Singaporean vs Malaysian Food: What's The Difference?

Penang laksa
Penang laksa | (c) Jonathan Lin/Flickr
Photo of Prianka Ghosh
7 June 2018

Whether it’s due to their proximity to each other or because of the cross-over cultural influences, there is an assumption that food in Singapore and Malaysia is the same; however, in nearby countries like Indonesia and Thailand, this isn’t the case. So the question remains, is there really a difference?

Both Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine take influence from Chinese, Indian, Malay and Peranakan cultures, but then they have their own regional differences – from Chinese dialect groups, Malay regions and more. For example, in Singapore, the Chinese cuisine is strongly influenced by Hokkien and Teochew traditions, whereas in Malaysia, Cantonese traditions play a bigger role. The best way to see the differences between Malaysian and Singaporean food is by looking at some of the famous dishes found on both sides of the Johor Strait.

Chicken Rice is widely considered Singapore’s most famous dish and one of the city-state’s national dishes. The dish’s popularity certainly rose after Anthony Bourdain included it as one of his top meals to eat before you die. In Singapore, a bowl of fragrant rice made using the chicken stock is served alongside a plate of sliced poached chicken breasts and a selection of condiments for adding to the rice. In Malaysia, however, the chicken is served roasted or even in a BBQ or honey-style sauce. The rice differs as well, served as tightly packed rice balls but still with an array of soy and chilli sauces.

Another hugely popular dish found on both sides of the border is chilli crab. Generally considered to be Singaporean, its true origins came under fire a few years ago when Malaysia’s Tourism Minister claimed that it, along with several other dishes, had been co-opted by other nations. The dish is made similarly in both countries with various species of crab cooked in a tomato sauce and garnished with chilli and eggs, resulting in a sweet and spicy sauce.

The dish that best shows the culinary differences between the two nations is curry laksa, a popular spicy soup that can have a wide assortment of ingredients. In Singapore, it is sometimes named Katong Laksa for the famous Joo Chiat restaurant, 328 Katong Laksa. The version found across Singapore is a thick coconut curry soup, and other ingredients include fish cakes, prawns, and a large serving of noodles. By comparison, the Malay dish is assam laksa, sometimes called Penang Laksa. This dish is sour, and the soup base comprises tamarind (which gives it its sour taste) and fish stock. An array of vegetables, ginger, fish slices and vermicelli are then added to complete the soup.

What do you think, is there a considerable difference between the cuisines of these two countries? The best way to find out is to come out to Asia and try them for yourself!

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