Few cities are so hyped when it comes to food as Singapore, for both gourmets and Asian street food fans. I like both and so I was delighted when Visit Singapore offered to feed me for a few days while I was in town for ITB Asia.
Are you in town for the first time? Then this little foodie’s guide on what to eat in Singapore is for you!
What to eat in Singapore & Where
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 my tour bus pulled up to Smith Street I felt I had walked in an open-air restaurant.
All the stalls for 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 as it felt more like eating at cheap restaurants in Singapore than at a market 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 so what to eat in Singapore when you are on a budget? I paid a few dollars extra to get some steamed chilli crab dumplings instead of a whole chilli crab as I would have liked to. 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. While there is no shortcoming of fine dining in Singapore, Michelin is not just about the money and awarded a humble noodle seller from Singapore a prestigious star for his $ 2,50 dish. Once 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 if you ask what to eat in Singapore it should probably be on your list. And to be honest, I just really love the story of a humble hawker who got a Michelin star and became an international food sensation.
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 really nice 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. With that it is also one of the best affordable restaurants in Singapore especially if you can eat a lot in one setting. 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!).
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 in a glass
What to eat in Singapore should go hand in hand with the question of what to drink in Singapore. The best place to find out is Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, where owner Sim shows off his bartending and cooking skills.
The cool little spot is hidden on the first floor above a kiosk right by the Boat Quay, an area that looks a bit like a tourist trap. From the outside it is unassuming, to say the least, while the inside reminded me of a typical Berlin bar: part livingroom part dive bar part fast food joint.
Everyone is welcome though and you get to try a piece of Singapore in a glass. The cocktails are based on typical local flavors like Milo and Laksa. I opted for the latter which was served with coconut milk, vodka, chili, lime and dried shrimp – a weird but incredibly yummy concoction which to my great relief tasted nothing like Baileys and was super refreshing for a hot Singapore day. And if you trust the bartender you will just describe your preferred flavor profile and alcohol and get your very own bespoke cocktail.
In addition to those very unique cocktails (and don’t worry they also serve good old beer and wine), Ah Sam offers a small menu of bar snacks that take street food inspiration from generations ago. Especially the Hokkien Prawn Mee and the fried chicken marinated in fermented shrimp are the bomb!
The best Cafes for High Tea
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 – sorry, English people!).
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.
As the name implies Arteastiq is all about tea & art. And even if art jamming isn’t your jam (I know it is not mine), Arteastiq is still a great place for high tea in Singapore.
You can choose between a more classic signature high tea or a Singapore inspired version which each serves 4 savory and 4 sweet treats. The signature tea offers macarons and smoked salmon roulade while the so-called National Treasure offers otah fries with chili (otah is made out of fish and super yummy!) and chicken satay as well as rainbow layer cake with kaya and steamed tapioca cake with lychee.
In addition to their food, the tea menu is mighty impressive and I was delighted to find out that many of their teas are served as ice tea but in a proper cup and teapot. Many classics but also many novelty teas are offered, hot and cold, and I can’t wait to go back and try their fizzy Earl Grey.
They have three outlets and I am also keen to check out their cafe at Changi airport as they offer a midnight tea. From 10 pm tea is substituted with cocktails – perfect for a pre-flight aperitif!
What to eat in Singapore for breakfast?
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
Hip & Happening
The Singapore food scene is hip and happening and it is the perfect city for not only traditional but also innovative cuisine and there are constantly new restaurants popping up in Singpore.
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.
Check out more cool pictures from Arab Lane.
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 the 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!
As I was writing a feature on some of the best restaurants in Singapore, I was lucky enough to get invited for dinner at Whitegrass.
Whitegrass has just reopened a few months ago under the helm of Takuya Yamashita, a young Japanese chef. While it currently doesn’t have a Michelin star anymore due to the new ownership I am sure the star will return because the food here rocks.
“La Novelle Cuisine” is the name for Chef Takuya’s mix of French and Japanese food which means that the produce is ultra-fresh and often comes directly from the market in Japan. It is also kept in its natural state for quite a few dishes – that’s how good the ingredients are!
You can choose between 5 and 8 courses and if you are lucky Chef Takuya will bring them out himself. Okay, well chances are probably better if you come on a Tuesday when it is not full but regardless I always like to meet the people who make my food.
So what’s to eat? Hokkaido crab, a dim sum shaped like a scallop filled with scallop, the most tender chicken (and how boring is chicken usually?), and amazing ice cream with tomato foam. An unforeseen highlight was the still oven-warm madeleine that I got after my desert and a little caramel pound cake for takeaway. Mind you, this is coming from someone who usually doesn’t like dough-dominated cake but wow, they were good!
Obviously, the menu is changing according to what is seasonally available and you can check it out here. While Tuesday was not busy when I went, I highly recommend reservations far in advance because it is bound to get crowded there.
Coffee in Singapore
To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I found out what affogato actually is. In Germany we have had affogato for years, simply calling it iced coffee. Imagine my surprise when I realized that in many parts of the world iced coffee is black coffee with ice cubes. But to be honest, I was delighted because I drink my coffee black and without sugar so why anyone would add actual ice cream and whipped cream and stuff to it just because it is summer is beyond me.
So maybe I am not the right person to report about the Affogato Lounge but then again I liked it and their dessert/coffees are a nice pick-me-up when Singapore is steaming. Both the Affogato Lounge and Bar offer a variety of affogatos with different flavor profiles and kinds of espresso. Oh yes, that’s right – in case you are still not sure what I am talking about: affogato is pretty much ice cream served in a glass with espresso shots. In their case, they also add some cake crumbs or biscuits or for my “Créme de la Malt” popping candy which was fun albeit slightly dangerous when pouring the espresso.
Where to stay in Singapore?
Needless to say, you will need a good place to stay for your culinary explorations. The unfortunate truth is that most Singapore accommodation like anything else in the city is quite pricey. Mind you, there are still a few gems to be found that won’t break the bank and on my recent trip, I was lucky to discover one of them.
Ann Siang House, short ASH, is a newly opened boutique hotel in Singapore. It is located on Ann Siang Hill in Chinatown, a corner with hip bars and restaurants but within walking distance from hawker centers and famous Smith Street. The building itself is a restored shophouse from the 1920s so you will soak up a piece of Singapore history simply in your sleep.
While the lobby and the dining corner where breakfast is served are small and clad in dark blue, the rooms are quite spacious and light. That even goes for the deluxe rooms which are the lowest room category! The decor is retro with lots of brass, art pieces and railroad tiles in the bathrooms while the beds are simply big and comfortable. To be honest, I spend most of my days in mine (have I mentioned that I work best from a comfortable hotel bed?!) and I am not even pretending to be happy in this picture, I really am. Mind you, I was also eating my cake from Whitegrass for brekkie which helped with my happiness.
They have various restaurants connected to ASH and on the top, you will find a rooftop bar with an impressive cocktail menu. However, my favorite feature of Ann Siang House was their free laundry service and unlimited filtered water tap which also had sparkling water. I think I must have drunk the room’s rate in water alone. Another great feature? They are not just a regular Singapore hotel but also offer long-term accommodation – guess I know where I am staying when I come back for a month to eat the rest of the city!
What are your favorite things to eat in Singapore?
Thank you Visit Singapore for showing me your city’s passion on a plate!
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