Updated: Dec 13, 2019
I travelled frequently and one thing that I looked for when in other countries is their local food. I will ask the locals what are nice, special or uniquely local. Some "fear" food will be mentioned occasionally (locals like to challenge foreigners to their "specialties") and I will give them a try if I have the opportunity.
While reading articles on "fear" food around the world, I noted some that can be found in Singapore. I also read several articles written by Singapore locals, calling food in their own backyard as "weird" or "bizarre". This kinda tickles a little. The definitions of "weird" and "bizarre" have somehow became ambiguous when it comes to specialty food.
In this post, I will clarify on the so-called "weird" food that can be found in Singapore and introduce them to foreign travellers at the same time. They are not really "weird" but more "dare" for both locals and travellers. I will include locations that are in popular tourist spots so it will be easier to find them for those who are daring to try.
Below are 11 Singapore delicacies that are deeply rooted in the island nation. I excluded those "dare" food that are imported from overseas, such as fish sperms, live octopus tentacles, puffer fish meat, etc., as they are usually served in restaurants, not of local characteristics and quite expensive. Most travellers would not be able to try them unless in a group of at least 3 or 4 daring eaters so as not to waste the food.
1. Chicken Feet
This item tops most weird food lists. Quite a number of articles cited chicken feet as the weirdest food and they are chewy with no meat. Those claws also look ugly and intimidating to most people, especially when they imagined the environment where those feet are stepping on. Funny, don't chicken eat, sleep and fight with each other in that same environment?
First of all, what is weird about chicken feet? Isn't it part of a chicken? While some people eat the meaty parts (breast, wings and drumsticks) and discard the rest, others appreciate those "unsightly" parts more than the blander meat cuts.
Second, depending on how the chicken feet (or more elegantly "phoenix claws") are prepared, their textures will vary. Chewy chicken feet are often stewed in soy sauce to maintain its original texture and collagen as much as possible. Other styles of eating chicken feet include boiling them in herbal soups, some are de-boned, steamed and served with sour-spicy dipping sauce, most are braised.
Those served in dim sum restaurants are usually braised, meaning they are fried lightly before stewing (Hong Kong style). This process softens the skin and allows it to be eaten easily. The wrinkled skin will detach itself from the bones when in the mouth without effort. The photo (above) shows some braised chicken feet and they are the "protagonist" of the chicken feet noodle.
Many people believe that the collagen in chicken feet are good for skin complexion and for healing wounds, which is why chicken feet are often used in herbal soups too.
Where to find? Some food centres, especially at dim sum restaurants, chicken noodle stalls, etc. Ji Ji Wanton Noodle (基记面家) in Hong Lim Food Centre, Chinatown, is also a good place to try.
2. Chicken (or Duck) Parts & Offal
Apart from chicken feet, other chicken parts, such as head, neck and butt, and offal, such as heart, intestine, kidney, liver, gizzard, etc, can also be consumed. This applies to duck too.
Grilled chicken hearts on skewer has long been a Brazilian delicacy. Grilled chicken butts on skewer (known as "fragrance from 7 miles away", or qi li xiang, 七里香) is also a popular Taiwanese snack. The long duck necks are Chinese delicacy and priced higher than a cut of duck meat. Same as chicken feet, duck's webbed feet are also stewed and eaten. Duck liver is also a cheaper alternative to foie gras (goose's liver). Isn't it funny why no one ever say goose's liver is weird? Just because it is usually not served in its original shape?
The photo (above) shows a plate of chicken offal (hearts, kidneys, livers and gizzards). Each of the parts and offal offers different tastes and textures to complement any meat cuts — if you know how to appreciate them. The offal are also cheaper and have more nutrition (vitamin A & B, iron, collagen, minerals, etc.) than the meaty cuts, which are mainly proteins.
The older Chinese generations know how to get all the required nutrition by eating a little of everything instead of just the meat. This works better than eating expensive health supplements that often result in either over-dosage or under-nourishment of certain minerals.
Where to find? Chicken and duck rice or noodle stalls in most food centres.
3. Century Egg
Century egg (pi dan, or 皮蛋) is a type of preserved egg made by preserving chicken or duck eggs in a mixture of clay, salt and lime. The egg, before peeling away the brown sawdust layer and shelled, has a pungent odor that smells like ammonia and this leads people to think they are preserved using "horse urine". And that is what scared some people off without even giving it a try. People always believe rumours.
While most westerners will find century egg to be weird, Asians should be very familiar with it as it has been around for centuries and used in a number of dishes, especially when eating minced pork (or chicken) congee (皮蛋瘦肉粥).
Century egg can be eaten without any preparations. When eaten on its own, it is usually accompanied by pickled ginger. In all other cases, century eggs are used as condiment for many dishes and soups due to their stronger flavours than normal eggs. The shelled eggs are not pungent and its taste is rather unique (unlike how some bloggers exaggerated). You have to try it to know how it tastes, not just trusting what others said.
Where to find? Most stalls that sell century egg minced pork congee (especially with dim sum), economic bee hoon, etc. Just look for black-coloured eggs (after being shelled).
4. Turtle Soup
Turtle soup is a Chinese cuisine that originates from China and Singapore. It can really be classified as one of Singapore's own local delicacy. And unbelievably, the United States also have a long history of making their version of turtle soup since the 19th-century. While most East Asian countries use soft-shell turtles to make the soup, the United States use common snapping turtles.
Most of the soft-shell turtles in Singapore are imported from China, which has over a thousand farms to rear the turtles for consumption (see Wikipedia).
Turtle soup in Singapore is usually herbal and is believed to strengthen the body and improve kidney functions. Turtle meat tastes like chicken and slightly chewy, almost similar to crocodile meat. But if you have eaten both of them before, you will be able to identify crocodile meat from their bones and turtle meat from their skins. The smooth and soft gelatinous turtle skin is a must in turtle soup or you will miss out the best deal. It is the skin that helps to improve skin complexion.
Where to find? Hong Lim Food Centre and Chinatown Complex in Chinatown. Berseh Food Centre in Little India. Check also other locations for turtle soup.
5. Turtle Herbal Jelly
Turtle jelly is traditionally made from powdered bottom shells of a certain turtle specie, called the golden coin turtle, and other herbal ingredients for medicinal purposes. The golden coin turtle is actually an endangered specie and some other turtle species are used as replacement instead. The turtles are farmed in China for making the powder. Even so, they are still very expensive.
Most turtle jellies that are sold as dessert at very cheap prices are usually without the turtle powder, although they are still called "turtle" jelly (龟苓膏) in Mandarin. In English, the term "herbal jelly" is much more appropriate as the ingredients are mainly herbs. Therefore, there is no need to get too paranoid over them. The herbal jelly will still serve its medicinal purpose without the turtle shell component although the effectiveness may be milder.
Herbal jelly tastes bitter because of the herbs and are usually sweetened with a layer of sugar syrup, maple syrup or honey on top. Try it as a dessert instead of as a tonic.
If someone tries to sell you herbal jelly at high price, think twice. You may be over-paying for something that may not be in there. You will not know the difference.
Where to find? In most Chinese traditional dessert shops. Mei Heong Yuen Dessert (味香园甜品) in Chinatown.
6. Crocodile Meat
There used to be a number of crocodile farms in Singapore many years back but all had closed down except one. Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm (农光行鳄鱼场) is located in Kranji and housed about 13,000 saltwater crocodiles for their skins to make leathers and for food. The farm is not opened to public, but if you are seriously interested to tour the farm, ask Uncle William.
After harvesting the crocodile skins to make leathers and export to Japan and Europe, the meats are sold locally for consumption instead of being wasted. Crocodile bones are also sold for making herbal soups and soup stocks. The meats can be bought in some supermarkets and Jurong Frog Farm. So, it is not surprising to see crocodile dishes in Singapore.
Crocodile meat is hailed as having zero cholesterol and is a good replacement for pork. The meat tastes similar to chicken but slightly chewier. Crocodile herbal soup is believed to strengthen the lungs, prevent asthma, relieve cold and cough, etc.
For a period of time, braised crocodile paws was a popular dish much to the amazement of those who have not seen it before. However, the dish seems to have disappeared from menus in recent years. (If you know of a restaurant that is serving this dish, do let me know. Thanks.)
Where to find? Very Lucky Turtle Soup & Hock Hoe Turtle Soup in Berseh Food Centre, Little India.
7. Shark Meat
Unknown to many people, shark meat is actually one of the most widely consumed seafood in the world even though people are wailing "save the sharks!". Shark meat is cheap and commonly made into fish balls, nuggets, fillets and other fish products throughout the world. Most people do not know that they are eating shark meat through these products and will jump when they see the word "shark" on menus. Sounds like a nightmare to fish-and-chips lovers?
According to Wikipedia, there are over 500 species of sharks in the world with around 60 species in the endangered category. So, there is no need to get hyper at every mentioning of "shark" unless you know that you are being served an endangered specie.
Shark meats are usually obtained from young sharks as bigger, longer-lived sharks tend to have higher levels of mercury. Shark fins, which are harvested from big sharks, are also said to contain mercury and other toxins, and with zero health benefit as the fins are mainly cartilage. Most people should be very familiar with shark fins, and most probably ate them before, so why is shark meat weird?
As mentioned before, most shark meats are made into fish products that will not have the word "shark" stamped on them. But one stall, Lao Liang, in Singapore highlighted that it sells shark meat and also a specialty dish call "shark meat jelly" (鲨鱼冻). They use the meat of white-tooth sharks (白牙鲨鱼) and made it into jelly and served chilled. The jelly is made by boiling the gelatinous shark skin and frozen. This is the only shark meat jelly stall in Singapore and their secret recipe will not be sold or passed down. Try it before the old couple retires for good.
Another popular shark meat delicacy is this shark meat lor mee (卤面, flat yellow noodle in thick starchy gravy), with deep-fried shark meat fritters and crispy batter bits. Is it good? Wait till you see the queue at this stall. The stall is called Lor Mee 178 and it is also on Singapore Michelin Guide 2016.
How does shark meat tastes like? It's a fish.
Where to find? Shark meat jelly at Lao Liang (老两) in Jalan Berseh Food Centre, Little India. Shark meat lor mee at Lor Mee 178 in Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre (advise to go on weekdays, except Mondays, to avoid crowd).
8. Frog Meat
Most people will jump at the mention of the unsightly creature but frog meat is actually a very common food worldwide with frog legs being consumed throughout Asia, Europe and southern American continent. It is really wasteful to eat only the legs and throw away the rest of the frog. This is also why frog legs usually cost higher. On the other hand, it is not weird at all to see the whole frog being consumed in places that do not waste the food.
There is a frog farm in Singapore so seeing frog meat being sold locally is nothing to wail about. Jurong Frog Farm breeds American Bullfrogs for consumption. It is one of the major suppliers of frogs to many local food centres and restaurants. Apart from selling its own frog products, Jurong Frog Farm also sells crocodile meat. The farm is opened to the public on weekends if you are interested in an educational tour — for your kids.
In Singapore, claypot frog meat in thick sauce to go with plain porridge is the most popular way to eat the dish. Usually, the whole frog is chopped and simmered without the head, organs and skin. At the end of the day, only the meat are eaten, it is just not being restricted to those chunky legs. In terms of taste and texture, both crocodile meat and frog meat are similar with the latter being slightly more chewy.
Where to find? Some food centres and restaurants. Tiong Shian Porridge Centre (长城粥品) in Chinatown.
9. Pig's Organ Soup
Similar to chicken, pig is another food staple that can be consumed from head to toe — and tail. Pig's organ soup (猪杂汤) usually contains a mixture of pig's liver, kidney, intestine, stomach and meat balls or slices of pork in clear soup with beancurd and salted vegetable. Singapore banned all blood cubes many years ago, so the Singapore-style pig's organ soup does not have pig's blood cubes.
Apart from having the soup with the organs mixed in, you can also order a la carte organ soup, with just one or two types of offal. The photo below shows a bowl of pig's liver soup. Pig's liver is iron-rich and is good for people with iron deficiency, pregnant women, women during menstrual periods and people who have just donated blood. It is also high in cholesterol, so do consume in moderation.
How about pig's fallopian tubes that most bloggers wrote about? See 10. Kway Chay.
Where to find? Most food centres. Koh Brother Pig's Organ Soup in Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre. Cheng Mun Chee Kee Pig's Organ Soup (正正文志记猪什汤大王) at 24 Foch Road, Little India.
10. Kway Chap
Kway chap is a Teochew dish that is served with a bowl of broad white noodles in broth and accompanied by an assorted mix of pig offal on a separate plate. The wide assortment of stewed pig parts and offal is more than the offal in a bowl of pig's organ soup. If you are keen to try a little of each offal, kway chap is another option.
At Jin Ji Braised Duck & Kway Chap, you will be able to ask for a little of each pig's offal and parts, such as intestines (big, small, or big intestine head), fallopian tubes, pork belly, stomach, skin, tongue, ear with other side dishes. You can also add on their popular duck meat and chicken egg. This is also a good place to try pig's fallopian tubes in small quantity instead of a plateful.
Look closer and you will see pig skins, pig intestines, pig tongue, pig stomach, duck meat, egg and beancurd in small quantities.
Where to find? Kway chap stalls. Jin Ji Braised Duck & Kway Chap (金记潮州卤鸭) in Chinatown Complex, #02-156.
11. Hashima (or Hasma)
First, let's clear up a misconception regarding hashima (雪蛤膏 or 蛤士蟆油).
Many bloggers wrote about hashima being a weird food in Singapore where "frog's fallopian tubes" (tubes that carry eggs from the ovary to the uterus) are consumed. Someone, either intentionally or unknowingly, mis-stated the definition for hashima and it gets copied by bloggers without verifying the facts.
The smooth and soft-looking hashima does not resemble any "tube" at all. If a frog's fallopian tubes really look so "fatty", then all female frogs will never get pregnant!
In the past, hashima, or "snow jelly", was extracted from snow frogs in China and exported to Singapore as a cheap alternative to the more expensive bird's nest. But as the price of snow frogs soared sky-high some years back, local restaurants switched to yet cheaper alternative by getting from local farm, i.e Jurong Frog Farm.
However, most small dessert outlets decided to drop hashima from their menus as its high price and "weird" talks about consuming frog's fallopian tubes drove down demands. It became uneconomical to prepare expensive hashima dessert and yet unable to sell them.
How does those fatty tissues taste like? Seriously, since they are usually prepared as sweet desserts, it is not easy to deduce its actual taste. But, on the whole, hashima dessert tastes like bird nest, so it should be the sweet broth that gives the taste.
Where to find? Ah Chew Desserts (阿秋甜品) at Liang Seah Street, next to Bugis Junction. Buy off the shelf from Eu Yan Sang (余仁生) outlets and Dragon Brand Bird's Nest (龙标燕窝) outlets. Or buy the dried hashima from Jurong Frog Farm and prepare yourself (cheaper). Also, in Chinese restaurants and restaurants in hotels but more expensive.
How many "dare" points did you score from this list? I am 11/11. Beat me!
This list is not "weird" or "bizarre" to me. I do have a list of Singapore food that may be really "fear" food for travellers. Check it out.
More food option?