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When you think of Singapore, some of the first things that come to mind might be all the strict and seemingly strange laws they have—no smoking, no gum-chewing, no jaywalking, and no littering, amongst many others. But in a roundabout way, those same peculiar rules contribute to making Singapore the food mecca that it is.
You'll be delighted when you never step in gum, are greeted with sparkly clean streets, and breathe in whiffs of fragrant chili crab and satay aroma air without any hint of cigarette smoke. Singaporeans take their food very seriously— it's all about borrowing and melding with other cuisines like Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Middle Eastern, Thai, and Western, to create dishes that are uniquely their own.
Whereas Western food courts in malls are usually home to a myriad of terrible fast food chains, in Singapore, food courts and hawker centers are where to head for some of the most authentic, tasty, no-frills food. But Singapore can be hard to navigate for a first-timer or for someone short on time, so we put together an eating guide of the most convenient and must-visit food places to treat your tastebuds to Singaporean cuisine! Are you ready to get your makan (Singlish for eat) on?
BREAKFAST MUSTS: The most well-known breakfast chains in Singapore are Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Toast Box. There's pretty much one on every other street corner. The must order dish is kaya toast. Kaya is a sweet coconut custard jam that is typically slathered onto thin slices of warm toast with lots of butter. Singaporeans like to have kaya toast for breakfast alongside soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce and pepper, and a side of black coffee.
SNACK/LUNCH/DINNER CHOICES: Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, formerly known as Telok Ayer Market is an iconic must-see when in Singapore. The 120-year-old market turned hawker center recently reopened after 2 months of renovations. You can find Lau Pa Sat in the heart of Singapore's Business District.
With close to 70 stalls and miniature restaurants located inside, Lau Pa Sat has remained a favorite of locals and visitors alike. The most popular stalls include Pig's Organ & Kway Chap, Mang Kiko's Lechon, which sells Filipino roast meat, and multiple dessert stalls. Note to visitors: the later you go the better. Many of the smaller hawker stands don't set up shop until later in the day. If you're in the mood for shopping and exploring, Lau Pa Sat is also a walkable distance from Chinatown, the perfect location to while away the hours.
Maxwell Centre is another iconic self-service food hall with more than 100 different food stalls. Located conveniently right on the edge of Chinatown, Maxwell has a diverse selection of delicious and affordable food.
The most popular and must-try stall is Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (Stall #10), which serves the most famous chicken rice in all of Singapore. No matter what time of day lines will wrap around and back again for Tian Tian. Their buttery Hainanese chicken is extremely fresh and is served slightly chilled over their rice, and dipped with fresh chili, garlic, and thick soy sauce.
Other popular food stalls include specialties such as congee, fish soup, satay, rojak, duck rice, fresh fruits, and desserts. Maxwell Centre is not too touristy—in fact, many locals make this their stop regularly. The vendors are quite nice and not pushy unlike at other more touristy centers like Newton. A large variety of dishes and affordable prices make this a must-stop in Singapore for first-timers and locals alike!
Open until 2 am, brace yourself for a sensory overload at Newton Food Centre! Being ushered and guilt-tripped into eating at a vendor stall is a frequent occurrence here. Vendors at Newton are on the prowl. It is definitely not a place for the weak-hearted! Although Newton used to be considered the "it" foodie place to go back in 1971 when it first opened, in the last decade it has become tourist central.
Although locals normally do not visit this center unless they are showing an out-of-towner around, it's worth a visit for first-timers, if only to experience one of the original hawker centers. Newton Centre is set up as one, giant open circle where you are surrounded by different food stalls offering various cuisines, so you won't miss any stalls. Within the circle, you can buy your food from any stall, and ask them to deliver to your table number.
BBQ spicy stingray topped with calamansi. Stingray meat is fine and melts in your mouth. (Kristie Hang)
Most regulars don't even know the names to their favorite vendors, since they are known by their numbers more than their shop names. Keep an eye out for seafood at the center—it's one of Newton's specialties. You can see your stingray or shrimp swimming around before it is cooked for you on the spot. Newton can be higher in price than some of the other hawker centers, but it's still worth the visit for first timers in Singapore.
If you plan on stopping by Mariana Bay Sands in Singapore to see the beautiful skyline, then make sure to spend some time next door in the Esplanade Mall at No Signboard Seafood. No Signboard has humble beginnings as a tiny food stall turned posh high-end restaurants located throughout expensive areas of Singapore. Their signature must-order dishes are the homemade white pepper crab and the chili crab. Other seafood specialties include Hokkien steamed fish, crispy prawns deep-fried in cereal crust, chili fried bullfrog, and coffee pork ribs.
Singaporean white pepper crab is a dish invented by No Signboard Restaurant. The fresh crab meat is coated with white pepper coasted and served with veggies. (Kristie Hang
Makansutra Glutton's Bay is a great place to go if you don't want to be overwhelmed with 100 different stalls at your typical hawker centers. With only a handful of vendors all in one place, Makansutra is a good place to dip your toes into the world of Singaporean cuisine. There's a mix of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, desserts, and finger food delights. The food here hits the spot, but it's by no means the best in Singapore. Eating at Makansutra is all about location, location, location! Enjoy your food and gaze at the skyline with locals and tourists alike, while being central to the heart of the action in the city.
Toasted bread slices are cut up and dipped into a hot kaya coconut custard fondue sauce.
In comparison to other hawker centers, their food is a tad more expensive, but still relatively affordable. Standouts include chili salt and peppered swordfish, kaya toast fondue, durian shaved ice, BBQ stingray, cockles, and more.
For those who enjoy shopping and are less adventurous eaters, Japanese shopping powerhouse Takashimaya in Singapore is a giant high-end shopping mall that has a Christian Louboutin store among other luxury brands. For food snobs, it's also home to the only Laduree macaroons store in Singapore. The ground floor consists of a high-end supermarket and another decent food court.
Even Singapore's so-called mall food courts are better than our typical restaurants in the States. Have a bowl of Singaporean laksa noodle or check out well-known Asian chain stores that have a booth in the mall. Prices are reasonable and vendors happily provide samples for those debating whether to commit to a dish.
Food Village (Takashimaya Food court). There is a Bengawan Solo Bakery located in Takashimaya. They have 38 stores in Singapore alone that make fresh buns, cakes, cookies, and other pastries. You haven’t experienced Singapore unless you've tasted their pineapple tarts, pandan pound cake, and coconut and cassava/tapioca cakes.
You can also find Japanese items with a Singapore spin, like Dorayaki filled with fresh durian paste. Other cuisines in the food court include Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, and Indian. Sprinkled in between are specialty shops that carry Swiss and Belgian chocolatiers, German cake shops, Japanese bakeries, and even artisan teas and coffees. There's something for everyone.
OTHER MUST-TRY DISHES WHILE IN SINGAPORE
Char kway teow consists of rice noodles wok stir-fried with lard and paired with dark and light soy sauce, chili, cockles, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, Chinese chives, and prawns.
Chai tow kua is a daikon cake similar to that found in dimsum, however the daikon is cut up and fried with with preserved turnip, soy sauce, fish sauce, eggs, spring onions, and garlic. Choose to have it with either white or black sauce.
Chai tow kua (Wikipedia)
Laksa-spicy soup noodles have roots in Malaysia, China, Indonesia, and Singapore. There are three basic types of laksa: asam laksa, curry laksa, and Sarawak laksa. Asam laksa is a sour fish soup with noodles whereas curry laksa is a coconut curry soup with noodles. Sarawak laksa is made with sambal chili paste and sour tamarind.
Satay is Singapore and Malaysia's versions of kebabs. Pork, lamb, and beef skewers are grilled over an open charcoal fire and dipped in a peanut sauce laden with raw onions, cucumbers, and ketupat (rice cakes steamed in woven coconut leaves).
Teh tarik orginates from Malaysia. Literally meaning "pulled tea", the tarik is an artform. Tea-makers pour a jet of hot milk tea back and forth between two containers held as far apart as possible until the black tea, sugar, and condensed milk mix to perfection. The act of pouring the tea through the air actually cools the rich tea and creates a foamy head.
A video posted by Prisca Lefevre (@priscalefevre) on
Mee siam is a Malaysian breakfast dish made of pre-fried thin rice vermicelli served in a spicy bean paste gravy with dried shrimp, sugar, tamarind, and seafood. The noodles are topped with fried bran curd, chives, and boiled egg.
Fish head curry is a uniquely Singaporean creation. A large red snapper head is stewed in gravy with a touch of tamarind juice and coconut milk and cooked with okra and eggplant. The dish is served with rice or bread.
Singapore Sling is a cocktail that was developed sometime before 1915 at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. A Singapore Sling is made with grenadine syrup, gin, sweet and sour mix, club soda, and cherry brandy. The end result is a strong sweet and tart taste with a touch of bitterness.