Cover: Singaporean ice cream sandwich, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
Incredible food is everywhere in Singapore. A true food lover’s paradise, Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines, creating a unique blend of flavors and food traditions. From hawker fare to high-end dining, you could spend a month roaming the Lion City and never taste even a fraction of the available options. While you may have an appetite for everything, here’s a short list of 10 ideas to get you started on your Singapore eating adventure.
We’d like to thank the Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests and providing an expert guide to ensure we experienced all that Singapore has to offer.
Chilli Crab at Red House Seafood
Our first dinner in Singapore was at Red House Seafood at The Quayside. Specializing in Asian seafood dishes since 1976, they presented a variety of delicious local dishes for us to enjoy. Well-known for their Chilli Crab, it is definitely the place to try the delicacy. Combining the freshest crab with a slightly sweet sauce, the iconic Singaporean dish was amazing. In addition to the Chilli Crab, we sampled Steamed Scottish Bamboo Clams with Minced Garlic, which were tender and not too garlicky – really tasty. We also tried a variety of vegetable dishes, a prawn dish, and our favorite dish of the evening, Mee Goreng. The service was great and the atmosphere was comfortable and fun.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Eating traditional dishes in an authentic environment provides a glimpse of the culture’s identity and, when in Singapore, having kaya toast for breakfast is a must. Granted, before experiencing it, the kaya toast thing is a bit difficult to understand. So, you take some toast and dip it in a runny egg and it’s fabulous? Yep.
Kaya toast is toast with butter and kaya jam, which is made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves. The toast is dipped in a soft boiled egg. Alongside the toast, a fragrant coffee that resembles chicory coffee (think Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans) is served. It really is good. But, what makes it great is experiencing it at the original Ya Kun at Far East Square in Chinatown. The auntie (a Singaporean term of endearment for an older woman) that served us was an absolute delight.
Egg tarts, moon cakes and pastries at Tong Heng
So many of the stories behind the restaurants and food shops in Singapore are of people that migrated to the city-state around the turn of the 20th century with hopes and dreams for a better future. Through their hard work and determination, many succeeded in building businesses where their food has become a part of the Singaporean culture.
Such is the story of Tong Heng’s Egg Tarts in Chinatown, who create pastries and diamond-shaped tarts with flaky, mouthwatering crusts that are filled with a delicious egg custard. Why the diamond shape? So the delicate pastries fit together in a box tightly and prevent them from being destroyed on their way home.
We sampled a variety of the pastries, including a green bean paste pastry, moon cakes and, of course, egg tarts.
The king of fruits, Durian
Regarded as the “king of fruits,” durian is a large, thorn-covered fruit that emits a repulsive smell and is frequently likened to road kill, rotten eggs or garbage. The odor is actually so strong that durian is banned from airplanes, hotels and mass transit in Singapore. When we tried it, they gave us plastic gloves so our hands didn’t smell afterward.
Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, durian grows from trees. In Indonesia, they cut the large fruit from the trees, but in Malaysia they let it fall to the ground before eating. We were told the ones on the ground were much riper – and smellier. Yay. Once opened, multiple seeds that look like mango pits are revealed. The pits are covered with a slimy pale yellow flesh. We attempted to eat one bite – it was awful. Looking around at the other tables at the durian stand, locals chatted and devoured their durian. Obviously, durian is an acquired taste.
Hawker fare at Food Republic
Singapore is known for their hawker food and hawker centers, which essentially are food courts. When you hear the term “food court” don’t think of the American mall variety collection of fast food chains serving barely edible offerings. Hawker centers in Singapore are a collection of food vendor stalls selling a wide variety of offerings. The hawker centers, which are regulated by the Singaporean government, provide a more sanitary, permanent location for food vendors than food carts offer. Most vendors provide inexpensive, local cuisine. Diners make their selections and then enjoy their meals on tables within the center.
Bringing the local hawker fare to a more upscale open dining environment, Food Republic has elevated the concept and operates numerous locations throughout Singapore, mostly in shopping malls. We visited several Food Republic locations along Orchard Road and had lunch at the Vivo City location. With a wide variety of stalls, it takes a bit of time to make your selection. At Vivo City, we ended up going with prawn noodles. The prawns were huge, the dish was tasty and the price was very affordable.
Food and art at Janice Wong
Food and art are one at Janice Wong’s at the National Museum of Singapore. Twice recognized as Asia’s best pastry chef, Chef Wong opened her latest in a string of highly-acclaimed projects, her flagship sweets retail shop and restaurant, in August of 2016. While we were admiring the vibrant colors and discussing the restaurant’s decor, Chef Wong dropped by our table and explained to us that the tables and the art on the walls are all edible, crafted from chocolate. She then moved on to speak with each table of diners in the restaurant, taking time to answer questions and pose for photos with guests.
We dined on Scallops Somen for lunch, a delightful combination of fish roe, ebi, scallops, salted egg yolk sauce and noodles. The dish was as beautiful as it was delicious. Dessert was Tiramisu, a creation I’d previously read that Ms. Wong learned to make from her mother and calls it her comfort dessert. A dreamy finish to the meal, the tiramisu was light with multiple layers of flavor and simply decadent.
Ice cream sandwiches from a street cart
In Singapore, an ice cream sandwich is really more of a sandwich than you may think. Served on a soft, rainbow colored Pandan bread, a slice of ice cream is placed in the middle of the bread and, voilà, an ice cream sandwich. We purchased ours from an uncle at the end of Pagoda street in Chinatown and opted for coffee-flavored ice cream, but cart vendors can also easily be found along Orchard Road.
FlyingNoodles at Hana
Flying noodles? Hana Restaurant is the spot where noodles fly in Singapore. Served on two dim sum baskets with a side of salted egg sauce, cold Udon noodles are draped over what appear to be levitating chopsticks creating the illusion of… flying noodles.
While the flying noodles are trendy and fun, the star of our lunch at Hana was the Salmon Cheese Chirashi. Salmon scattered amidst a dish of fresh, high-quality ingredients and a pretty presentation.
Fish head curry at Muthu’s Curry
A signature dish of the Lion City, fish head curry is said to epitomize the cultural melting pot of Singapore. Comprised of the head of a red snapper combined with vegetables in a stewed curry sauce, fish head curry is said to have been created in an Indian restaurant in the 1960s. As fish head is considered a delicacy in China, the Indian chef added it to the curry to please his Chinese patrons. Muthu’s Curry is considered to be the top spot for Southern Indian fish head curry in Singapore, where the dish is served with okra, pineapple, and an aromatic sauce. Not for the timid, the sauce is spicy – not a little spicy, a lot of spicy.
Let them eat cake at Lady M
When shopping along Orchard Road a stop in Lady M is an absolute must. While technically a New York based enterprise, Lady M has 3 Singapore locations, multiple New York boutiques, and locations also in Los Angeles, Boston and Hong Kong. Lady M Mille Crêpes cakes are created with 20 layers of thin crêpes filled with the most amazing pastry creams you can imagine. The cake is delicate, gorgeous and decadent. We tried three flavors: the signature mille crêpes, a chocolate, and Earl Grey. All were amazing.
Kuay Pie Tee at National Kitchen by Violet Oon
One of the most beautiful restaurants we visited is Violet Oon’s National Kitchen at the National Gallery. A luxurious dining journey through Paranakan flavors, lunch at the opulent National Kitchen is a special treat. As we were dining with a large group, the food was served communal-style, enabling liberal sampling of the many dishes served. While so many of the dishes were delicious, one stood out for me – an appetizer called Kuay Pie Tee which is served in little deep-fried cups that resemble an upside down top hats. Inside the cup is a delightful mix of julienned bamboo shoots and turnips poached in prawn bisque and topped with a prawn. Served with a chili sauce and a sweet fruit sauce, the Kuay Pie Tee is divine.
Closing out Singapore at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen
Always a fan of Gordon Ramsay restaurants, we had our final Singapore dinner at Bread Street Kitchen at the beautiful Marina Bay Sands. A casual dining experience, Bread Street Kitchen is a vibrant spot with spectacular waterfront views. The menu is British European with a few Asian twists.
We began the evening with some bubbly and several appetizers: seared scallops, a tomato tart, and flatbread.
As one would expect from a Ramsay establishment, the scallops were seared to perfection and the flatbread, with its caramelized onions and cheese, was fabulous. The tomato tart was sublime, bursting with flavor.
For the main course, we opted for parrot fish and sea trout, which we each sampled, accompanied by a nice Bordeaux Blanc. The spiced couscous that accompanied the parrot fish was fresh and flavorful, a nice contrast to the slightly sweet parrot fish. The sea trout, which comes from New Zealand, actually resembles salmon and was served with a white wine velouté and asparagus. While we both preferred the sea trout, the parrot fish was also enjoyable.
Time for dessert. Unable to make a selection, we opted for the sampler platter for the table to share – a delightful assortment of sweet treats to end our meal. We lingered over dessert and the wine, enjoying the conversation and the stunning view. A wonderful evening and a perfect ending to our time in Singapore.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.