Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines, incorporating a rich heritage of food dishes made up of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian influences. If you are a local Singaporean, you would have seen these dishes in the hawking centers under your empty deck, in the food courts of shopping malls and in the picturesque decades-old shophouses.
I know there are still dozens of dishes in Singapore that are true to our heritage, but if I had to cover them all, this list would take you two years to complete reading.
Fried Carrot Cake
No, it’s not the western dessert. It is far from it. The Singapore Fried Carrot Cake is made with eggs, candied radish (chai poh) and white radish flour, which resembles a “white carrot”, giving birth to the name of the dish.
It is a popular Teochew dish in Singapore and Malaysia. Variants include the “black” version, which added sweet sauce (molasses), or a crisp version with the fried cake on a beaten egg to create a crust and pieces of cake. However, the chopped version with individual radish cake cubes is the most common food in Singapore.
- The best carrot cake stands:
- Carrot Cake 菜 頭 粿 (it’s the literal name of the store): 20 Kensington Park Road, Chomp Chomp Food Center, Singapore 557269 (closed Tuesday, alt)
BBQ Sambal Stingray
In the past, having a fridge/freezer was as rare as winning TOTO (lottery); barbecue cooking or frying fish to mask the smell of fish after being left outside for days was a popular cooking choice.
Also known as Ikan Bakar (grilled fish), the stingray was unpopular but has increased in price since the Malays of Singapore understood that the sambal (chili paste) over the stingray = delicious. It is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on the barbecue, then a sambal paste made from bleaching (dried shrimp paste), spices, shallots, and Indian nuts is generously smothered everywhere. Lime is usually pressed on fish just before eating.
Best Stingray BBQ Stalls: B.B.Q Seafood
- Address | 3 Yung Sheng Rd # 03-178 Taman Jurong Market and Food Center, Singapore Singapore
- Opening hours | Open every day
Ice Kacang (lit. Ice Beans)
A grinding machine is used to produce the mountain of crushed ice over a bowl of various ingredients such as kidney bean, attap cheese (palm seeds), agar-agar jelly, chendol, grass jelly or any other desired garnish.
The evaporated or condensed milk is then sprinkled on top, with red rose syrup and Sarsi syrup to produce the multicolored effect. Variations can include a drizzle of gula melaka (palm sugar), the addition of ice cream or other novelty toppings such as durian or chocolate syrup.
Mei Heong Yuen Dessert
- Address | 67 Temple Street, Singapore 058611 Singapore
- Telephone number | +65 6221 1156
- Opening hours | Close (Today), 12:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Tue-Sat), 12:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Sun)
Bak Kut Teh (肉骨茶 lit. Meat bone soup/pork ribs)
One of the many stories of Bak Kut Teh’s invention is that during ancient times in Singapore, a poor, hungry beggar came to a roadside pork noodle shop to beg for food. The stand owner was in poverty but wanted to help him.
He boiled some of the remaining pork bones and added all the cheap spices he had to flavor the soup, including star anise and pepper which created a soup that looked like tea in color. Thus, pork bone tea was born. Another story claims that it was a tonic invented to “invigorate” the Chinese coolies who worked in the Clark Quay area.
Bak Kut Teh has existed in Singapore since we are still a developing country and deserves recognition as a simple and humble dish. Most of the Bak Kut Teh here are of the pepper variety with gentle use of herbs such as star anise. Bak Kut Teh is a portion of food you must eat in Singapore.
Choose pork chop in your soup for a softer bite. The other variant would be Klang Bak Kut Teh, a dark and highly flavored herb soup from Malaysia.
- The best Bak Kut Teh stands: Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh
- Address: 7 Keppel Road, # 01-05 / 07, PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex, Singapore 089053 (closed Mondays)
Another type of Hong Kong / Shanghai inspired cuisine available in Singapore is Dim Sum or “Dian Xin”. It’s not exactly a dish, but a set of small dishes to enjoy as a group – typical Chinese cuisine to share. Popular Dim Sum dishes include BBQ pork bread, Xiao Long Bao, Siew Mai, Chee Cheong Fun and many more.
Restaurant Swee Choon Tim Sum
- Address: 191 Jalan Besar 185 Singapore 208882, Singapore 208882 Singapore
- Phone Number: +65 6225 7788
- Opening hours: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (today), 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (daily)
Chwee Kueh (水 粿 lit. Rice cake with water)
Another breakfast dish is seen regularly in Singapore and Johor, most stalls selling Chwee Kueh only open in the morning and close at lunchtime. Rice flour and water are mixed to form the rice cake, then put in small saucers and steamed to produce the typical bowl-shaped shape of Chwee Kueh.
It is garnished with chai poh (preserved radish) and chili. Doing Chwee Kueh is an endangered craft that the younger generation does not want to continue, so try it before it disappears forever.
Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh
- Address: Block 20 Ghim Moh Road Ghim Moh Gardens # 01-31 Ghim Moh Market and Food Center, Singapore 270020 Singapore
- Phone Number: +65 9 176 6850
- Hours of Operation: Open daily
See also: Traditional and Local Foods to eat in Singapore (P1)