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10 must-try dishes in Singapore

October 10, 2013

Dim sum bonanza

A dim sum spread at Yum Cha

We recently visited Singapore and spent a weekend exploring this beautiful city. There is no dearth of things to do in Singapore although eating is the nationally preferred activity. And why not? For a foodie, Singapore is true paradise! With it’s deep multi-cultural roots, Singaporean cuisine takes on a thrilling new dimension from melt-in-the-mouth dim sum to spicy fish-head curry to OMG-what-is-that-smell durian icecream.

Here are some dishes you absolutely want to try when in Singapore:

DimSum In Singapore

Dumplings in spicy sauce, Dim sum menu, Xiao Liao Bao

1. Dim sum: An evergreen Chinese favorite, dim sum is a popular item to snack on when visiting hawker food centers and when exploring Chinatown. Dim sum literally means touch the heart and Singapore’s authentic offerings are sure to touch yours. Yum Cha in Chinatown has a vast dim sum menu at affordable prices. Make sure to get their soup dumplings – the poetic sounding Xiao Long Bao practically melts in your mouth. And leave room for their famous egg tarts, order these as soon as you sit down because they are likely to run out. 

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Nasi Lemak – an explosion of flavors! Photo credit: Sea salt with food

2. Nasi Lemak: Malaysian-Chinese inspired dishes like Nasi Lemak and Nasi Goreng are very popular at the hawker centers in Singapore. This cuisine was born out of a rich cross-pollination between Malaysian and Chinese cultures. Even traditional Malay dishes like Nasi Goreng (fried rice with spices and ingredients like prawns, chicken and egg) have an extra kick in Singapore. The Nasi Lemak (fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and flavored with pandan leaf, served with anchovies, peanuts, egg, vegetables and sambal belacan; a dried shrimp paste) is typically eaten for breakfast, and the Malay and Chinese versions are vastly different from each other. Try both at a hawker food stall like Changi Village Market to see which one you prefer!

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Fish-head curry: It might not look as appetizing, but it tastes delicious. And the best bits are the fish’s cheeks. Photo credit: iEatiShootiPost

3. Fish-head curry: Spicy Indian favorites like the exotic sounding fish-head curry – yes, fish heads floating in a curry are unique dishes to try in Singapore! Not your regular curry for sure. This dish was introduced by the South-Indian Malayalees from Kerala, and has since been influenced by both Chinese and Malaysian cuisines. Rice is a perfect complement for the spicy curry after you’re done devouring the fish heads which are actually surprisingly tasty.

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Yummm, Chilli crab. Photo credit: LadyIronChef

4. Chilli Crab: Perhaps Singapore’s most famous dish, this home-grown culinary invention is an absolute must-try on everybody’s list. Entire crabs are cooked in a sweet & spicy tomato-chilli sauce, the curry can be mopped up with bread afterward. It’s not for the faint of heart, so get ready to get messy – that crab ain’t going to come apart by itself!

Singapore 2013

Durian in all it’s smelly glory

5. Durian: Whether you try this in a pudding form or as ice-cream or are brave enough to try the natural fruit, you will not regret it. Although you may regret that the smell is not easily forgotten. The durian is famous for it’s odor which some find to be fragrant, but many swear it smells like rotting flesh. Warning: try not to inhale deeply when you’re about to put this fruit into your mouth.

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Succulent & delicious. Photo credit: YourSingapore

6. Hainanese Chicken Rice: People don’t mind queuing up for hours to try Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Center – one of Singapore’s famous hawker centers. Hainanese Chicken Rice is amongst Singapore’s most loved dishes, consisting of rice cooked in chicken broth, topped with slices of boiled cooked chicken, accompanied by an assortment of spices like chilli & ginger paste and soy sauce which enhances the flavor of the chicken and rice, making this a unique must-try dish to be enjoyed in Singapore. True comfort food!

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Soft fluffy idlis and crispy masala dosa

7. Dosai and idlis: Ahh, the fragrant flower stalls, the clanging temple bells, the strains of an old Tamil song heard outside a mom & pop stall – no, we’re not in India, but Serangoon Road in Singapore is as close as it gets. “Little India” in Singapore is home to Komala Vilas, Madras Woodlands and many familiar names. Settle down to a hearty breakfast of masala dosa (crepe with spiced potatoes) or dig into soft fluffy idlis (steamed rice dumplings) as you complement this excellent South-Indian breakfast by sipping on a hot cup of steaming filter kaapi (coffee).

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Warm toasted bread with slabs of butter in between – what’s not to love?

8. Kaya Toast: Kaya is a spread made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan. Spread some of this love onto brown toast and slather on some butter and you have a winner that goes perfectly with both coffee and tea. Ya Kun Kaya Toast is one of the best places in Singapore to indulge in this local favorite.

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Warm, comforting Laksa curry. Photo credit: RecipeStap

9. Laksa: This is a Peranakan dish made with noodles, prawns, fish cake and bean sprouts simmered in a spicy creamy coconut-based broth. Peranakan’s are the ethnic Chinese of the British Straits Settlements of Malaysia also known as Straits Chinese. There are many versions of this popular dish, with each sub group claiming their recipe to be the original. But no matter which one you try, you’re sure to fall in love with the medley of flavors in this dish.

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Singapore’s national drink – the Sling! Serve chilled.

10. Singapore Sling: Well, this is technically food if you are on a liquid diet. If you are flying Singapore Airlines, chances are you were adventurous enough to have already tried this potent concoction on the flight itself. If you liked it and are in search of the true Singapore Sling, look no further than the Long bar at the Raffles hotel in Singapore, which is where the original Sling was invented!

These are just 10 dishes highlighted from an endless culinary landscape of Singaporean cuisine. A lifetime spent in Singapore would not be enough to find the best versions of all of the country’s famous dishes, but for a foodie, that is a goal worthy of pursuing. Did I miss a local dish that you absolutely adore and cannot live without in Singapore? Send in your comments and I’ll add them to this list.

For more on Singapore’s signature dishes, go here for a treasure trove of information.

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From → Food, Singapore

5 Comments
  1. Mmmm – Singapore is one of my fav eating countries!

  2. This is fantastic – and what great shots of some really challenging foods! All my pictures of noodle soup type dishes look terrible (embarrassing for a food blogger!). I’m sharing this post with my FB Wanderfood audience right now. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing this on your FB Wanderfood page, Lauren! I really appreciate it. Please note that not all the photos are my own, I have credited the photos to the original source for some of the dishes. Singapore is a haven for foodies and I got some really great food photos, but you are right – it is always a challenge to photograph food and make it look appetizing and fresh!

  3. Mmmm….these look super delicious! Love your food section here!

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