Prepare to gorge.
The love of food is deeply entrenched in Singaporean culture, and rightly so considering it is one of the best food cities in the world. Food-obsessed travelers make pilgrimages to Singapore to enjoy the city’s diverse culinary offerings, from fine Peranakan cuisine to the numerous hawker stalls showcasing the city-state’s melting pot population. We have narrowed down the 13 dishes you absolutely must try (it wasn’t easy) in Singapore and where to find the best versions of each.
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Hainan Chicken Rice
While the dish originated from Hainan province in China, Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of Singapore’s national dishes. A plump chicken is poached, and the stock is used along with garlic and ginger to cook the rice. Both are then served with a ginger and garlic dipping sauce. The most famous Hainan chicken rice stall is Tian Tian at the Maxwell Food Court, but should they sell out, there are a number of other great options, including Boon Tong Kee and Wee Nam Kee. For a high-end version, there’s Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel.
One of the country’s signature dishes, Singaporean chili crab is on the must-try list for seafood-loving visitors. Typically made using mud crabs, the crab is cooked in a mildly spicy, tomato-based gravy. Some of the best places to try chili crab are at Long Beach Seafood, Roland, Jumbo Seafood, and No Signboard Seafood. Don’t forget to order a side of fried mantou (Chinese steamed bread) to soak up the remaining sauce.
INSIDER TIPLong Beach Seafood is also the original creator of the black pepper crab while No Signboard Seafood invented the white pepper crab. Also not to miss is the salted egg yolk crab at Roland.
Not to be confused with Malaysian assam laska, Singaporean katong laksa is a bowl of rice noodles and seafood in a curry-like broth of coconut milk, dried shrimp, and spices. The style of laksa originated from the Peranakans (Straits-born Chinese) in the Katong neighborhood, and the many popular laksa stalls include 328 Katong Laksa (who beat Gordon Ramsay in a cooking showdown), Janggut Laksa, and Depot Road Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa.
Bak Kut Teh
This pork rib soup in herbal broth is commonly eaten for breakfast in Singapore and makes for a great hangover cure (the name translates to “meat bone tea,” but there is no tea in the broth). There are two main styles to try: the Teochew style bak kut teh with a clear peppery broth can be found at Joo Siah Bak Kut Teh or Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. The Hokkien style uses a darker and more fragrant broth made of herbs and soy sauce and can be found at Ng Ah Sio.
It’s an acquired taste, but fans of this controversial fruit know that Singapore is one of the best cities to get durian. When the season is nearing the end, durian may be sold out throughout the city as lovers of the fruit book their favorite varietals from the popular durian sellers. One of the most popular and trustworthy durian sellers is Combat Durian on Balestier Road, but you may want to call ahead to reserve your durian here.
Soy Sauce Chicken
The Hong Kong-style soy sauce chicken can primarily be found in Singapore’s Chinatown, but the dish has gained even more popularity worldwide recently when Liao Fan’s hawker stall was awarded one Michelin star for his tender roasted chicken. The original hawker stall inside Chinatown Complex is still the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal, but they have branched out to air-conditioned franchise stores called Hawker Chan for those who want a more comfortable eating environment. If Liao Fan’s wait is too long, head to Singapore’s oldest soy sauce chicken place nearby, Chew Kee Eating House.
Salted Egg Fish Skin Chips
This addictive snack is one of the most recent food trends to take over Singapore and is currently the number one snack there. Crispy fish skin is coated with salted egg yolk and spices for an umami bomb. The most popular brand of these fish skin chips is Irvin’s, which is sold at Changi Airport (but be warned, they can sell out early), but an even better alternative is The Golden Duck’s version with large fish skin pieces and a stronger salted egg flavor.
Hokkien mee is a popular hawker food that originated from the Hokkien (Fujian) province in China. It commonly consists of stir-fried egg and rice noodles with eggs, prawn, and pork. While you can find this dish at most hawker centers, Geylang Lor 29 has been cooking up one of the best renditions over charcoal fire since the 1960s. Come Daily Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee in Toa Payoh also has won fans over with their strong prawn flavor and generous addition of pork belly and cracklings.
This simple toast is a typical Singaporean breakfast and often served with soft boiled eggs and soy sauce on the side. It is a white bread toast with kaya spread, a creamy spread made with coconut milk, caramelized sugar, and eggs. The toast is available at numerous kopitiam (tradional coffee shops) or local franchises. Try it at one of the popular modern franchises such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast or at an old school kopitiam like Tong Ah Eating House, which has been serving kaya toast for over 75 years.
Singapore’s own take on the ice cream sandwich, es potong, which translates to “cut ice,” is ice cream cut into blocks and wrapped in a folded slice of white bread. Find street stalls selling es potong for $1 around major tourist areas such as Clarke Quay, Orchard Rd, and Bugis Street. It’s the perfect snack to beat the Singaporean heat and comes in a variety of flavors from taro to red bean.
Fried Carrot Cake
Singaporean fried carrot cake has nothing to do with the carrot cake dessert you may be familiar with. Fried carrot cake is in fact made with daikon radish (which in Singapore is called “white carrot” thanks to the similarities in the two vegetables’ names in the Southern Chinese dialect of Hokkien). The radish cakes are stir-fried with preserved radish and eggs. Try the “white” variation, stir fried until crispy at stall #36 at Chomp Chomp Food Centre, or the “black” made with sweet soy sauce at stall #45 at Clementi Food Centre.
Fish Head Curry
A marriage of Chinese and Indian cuisines in Singapore, the fish head curry is a whole head of fish (typically red snapper) and vegetables marinated in a spicy curry. The less adventurous may be apprehensive about eating a fish head, but the reward is great for those who take the leap. The Indian version of the dish has a unique sour flavor thanks to the addition of tamarind (assam), such as the one found at Muthu’s Curry. Soon Ho Eating House offers a more Singaporean take with the omission of tamarind and a milder level of spiciness.
Bak Chor Mee
Another culinary contribution from the Teochew population in Singapore, bak chor mee literally means “minced meat noodles.” There are two variations of this ubiquitous noodle dish. The “dry” version has the egg noodles and minced pork tossed in a vinegary sauce. Try this version at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle (though the line may be longer since it was awarded one Michelin star). For one of the best soup versions, head to MacPherson Minced Meat Noodles, known for their rich broth that the owner makes each day at 3 a.m.