Phil Rosenthal—creator and host of the Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil” and creator of the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond”—recently visited Singapore for the first time, and dove right in to explore the country’s phenomenal food scene. AFAR had the chance to chat with him about the experience.
AFAR: If you could sum up the Singaporean food scene in one word, what would that be?
Phil Rosenthal: Thrilling! You never get bored. You can find deliciously rustic street food co-habiting with full-tilt, five-star food from all over the world—and all in an amazing modern city that seems to have sprung up from the tropical jungle.
AFAR: What were some of the dishes that stood out? PR: The laksa [a complex curry noodle popular in local Peranakan cuisine] was extraordinary, and that was just one of the Singaporean noodle dishes—there are hundreds more! I tried a lot of them, and all were extraordinary in their own distinct ways. The same was true with dumplings; from pork soup dumplings to pyramidal five-spice rice dumplings, all were delicious. And then there was the crab, which comes served in so many original ways and is always exciting. Singapore is truly a place to open your mind and your palette.
AFAR: If a traveler were coming here for just a couple days—say, on a Singapore Stopover Holiday—where would you tell them they must eat? PR: First off, I’d say don’t be so fast to leave the airport—not only is Changi the most spectacular airport in the world, but there’s lots to do, and you can also find some world-class food there. Once you get into the city, high tea at the Raffles Hotel is a classic. And Burnt Ends—the Michelin-starred modern Australian barbecue restaurant—served one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten anywhere, and all from a huge wood-fired smoker behind the bar!
But you don’t have to go fancy to find amazing food. Absolutely do not miss the hawker stalls—they’re everywhere, and at some they do the same dish, so you can go to one area and try to find, say, the best chicken rice. That’s really fun.
AFAR: Did you pick anything up as a souvenir? PR: I like to bring home snacks as souvenirs, and Singapore had some great ones, like, let’s see… [rustles through kitchen cabinet]…chili crab-flavored popcorn from Crusty’s. I also found all kind of delicious chips—think shrimp chips and salted egg potato chips coated with real salted eggs!
AFAR: You do a great job at meeting locals—what are your suggestions for travelers looking to connect with Singaporeans? PR: There’s no better place than in the hawker centers. The tables can be communal, and everyone speaks English, so you can just sit down and strike up a conversation: “Have you had the chicken rice from the place I got mine?” And they might say, “Actually, the place I got mine is better.” Then you can swap tastes and next thing you know you have a friend!
AFAR: Beyond food, what activities would you recommend people try in Singapore? PR: Take a boat ride out on Marina Bay—it’s lovely and magical and will be one of the most spectacular boat rides you’ll ever go on. Overlooking the Bay, the ArtScience Museum’s rotating exhibitions, which explore the intersection of beauty and technology, are endlessly fascinating. And just around the corner is Gardens by the Bay, an incredibly lush area with unique features like the world’s largest glass greenhouses. Chinatown offers a blend of cultures all its own—like a Hindu temple, mosque, and Buddhist temple side by side—along with street art and gorgeously preserved shophouses. Oh, and getting a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, where it was invented, and sitting where so many great people have sat — so much fun.
AFAR: You’re not a chef, didn’t come from a restaurant background—why did you decide to focus your Netflix show on food? PR: I’ve been obsessed with food ever since I left my parents’ home and learned that what they served had zero spice. In fact, if the food had flavor at all that was already an achievement. I didn’t even have garlic until I went to college! After that, I wanted to sample as many different flavors as I could.
Then I got hooked on traveling, and food is a such a great window into the culture. This is especially true in Singapore, where the food that’s developed is their culture. Even more so than art or music, the food there is an amalgam of all the influences of people who made Singapore their home over the years. When you eat, you’re literally taking in their culture—it’s so beautiful and feels so personal.
You can meet the locals and savor the flavors of Singapore as well—and for a limited time, it can cost as little as $1 a day! Book your next flight to Asia with award-winning Singapore Airlines and add even more value by stopping in the Lion City with the Singapore Stopover Holiday package.