For foodies, there’s no place on earth quite like Singapore. Although the “Lion City” might not get the press of famous Asian food destinations like Hong Kong or Tokyo, serious gourmands know that the food culture in Singapore is something to be reckoned with.
Singaporeans take their eating seriously. And who could blame them? Singaporean cuisine fuses the best of three culinary worlds, taking cues from its three main ethnic groups—Malay, Chinese, and Indian—to offer, what might well be, one of Asia’s most exciting food selections.
Tastebuds getting excited? Get them prepped with this guide to what to eat in Singapore…
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Singapore food guide: 11 must-eat dishes
I can’t help but begin my Singaporean food journey with one of my all-time favourite Southeast Asian dishes, laksa. This exotic & flavourful noodle soup is found just about everywhere up and down the Malay Peninsula with each region putting a different spin on it.
In Singapore, the most common (and, in my opinion, the most delicious) variety is curry laksa. Compared to asam laksa—Penang’s twist on the Peranakan dish—Singaporean curry laksa is less sour, less fishy, and features a richer broth for a taste that’s more adaptable to most palates.
Most versions of laksa around Singapore share common characteristics such as a coconut-milk-based broth, vermicelli noodles, and a variety of meats & seafood like chicken, shrimps or cockles.
Keep on the lookout for a special Singaporean variation called katong laksa, featuring noodles cut into more manageably-sized pieces & eaten only with a spoon.
Char Kuay Teow
One of Singapore’s most famous noodle dishes, char kuay teow originates (as you probably guessed from the name) from Chinese cuisine.
This tasty meal tosses broad rice noodles in a sweet dark-soy-based sauce that’s stir-fried along with ingredients like eggs, bean sprouts, Chinese sausages, pork fat, cockles, and fish cakes.
One of the best places to chow down on char kuay teow is at the Lau Pa Sat Food Pavilion near the central business district or at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre in Chinatown.
One of the dishes most associated with Singaporean cuisine is undoubtedly chili crab (and its variant, black pepper crab). Most foodies are surprised to find that, despite the name, chili crab isn’t an overly spicy dish. It’s rather succulent and pleasant in fact!
To prepare the dish, chefs both boil and fry hard-shell crabs to maintain its distinctively juicy texture. The crabs are served in a sweet tomato-based chili sauce that’s tasty enough to be sopped up and savoured on its own with the accompanying fried buns.
Brought to Singapore by Chinese workers from Fujian, hokkien mee has become one of the city-state’s most popular and distinguishing foods. This noodle dish is quite simple.
The Singaporean variety of hokkien mee consists of stir-fried wide egg noodles in a soy, vinegar and chili sauce combined with various seafoods like prawns or squid. In true Singaporean fashion, a lime wedge and a little sambal is added for flavour and punch.
Whatever you do, don’t confuse hokkien mee in Singapore with the similarly-named hokkien char mee. This, arguably more common, variety fries up round egg noodles up a dark soy sauce that’s saltier and less crisp than its Singaporean namesake.
Fish Head Curry
Adventurous eaters will love a chance to prove their limits with fish head curry, a Singaporean staple that drills in influences from the city-state’s Indian and Chinese communities.
And in case you’re wondering: this dish probably is probably exactly as weird looking as you’d imagine. To make it, a fish head (either half or whole) is cooked in a spicy curry letting all of its—umm—goodness penetrate into the entire dish, and served as is.
While it may not look the part, fish head curry is absolutely packed with flavour. More Indian-influenced varieties lean towards fiery and savoury while tamer Chinese versions are sweeter and less rich. Some even add tamarind water for an extra punch of sour.
If you’ve spent any time perusing the night markets of Taipei, oyster omelettes are probably already on your radar. The Singaporean version is much of the same, mixing eggs with flour and oyster and frying them up to perfection.
Despite our usual association of egg dishes with breakfast, oyster omelettes are an all-day affair at Singapore’s most famous hawker centres. Don’t forget to squeeze a little chili vinegar onto your oyster omelette to get the full Singaporean flavour extravaganza.
Famous all over Southeast Asia, satay is perhaps one of the most loved street food staples in the region. It’s hard to pin down a single taste profile for satay as each stall around Singapore will inevitably have their own unique take on this classic skewered food.
Whether its chicken, pork, lamb, or beef, there’s probably a satay that’ll suit your tastes and your diet. Whichever meat you choose, be sure to spice it up by dipping it into the distinctive spicy peanut sauce that make this dish such a popular local specialty.
One of the most popular hawker stall foods in Singapore, barbecue sambal stingray is as distinctive a dish as any in Singapore. Consisting of a stingray slathered in sambal—a concoction of tomatoes, shrimp paste, and chilis—and slow-grilled to perfection inside a banana leaf, this street food is an absolute must-have while visiting Singapore.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of seafood, you might well enjoy chowing down on some sambal stingray. Surprisingly, the texture is more like a fish or chicken than other sea creatures like squid while lacking that fishy taste that turn so many travellers off of seafood.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Simpler food pleasures that Hainanese chicken rice don’t come around often. Although there’s not a whole lots to it, this dish has long been a favourite in Singapore and is as easy to find as any food in the city.
Hainanese chicken rice—hailing originally from Hainan province, but perfected here in the Singapore—features juicy strips of steamed chicken atop a bed of rice. Both the chicken and the rice are cooked in a flavourful chicken (and sometimes pork) broth infused with ingredients like ginger, garlic, and pandan leaves. Top it off with a little sambal chili for an extra flavour kick.
Who could go on without mentioning Singapore’s most famous breakfast dish (and the only truly local one), kaya toast. This morning-time snack spins together two slices of bread smothered in kaya (a coconut egg mix) and grilled with a buttery layer in between.
Most often kaya toast is served with soft-boiled eggs seasoned with pepper and dark soy sauce. Crack ’em open, dip it, and dig it!
Not entirely Singaporean, nasi lemak is still one of the city’s most sought-after snacks. Originating from Malaysia (in fact, some would label it as the national dish there), nasi lemak consists of rice steamed in a coconut cream and topped with fried anchovies, sambal chili paste, peanuts, and egg.
Although once served mainly at breakfast, nasi lemak‘s become an all-day affair as of late. New generations of Singaporeans have upped the dish’s game by adding extras like cuttlefish balls and chicken.
Where to stay in Singapore: The best hotels for foodies
No matter where you choose to stay in Singapore, rest assured that there’s never a shortage of delicious food nearby! Despite that, I’d offer up the downtown core as the best area to stay in Singapore.
The area around Chinatown & Clarke Quay is particularly awesome for foodies as there are several popular hawker centres within walking distance including the Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, and the Lau Pa Sat Food Pavilion.
Here are a few great choices:
- Champion Hotel City: One of the best budget hotels in the city, this small hotel is just a short walk to some of Singapore’s top hawker centres and the delightful riverside restaurants at Clarke Quay. Rooms are small but super clean, modern & comfy.
- Park Regis: Among the top mid-range picks in the city, this ultra-charming 4-star hotel sits just a few blocks from Clarke Quay and Chinatown. The rooms are, of course, comfortable & stylish, but the hotel’s at its most remarkable in the garden-like outdoor pool area where the stress of bit city life just seems to melt away.
- Parkroyal on Pickering: The first time you see this luxury 5-star hotel, you’ll love it. Even without posturing itself as one of the top Singapore luxury hotels, this stunning property features show-stopping architecture that’s a cut above the usual glass skyscraper variety found in Asian cities. Indulge in spectacular 360-degree vistas from the rooftop Orchid Club or grab a relaxing spa day to really get your traveller chi flowin’.