The best way to learn about Singapore’s culture? Be adventurous. With a vibrant mix of cultures and heritage backgrounds, travelers are always in for a treat when exploring Singapore’s local food. Not sure where to start? Check out our guide on the 10 best traditional dishes you have to try on your next visit.
Imagine dipping sticks of crisp, glistening meat into a rich, spicy-sweet peanut sauce. That is the quintessential “satay experience,” which is loved by the locals so much that it gave birth to numerous open-air food centers dedicated to this dish in the past called “satay clubs.” Though those spaces no longer operate, you can still find delicious satay from hawker centers like Lau Pa Sat, Gluttons By The Bay and Chomp Chomp.
A local favorite (that even helped inspire a McDonald’s burger), Nasi Lemak has become a daily staple that can be eaten any time during the day (even an ice cream variation exists). There is something comforting about the dish – warm, fluffy coconut rice is served with fried fish (or chicken), eggs, anchovies, fresh cucumber slices and finished with a douse of sweet and spicy chili sambal.
A thick breakfast spread made from coconuts, jam and eggs, kaya can be described as Southeast Asia’s answer to dulche de leche. Served in both traditional coffee shops and chain restaurants, kaya toast is usually served with two soft boiled eggs and a strong dose of local coffee.
Pro tip: Try dipping your toast in the soft boiled eggs for that extra “oomph.” You’re welcome.
A tribute to Singapore’s rich Peranakan culture, Nonya Kueh consists of both savory and sweet snacks with recipes that date all the way back to its origins in Malacca. Get your dose of snacks like kueh salat, kueh kochi, ang ku kueh and kueh bingka at niche stores like Bengawan Solo or Chinta Manis.
A bowl of laksa might seem intimidating; its bright, amber-hued gravy might scare you into thinking it is spicy, but the popular dish is far from spicy. Dig deeper and you will find delicate strings of rice vermicelli noodles sitting amongst cockles, prawns, fishcakes and dried shrimp in a bowl of rich coconut gravy. Local hawkers tend to create different variations of this dish, some with more dried shrimp in its gravy and others opting for abalone as a highlight.
Paus are traditional Chinese steamed buns that can be found almost anywhere in Singapore. Because of the skin’s neutral flavour, you can find different variations of it from Tau Sar Pau (red bean-flavoured), Yam, Liu Sha Bao (salted egg yolk custard) and the Kong Bak Pau (filled with marinated pork belly). Whether it is sweet or savoury, Paus are best eaten eaten piping hot on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea.
This is one worth going bananas for. Pisang Goreng (which is Malay for fried bananas) is a delicacy that, when done right, can make up for a bad day at work. It is comfort food at its best. Dipped in a light batter, small and ripe bananas are deep fried till crisp and golden. Though it is usually eaten on its own fresh from the wok, some may prefer it with a little hint of sweetness from honey or drenched in shredded cheese and chocolate sauce!
Consisting of glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves, these triangular rice cakes are then sprinkled with freshly grated coconut flesh and drizzled with a dark Gula Melaka syrup. It is no longer sold commercially anymore, so a little hunting is required. Make sure to rise early and head to places like Kampung Glam Cafe in Arab Street to secure a plate before it runs out.
Yet another traditional Malay dessert, finding a stall in Singapore selling these steamed cakes can prove to be quite challenging. Why are they so popular? These steamed cakes are filled with generous amounts of Gula Melaka (or palm sugar) and served with grated coconuts. While this may sound similar to Kuih Lopes, it differs in looks and texture and requires a lot of skill and finesse to make. If you are looking for the best Putu Piring in Singapore, head down to Haig Road to try these delicious cakes, but be prepared to wait.
Silky, smooth and mildly sweet, traditional Tau Huay is made from freshly prepared soy milk and served either hot or cold. There are two types of Tau Huay: the ones with a firm, pudding-like texture or the ones served in large chunks swimming in a light sugar syrup. It is quite easy to find a Tau Huay stall in Singapore, but do head down to famous spots like Rochor Original Beancurd, Selegie Soya Bean or Lao Ban Soya Beancurd.