Since being named Lonely Planet’s top destination to visit in 2015, Singapore has seen an ever-increasing number of tourists flock to its temples, safaris and beaches. And, while they’re there, a whole new generation of travellers is discovering the country’s eclectic cuisine – which combines Chinese, Indian and Malay flavours for a unique taste of south-east Asia and in this post i’m going to talk through 4 foods you have to try in Singapore.
I was lucky enough to visit myself for a few nights when we travelled as a family to Australia in 2003. Needless to say I was blown away by the food, even though I was 21 and didn’t have the international pallet that I have now.
1. Kaya toast
Instead of traditional restaurants, Singaporeans often prefer the convenience of hawker centres – a cross between a food court and a market in which stalls provide hot and cold dishes to eat in communal seating areas. This style is what I feel in love with when we were there and loved sitting under the stars in shorts and a t-shirt, mingling with locals and tourists alike. It’s an informal arrangement but doesn’t mean the quality suffers. As Ben Groundwater points out, in his blog for 1Cover, some stalls have even attained a Michelin star.
And, if you head over there for breakfast, you’ll see plenty of busy people starting the day with kaya toast. The most basic ingredients are bread and kaya (coconut jam), but this is topped off with a layer of coconut milk, sugar and eggs. Often further flavoured with pandan – fragrant leaves from the screwpine plant – it’s also enjoyed as a snack with a tea or coffee. In fact, it’s so popular that a few coffee house chains have sprung up specialising in the dish – and variations on it.
2. Mee pok
This dish demonstrates one of Singapore’s main influences, by being built around Chinese noodles (which tend to be flatter and yellower than their Japanese cousins). This is the base for many variations, with some served in a sauce and others in a soup. The sauce base features chilli, oil and vinegar, while the soup tends to include bone broth, soybean and dried sole.
Bak chor mee pairs these bases with minced meat (with optional mushrooms, anchovies or liver) and was honoured by the World Street Food Congress as their top world street food. Meanwhile, fish ball mee pok (pictured above) offers boiled or fried fish paste, lettuce and dumplings. Insert Emma’s excited about food jazz hands…
3. Roti prata
The other major cuisine that’s helped shape Singaporean taste is Indian food, and roti prata can be seen as a regional twist on their delicious flatbread.
Favoured either early in the morning or late at night, this popular snack (or side-dish) is fried until crispy – while retaining a soft centre (much like the perfect Yorkshire pudding). Like pancakes or crepes, this can then be combined with either sweet or savoury options.
Vegetable curry is perhaps the most common accompaniment, boosting the dish into a hearty meal – but for those wanting something lighter, cheese, eggs, beans or mushrooms make for a still substantial snack. Finally, paired with chocolate or bananas, it can be enjoyed as a dessert. Talk about versatile!
Speaking of desserts, among the nation’s most popular is chendol. The name of this iced sweet is thought to come from the shape of its main ingredient. These strands of rice flour jelly are almost wormlike (don’t let that put you off!), although their bright green colouring (from pandan leaf juice) thankfully helps them look more like candy.
Served cold, and perfect for hot days, the jelly is additionally flavoured with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, while toppings tend toward local fruits – jackfruit, durian or even sweetened adzuki beans.
I don’t know about you but i’m hungry…