Few cities are so hyped when it comes to food as Singapore. And that is for the gourmets as well as the street food fans. I like both and so I was delighted that Visit Singapore offered to feed me for a few days while I was in town for ITB.
Are you in town for the first time? Then this little foodie's guide is just right for you!
Things to eat in Singapore
Singapore Street Food
As you may know, I am a huge fan of street food in any shape or form and usually in any country. I know I'm jinxing it by writing it down but I have never gotten sick from street food. I don't know if that is sheer luck or due to a robust stomach. You can read my tips for eating street food here or just head to Singapore.
Singapore street food is something else. It is so neatly and orderly presented that when read my tips for eating street food here pulled up to Smith Street I felt I had walked in an open-air restaurant.
All the hawker food in Singapore is rated by the city (you can see their signs prominently displayed, A obviously being the best) and that seems to keep vendors on their toes.
To be honest I was missing the buzz, the madness of eating on a night market a bit but I reckon that for many more timid travelers Singapore would be the perfect gateway to exploring street food in Asia.
Another downside is its price. I assumed that the $5 food voucher we were given on the tour would mean I could eat myself through at least half of the stalls but this wasn't the case. Singapore is expensive for Southeast Asian standards. In the end, I paid a few dollars extra to get some steamed chili crab dumplings. They were delicious but I also had to buy myself a Snickers from 7Eleven to get full.
1 Star for $2,50
Singapore first popped onto my travel radar thanks to a Michelin star. My brother is a huge foodie and while I wouldn't dare to compare my food knowledge or cooking skills to his, it is something that connects us. So when a humble noodle seller from Singapore got awarded a prestigious Michelin star for his $ 2,50 dish and I got confirmed to speak at ITB Asia, I knew I had to brave the crowds and make Hawker Chan's famous dish one of the things to eat in Singapore. If only to report back to my brother.
Luckily Visit Singapore is all about passion for their city in any shape and form and the food is definitely part of this. The office arranged a lovely guide to take me around and she also had Hawker Chan's PR representative on speed dial.
Yes, indeed hawker Chan Hon Meng has become Hawker Chan, a full-fledged brand thanks to the Michelin star, that is about to go international. For now, Singapore visitors can also eat the famed noodles in his newly opened restaurant. Here the dish will set you back $5 but you get aircon and almost no waiting time.
Mind you, we did visit the original stall at the Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre afterward and the queue was more than manageable.
Was it worth the trip? One of THE things to eat in Singapore? Probably not but it was a damn fine noodle dish and to be honest, I just love the story of a humble hawker who got a Michelin star and became an international food sensation.
A national treasure - Hainanese chicken rice
This dish has been hailed by CNN Go as number 45 of the 50 most delicious dishes in the world. After reading this I understand why my guide insisted I try even though I told her I was technically a vegetarian while in Singapore and didn't even finish Hawker Chan's chicken.
Mind you, I wanted to be a good traveler and we were already at the hawker center and they also offered to put some tofu with my chicken.
For chicken rice usually, an entire chicken is poached and the stock is used to boil the rice which makes for great flavors, giving it the name "oily rice". You eat it with a fresh dipping sauce of red chili and garlic, soy sauce, and some fresh cucumber.
While I still couldn't quite appreciate the chicken yet, I did like the oily rice and I'd say it makes a well-deserved number 45 and can be called national dish of Singapore for good reason!
Singapore Signature Dishes
To be honest, I was a bit sad that I couldn't afford a whole chili crab at the hawker market in Chinatown, and so I was even more excited when I got invited for dinner at StraitsKitchen at the Park Hyatt Singapore.
It is one of the best restaurants in Singapore and the perfect way to explore what Singaporean food is all about. The restaurant is set up like a huge buffet with different cooking stations taking you through all the different cuisines of Singapore: Indian, Chinese, Malay, and anything in between.
Usually, I am not a buffet fan but here I appreciated the fact that I could just eat my way through everything and get little tastes of what Singapore has to offer.
And yes, I was in luck as chili crab was on the menu (they change their crab dishes daily). Did I enjoy having crabs? - pardon the pun! - I did, however, as much as I like crab I think they are incredibly difficult to eat, even more so when drenched in delicious sauce. Let's just say that I wouldn't order it for a date and was very grateful that our waiter didn't seem to mind, me making a mess.
Even better than the crab was their laksa (and somewhat easier to eat). Laksa is a spicy coconut based noodle soup and the best part about eating it buffet style is that you get to add as much 'trimmings' aka fish balls, prawns and noodles as you like. Perfect for someone like me who is not usually a soup fan.
I also got to try Singaporean carrot cake. I am a fan of carrot cake especially when it comes with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting. Actually, scratch that, I am just in it for the frosting. In any case, Singapore carrot cake is not really a cake but rather a steamed mixture of rice flour and white radish (also called white carrot) fried with eggs and garlic. Utterly delicious and much preferred to what I know to be a carrot cake (unless there is cream cheese frosting of course!).
Whether you like it or not, the history of English colonialism is ever present in Singapore. I went on a tour featuring some of the cities most important colonial landmarks and to learn more about its history. While the latter aspect of the tour fell a bit short for my liking (I am a complete history nerd in case you didn't know that about me), we did get to have high tea at the Fullerton Hotel, one of the best hotels in Singapore, grand and full of history.
I guess if you take the English colonialism as something that shaped the face of Singapore it is just as well that some English traditions made their way into their kitchen. Luckily that doesn't mean salt and vinegar chips (I feel strongly that salt and vinegar chips shouldn't exist!).
High tea is as English as it gets and one of the things to eat in Singapore you shouldn't miss. It somehow makes for the perfect treat, bringing savory and sweet fans to the table while merging lunch, tea time, and dinner into one (because one high tea is enough).
At the Fullerton don't miss out on their delicious macarons and don't be shy to ask for more crab cocktails! In fact, it was one of my favorite aspects that you didn't just have to settle for one of each but cake stands were frequently and upon request restocked with our favorites.
What to eat for breakfast in Singapore?
Singapore breakfast options are as plenty- and colorful as the rest of its cuisine. I was personally delighted to be re-connected with Nasi Lemak, my favorite Malay dish at Villa Samadhi that I already got to enjoy in their Malaysia resort.
I definitely don't have a sweet tooth for breakfast and so this dish was perfect for me: crunchy, spicy, fresh, and just the right amount of exotic. Coconut-based rice is served with anchovies, peanuts, and an egg, and of course, lots of sambals. Delicious!
Another thing to eat in Singapore for breakfast is Kayan Toast. I find it utterly fascinating how certain countries have such a toast ...fetish that it becomes a national dish. To me, Kayan Toast is just toast with a lot of random ingredients as it is covered in sugar and coconut milk and usually topped with a soft-boiled egg and maybe a dash of soy sauce.
While I am usually a fan of sweet and savory on a plate, this does not sound like something I would like to eat unless it is month's end. But locals and foreigners swear by it and I guess they can't all be wrong. My friend Nam from Laugh Travel Eat spoke about it non-stop, eating little else during our time in Singapore as it seemed and as she is a food blogger you should trust her judgment on this matter!
Image by Laugh Travel Eat
Hipsters on the loose
The Singapore food scene is hip and happening and it is the perfect city for not only traditional but also innovative cuisine.
A great place to start your hipster/Instagram foodie endeavor is Kampong Glam. That area couldn't be any more picturesque and is definitely the most Instagram-worthy place in Singapore (minus the Marina Bay Sands pool maybe). Cool murals, quaint houses, and food to match.
I went for a black sesame cream puff from a store that must not be named and while I got to channel one of my favorite Instagram accounts, Girl Eats World, nicely the puff itself was such a disappointment. I guess you can do it for the 'gram but the experiment will set you back $5.
I will admit that disappointing puff turned me off a bit and so after that, I followed some trusted foodie friends when I wanted something else than hawker food in Singapore.
We ended up at Lucha Loco, a Mexican joint in the loveliest neighborhood, which was incredibly cool and very yummy (I am a total snob when it comes to Mexican food thanks to my old roommate in New York). Definitely best Mexican restaurant in Singapore.
If you are looking for something really fancy head to the Wanderlust Hotel. I was staying here for a few nights and it is not only a really cool boutique hotel in Singapore but also boasts an impressive kitchen at Audace. Mind you, I wasn't eating meat and was on a budget so my options were limited but they have a lovely bar menu and a great little wine list to match. Perfect for a nightcap and some nibbles after Instagram is asleep and you don't need to worry how your salmon mush will look in a picture but just enjoy the taste!
What are your favorite things to eat in Singapore?
Thank you Visit Singapore for showing me your city's passion on a plate!