The Chinese diaspora forms the major ethnic group in Singapore at over 70% of the population. Largely descended from Southern Chinese immigrants who sailed over looking to seek their fortune in foreign lands, these early Singaporeans brought their food and culture along with them and had a heavy influence on the local culinary scene, resulting in the wide variety of Chinese restaurants that can be found today.
Din Tai Fung
Restaurant, Restaurant with Rooms, Chinese, Dim Sum, Asian, $$$
This Taiwanese Dim Sum restaurant chain has over 20 outlets all over Singapore, with the outlet in the basement of Paragon Shopping Centre was the first to open in Singapore back in 2003. The consistency of good food across the chain and affordable prices are just some reasons why these restaurants are always crowded. Din Tai Fung is famous for their excellent eggy fried rice and Xiao Long Bao, steamed pork dumplings filled with a delicious broth that you can watch the chefs prepare in the open-concept kitchen – each dumpling has to be prepared precisely with a minimum of 18 folds in its skin.
Hai Di Lao has several locations around Singapore, but the most popular is the one at Clarke Quay. Open until 6am seven days a week, the kitchen rustles up super-spicy Sichuan Pepper Hot Pot to crowds emerging from the popular bar district. For dinner and a show, order the house-made noodles. One of the restaurant’s chefs will bring them to your table and perform an elaborate dance to stretch them into noodles. If you’re not a fan of fiery flavours, try the tomato or mushroom soup bases – you can also get split pots with two or four different bases.
Summer Pavilion | Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
This restaurant located in the posh Ritz Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel serves exquisite Cantonese-style cuisine in a modern Chinese garden setting. Summer Pavilion was awarded one Michelin Star in 2016 and is known for high-quality and impeccable service standards. The kitchen is helmed by Chinese Executive Chef, Cheung Siu Kong, and some must-try dishes include the famous Cantonese-style double boiled soups, abalone and poached rice with lobster. A dim sum menu is also available during lunch.
The Imperial Treasure group has 18 different outlets in Singapore and ambitious plans for more. While its sister Teochew Cuisine outlet has the coveted Michelin Star, we prefer Super Peking Duck located at Paragon Shopping Centre for its excellent Beijing-style roasted duck with crispy non-oily skin, carved and served in the traditional manner right at your table. You need to pre-order the duck when you book your table. Other signature items include the sautéed crab claw and the salted egg yolk baby lobster.
The Teochews were one of the founding Chinese dialect groups in Singapore, and Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine is housed in one of this group’s most historical spots – the Chui Huay Lim Club, a 170-year old organisation set up to facilitate business between Teochew businessmen. The restaurant is known for its authentic cuisine, and favourites include Teochew muay or porridge for lunch, and other classic dishes like the braised goose and steamed cold crab.
The contemporary fusion restaurant LOKKEE serves up its take on global Chinese cuisine, a reference to the typical ‘Chinese’ dishes often found in overseas Chinatowns, like chow mein and fortune cookies. Star dishes include the Flaming Pineapple Beef – braised beef stuffed into a pineapple that is actually on fire, as well as the Firecracker Chicken Nest, which is pretty spicy but not actually explosive. Skip the traditional Chinese tea and pair your dishes with a cocktail, and then clean up with the cheeky condom-packet-shaped wet towel after your meal. Those who love speakeasies should ask to visit the Dragon’s Chamber, the more experimental hidden side of LOKKEE.
Plum Village Restaurant is a down-to-earth family-run restaurant serving Hakka-style food located along Upper Thomson Road, a stretch of road frequented by locals for good food. Traditional Hakka dishes are simple fare, a reflection of this group of nomadic northern Chinese people who travelled long distances, and the home-style cooking here evokes nostalgia for those who grew up on Hakka fare. Some must-try Hakka specialties include the round balls of yam and flour called abacus beads, salted vegetables with braised pork belly, and Hakka Yong Tau Foo, which is beancurd stuffed with minced meat.
The gravy is one of the best parts about eating chilli crab | Courtesy Singapore Tourism Board
Jumbo Seafood has several locations in more tourist populated parts of Singapore, but this one at East Coast Seafood Centre right along the coastline was the first one opened in 1987. Jumbo is well known for chilli crab, a must-eat for seafood lovers looking for a taste of the local fare. The chilli crab sauce at Jumbo is a rich thick gravy that’s sweeter than it is spicy, perfect to mop up with a few steamed buns. The black pepper crab is an equally good alternative, and other must-eat dishes include the salted egg prawns and crispy fried baby squid.
PUTIEN is named for where it hailed from, Putian, a coastal city in the Fujian province of southern China. This restaurant is the first of 12 outlets in Singapore and has been awarded several accolades, including the coveted Michelin Star. PUTIEN specialises in Heng Hwa cuisine – Heng Hwas are a cousin to the much more prominent Hokkien dialect group in Singapore – simple home-style fare reflecting of their coastal and agricultural heritage. Must-eats here include the fried Heng Hwa vermicelli, the PUTIEN lor mee soaked in a light gravy, yellow croaker fish and stir-fried yam.
Step back in time when you step through the doors of Red Star Restaurant. This Cantonese restaurant on the edge of Chinatown is a local favourite for Singaporeans with fond memories of past yum char restaurants that they grew up in. Mornings and afternoons are when it gets most crowded as most people come for their dim sum, where they employ the old school method of pushing metal carts around the restaurant, piled high with baskets of dim sum for you to pick. The restaurant does reopen in the evening for dinner with typical Cantonese favourites like the yam pot and roast duck.