6 Singapore's Own Traditional Dishes that Travellers Must Try
Singapore is a food haven for food lovers. Among the long list of local traditional food, and international cuisines, Singapore has its own proud creations that are well-known throughout the world.
In this post, I consolidated 6 traditional dishes that have deep roots in Singapore. Travellers visiting Singapore should at least some of these local food.
1. Chili Crab
Without a doubt, chili crab is the top signature seafood dish in Singapore although it can be a little expensive. The savoury dish was first created in 1956 when a couple used both tomato and chili sauce to prepare the gravy. The dish is not spicy despite its name.
Bigger and meatier mud crabs are usually used to prepare the dish, although any types of crab can be used. The semi-thick gravy is also added with eggs and is great for eating with bread or fried buns. Eating crab requires the use of fingers, so don't be a novice by using utensils.
Apart from the chili version, there are also black pepper crabs, white pepper crabs and salted egg yolk crabs. All are delicacies of Singapore. So, gather a group of seafood lovers and go for a crabs feast.
Popular chili crab in Singapore
- Mellben Seafood @ Ang Mo Kio
- No Signboard Seafood Restaurant @ Vivo City, Esplanade & The Central
2. Hainanese Chicken Rice (海南鸡饭)
If you travel all the way to Hainan Island, in the South China Sea, in search for local Hainanese chicken rice, you will not find one. Hainan's popular chicken dish is the Wenchang chicken (文昌鸡), which is usually served separately with plain rice — it is a chicken dish whereas Singapore's Hainanese Chicken Rice is a chicken-and-rice dish.
In Singapore, the steamed chicken used in Hainanese chicken rice is prepared by boiling in water to retain its tenderness — the Hainanese-style. It is an adaptation from the Wenchang chicken with slight variations and served with specially-prepared rice, which is part of the dish. The rice is cooked with chicken broth, garlic, etc, to give it flavour and fragrance.
The popular dish is available in almost all neighbourhood coffee shops and food courts in shopping malls.
Popular Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore:
- Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice @ Tiong Bahru Food Centre
- Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice @ Maxwell Food Centre
3. Katong Laksa (加东叻沙)
Laksa is a popular Peranakan curry noodle dish in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and in southern Thailand. Its origin is believed to be in Malacca, where the local Peranakan community first created the spicy coconut-curry dish. The Peranakans in Penang created the tamarind-based assam laksa, which tends to on the sour side.
In Singapore, Katong laksa made its name after the laksa dish was first served with just a spoon. Thick rice vermicelli is cut into short strands, which make the noodle dish easier to eat by scooping with the spoon. Since it started in Tanjung Katong area in Singapore, it was called Katong laksa.
The typical Katong laksa serves rice vermicelli in either spicy or non-spicy coconut curry gravy with cockles, prawns and slices of fishcake as its main ingredients. Ground coriander and chili are optional these days, but the delicious Katong laksa dish is just incomplete without the condiments.
Popular Katong laksa in Singapore:
- 328 Katong Laksa @ East Coast Road
- Sungei Road Laksa @ Jalan Berseh
Other great laksa that are not Katong-style:
- Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa @ Hong Lim Food Centre
4. Bak Kut Teh (肉骨茶)
Bak kut teh, or pork ribs soup, is a popular dish in Singapore, Malaysia and the Riau Islands. Bak kut teh is literally "pork rib and tea" in Hokkien as tea is traditionally consumed when eating the dish. The origin of bak kut teh is unclear but it was evolved in Singapore and Malaysia by early Chinese immigrants. As a result, there are several versions of bak kut teh.
Malaysia's Klang bak kut teh, is one version of the pork ribs soup dish that was created in Klang, a town in Selangor, Malaysia. The soup is darker and strongly herbal but fat belly meat may be added in place of a piece of pork rib. Some said that it is Hokkien style but is entirely different from the Hokkien-style bak kut teh in Singapore.
In Singapore, the Teochew and Hokkien styles of bak kut teh are more prevalent. The soup of the Teochew version is lighter in colour and uses more pepper and garlic. It was created in Singapore and is served in most food centres and restaurants throughout the island.
The Hokkien version is darker in colour from using soy sauce and is lightly herbal. There are not many Hokkien bak kut teh stalls left in Singapore.
To really appreciate bak kut teh, try both versions with Chinese tea and fried dough (or you tiao, 油条).
Popular bak kut teh in Singapore:
- Hokkien Street Bak Kut Teh @ Hong Lim Food Centre
- Teochew style? They are everywhere!
5. Hokkien Mee (福建面)
Hokkien mee, or Hokkien noodle, is a noodle dish that has its origin in Fujian (Hokkien) Province of China. Early Chinese immigrants from Fujian to Singapore and Malaysia prepared the noodle dish differently, and throwing in any ingredients they could find, and resulted in various versions of "Hokkien mee" in different places.
Read: The Quest for Hokkien Mee in Singapore & Malaysia
Singapore's Hokkien mee is a dish of fried noodle with prawns as its main ingredient and squid, fish cake, egg, etc, may be added. Normally, two types of noodle are used, the thick yellow noodle and rice vermicelli. The lightly-fried noodle dish is usually served with optional Mandarin orange and chili for additional sour-spicy flavour.
Just like there is no Hainanese chicken rice in Hainan, there is no Hokkien mee in Fujian too.
Popular Hokkien Mee in Singapore:
- Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee @ Tiong Bahru Food Centre
6. Roti Prata
Not only did the Chinese immigrants evolved several traditional dishes in the early days, Indian immigrants also created roti prata, a kind of flatbread, from India's paratha. Although similar in appearances, the ingredients used, the making process and how roti prata is eaten in Singapore are entirely different from paratha.
In Singapore, the shallow-fried roti prata can be served plain or with egg, onions and/or cheese. It is usually eaten with a dish of curry sauce, which can be mutton curry, fish curry or chicken curry.
On a side note, the "Singapore-style noodle" (星州炒米) as served in Hong Kong restaurants is neither created nor served in Singapore. It is probably a naming gimmick to attract customers. However, Singapore do have a fried vermicelli dish called Singapore bee hoon (星洲米粉) but the ingredients are different and without curry powder.