak features different ingredients and flavours. When you visit an Indian Rojak stall, you get to pick what you’d like in the dish – ingredients include tender cuttlefish tentacles, starchy deep fried balls of dough, cooked potato, crispy shrimp dumplings – and they chop it up, warm it, and serve it to you with a side of warm chilli and peanut sauce. I find Indian rojak much more comforting compared to Chinese rojak – but really, I wouldn’t expect anything else from so much delicious starchy goodness.
I may be biased, but I believe that Cereal Prawns came out of the mind of some ingenious Singaporean somewhere. Whole prawns are first fried to a crisp, then stir fried through a mixture of malt, oats (cereal), butter, chilli and laksa leaves to create an addictive crispy mouthful that is a favourite with adults and children alike. My suggestion would be to eat the prawns whole – if it’s fried crispy enough you’ll be able to do this with ease – heads and tails and all. Remember to scoop up the remaining cereal to mix into your bowl of rice – you’ll never look at prawns the same way again.
Salted Egg Yolk Crab
Alongside the famous Singapore Chilli Crab, Singaporeans have a way of getting creative with our seafood. Very creative. And this Salted Egg Yolk Crab is a testament to that statement. Mud crab is cooked in a creamy sauce made rich with salted egg yolk. There is a slight graininess that comes from the cooked yolks being dispersed through the sauce, which just adds to the decadence of it all. Visit the famous No Signboard Seafood Restaurant in Geylang for your salted egg yolk crab fix!
The most basic way I would describe Popiah is a local spring roll. A wafer thin ‘skin’ made out of various flours – much like a crepe but much thinner – is filled with cooked turnip, shrimp, hard boiled egg, peanuts and various other ingredients, and then rolled into a thick log. Try the one at Shun Food Market – they’ve got some black magic crunchiness that makes this a whole lot more delicious, even though I have no idea what it is that creates those pockets of crispy.
Thirsty after all that food? Try getting your hands on a local franken-drink – the Bandung Dinosaur. This glorious monument to sugar related disease consists of rose syrup mixed with evaporated milk, before being topped with Milo powder for ultimate decadence. This is not always written on the menu, but sometimes available on special request. Just ask!
This list of mine is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do hope that it provides you with more inspiration for some local eats. Because sharing is caring, and I do love eating. =)