From the country’s four official languages to the national dishes of chicken rice and chilli crab, Singaporean culture is largely derived and influenced by the people who settled here in the past. The same holds true for local desserts with global origins; however, Singaporean sweet treats have gained popularity due to their flavours and attributes. Best of all, most can be found in a hawker centre for less than a fiver! Here are 10 of the best.
Ice cream sandwiches
Obviously, this snack is not Singaporean, but the ice cream uncles here serve them in a way that’s unique to the country – and may come as a shock to visitors. For just $1, you can get a bar of durian or red bean ice cream, enwrapped by a folded slice of thick rainbow bread. The best place to find these gems is along Orchard Road, usually near Ngee Ann City.
Available year-round in Singapore, this creamy dessert has roots in the Malay and Peranakan communities. The durian is cooked in coconut milk and palm sugar until it takes on the consistency of mousse, and is often served with durian or coconut ice cream.
This sweet treat comes to Singapore from Indonesia and Malaysia, with Dutch influences. The light sponge is flavoured with pandan leaves, which gives it a green hue. For large bakeries, it’s common to use pandan extract instead, in which case food colouring is added to create a vibrant shade. This cake has spread through the region and become popular through Southeast Asia, as well as Hong Kong and Sri Lanka.
Ice kachang is essentially a snow cone crossed with a sundae, albeit with very different toppings. The base is shaved ice doused in multi-coloured syrup, and then the icy heap is topped with sweetcorn, red beans, jelly and mangrove palm seeds. Much like the Korean bingsu, a bowl of ice kachang is usually a communal dish shared among friends.
Similar to ice kachang, chendol (sometimes written as cendol) is essentially its heavier cousin. The name chendol actually comes from the worm-shaped rice-flour jellies that are a bright-green feature of this dessert. The rest of the dish comprises shaved ice, kidney beans, glutinous rice, creamed corn and palm sugar, and then everything is covered in coconut milk.
Certainly not boasting the most appealing of appearances, cheng tng translates literally as ‘clear soup’ – and this transparency is what sets it apart from many other popular desserts. When the sun is roasting the Garden City, people turn to this light soup to beat the heat. Key ingredients include pearl barley, dried longan, gingko nuts and white fungus (yes, you read that correctly!).
Green bean soup
To clarify, this soup is made from mung beans (a variant on the popular red bean), not the green beans you might expect in England or America. Originating in China, the green beans’ cooling properties have made this dish a hit with locals in Singapore’s constantly hot and humid climate. Depending on how much sugar is added, this dessert can be quite healthy, when homemade with tapioca pearls, green beans, pandan and water. From a hawker, the mung beans, sugar and pandan are all boiled together, so it won’t be quite so saintly.
In Singapore, this dessert is known as chin chow and made from aged mint stalks boiled with starch until they become jelly. Like many popular local delicacies, the jelly cubes are served over ice to create a refreshing and earthy treat. For more sweetness, the dish is served with honey or syrup on the side.
Inspired by Indian roti prata, tissue prata is a paper-thin, sweet version of that savoury food. The mark of a skilled cook is the ability to make it crisp, but not too oily, without tearing the prata (flatbread). Chocolate sauce is often drizzled over the snack, but for a truly local flavour, try it with kaya (coconut jam).
This is one local dessert that will feel more familiar to tourists: a butter pastry, either filled or covered with lightly spiced pineapple jam. In Singapore, these tarts explode in popularity during the holidays seasons of Hari Raya, Deepavali and Chinese New Year, but some bakeries carry them all year.