By Laurenzo Overee
Singapore is one of the smallest countries (728.6 km²) and, despite a population of just over 5 million, is one of the busiest and most successful financial hubs in the world.
Formerly known as Temasek and later Singapura, Singapore is a former British colony and thriving trade port, which was a land of opportunity for many migrants.
Throngs of travelers from China, India, the Middle East, and Europe arrived in Singapore during the 1800s, bringing their heritage. The island nation soon became a melting pot of culture, with descendants of those early migrants becoming the citizens of the modern cosmopolitan nation.
The coming together of various people resulted in an eclectic selection of cultural cuisine, cementing Singapore’s reputation as a food paradise. A tourist in Singapore is spoiled for choice when it comes down to having a good meal. You should not miss these seven mouthwatering delicacies when visiting the Lion City!
1. The Devil’s Curry
The Devil’s Curry (aka devil curry) is a heritage dish associated with Singapore’s Eurasian (descendants of Europeans and natives) community. As its name might suggest, devil’s curry is a spicy concoction that includes chicken curry typically flavored with vinegar, mustard seed, galangal, lemongrass, and turmeric.
It is the vinegar in the dish that gives the curry its beloved astringent taste. The dish originated from nearby Malacca, Malaysia, but ultimately made its way to Singapore’s shores when Eurasians traveled south to the island nation.
Traditionally, Eurasian families prepared devil curry with leftover ingredients from Christmas Day the following morning, commonly including shreds of turkey, bacon bones, and sausages stirred into a homemade curry broth.
Laksa is a spicy noodle soup dish that comes straight from the cherished cookbooks of the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) people in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish includes thick wheat noodles or vermicelli mixed with chicken, fish, or prawns, usually served in a thick and creamy coconut milk soup.
The laksa paste, which gives the dish its unique flavor, includes many ingredients, including turmeric, shrimp paste, and various spices (with the laksa leaf, or Persicaria odorata, being a must-have) traditionally crushed with a mortar and pestle. Some chefs may add drips of vegetable oil to the crushed paste, deepening its distinct aroma and taste.
3. Chicken Rice
Many Singaporean locals consider Chicken Rice a celebrated national dish. While the name of the dish might seem to suggest its simplicity (i.e., serving chicken with rice), the preparation is far from it. Chicken rice involves poached chicken carefully cooked at the right temperature and sliced into fine bite-sized bits so they “melt in the mouth.”
The rice itself involves meticulous prep work, fragrant and tasty enough to eat on its own. Chicken rice goes well with soya sauce and garlic-chili dips. In 2013, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay attempted a Hawker Hero Challenge, losing the bout against a local chicken rice specialist.
4. Roti Prata
Roti Prata, also known as roti Chennai and roti cannai, is a pastry dish influenced by the Indian community in Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. The flatbread dish is made from ghee (clarified butter) flour. Prata cooks may display their prowess by flipping and flattening the dough on a sizzling stove.
Prata is usually dipped in a side serving of curry gravy or sugar and may contain fillings like cheese or onion. Modern varieties of roti prata have emerged over the years, such as roti tissue (a thinner version of the traditional dish).
5. Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak is a cultural dish of the Malay community in Singapore and Malaysia, featuring rice cooked in coconut milk and fragrant pandan leaf. Chefs usually serve the dish with sides of fried fish (anchovies or yellowtail), chicken, hard-boiled eggs, roasted peanuts, and slices of cucumber that enhances the overall taste.
However, the main highlight of the dish lies behind its spicy sambal chili paste, which complements the other ingredients with a textured and satisfying finish. Traditionally, cooks served nasi lemak on fresh banana leaves, providing additional flavor to the already aromatic cuisine.
6. Chai Tow Kway
Chai Tow Kway or fried carrot cake is a stir-fried preparation of diced radish, garlic, and spring onions. The dish comes from the Hokkien dialect group of Chinese living in Singapore and the region. Chai tow kway usually comes in two varieties — black or white.
The black variation receives its hue from added dark soya sauce, which gives it a slightly sweetened taste compared to the white preparation using light soya sauce. Some local stalls may offer a combination of black and white chai tow kway, providing a special experience like savoring mixed popcorn at the cinema.
7. Ice Kachang
The list is incomplete without dessert, so here’s Ice Kachang to fulfill your sweet tooth. Ice kachang, or ais kachang, is shaved ice topped with colorful syrup and savory treats like red beans, sweet corn, and grass jelly.
Ice kachang’s shaved ice was originally hand-cranked, but modern dessert stalls use motorized machines to prepare the time-honored dish in record time. A nice cold bowl of ice kachang is a great way to cool off under the tropical weather of Singapore—comparable to a private oasis!
Singapore remains one of the top travel destinations, and the recommendations above only skim the surface of its culinary diversity. One thing is for sure, Singaporean cuisine will keep you coming back for second helpings!
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