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Food, Singapore’s National Obsession

Soup Dumplings and Suckling Pig
Food, Singapore’s National Obsession
It’s no secret: Singaporeans love food. To eat like a local, head to a hawker center and identify a traditional dish that strikes your fancy. Whether you gravitate toward markets or celebrity chefs’ tables, you’re bound to enjoy a culinary adventure.
 
By Heidi Sarna, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Jen Murphy
  • 1 / 10
    Soup Dumplings and Suckling Pig
    Soup Dumplings and Suckling Pig
    Almost 75 percent of Singapore’s population is of Chinese descent, so Chinese food is a major player in the culinary scene. You’ll have no trouble finding everything from Sichuan dishes, with their distinctively numbing black peppercorns, to Hong Kong–style dim sum and Shanghainese xiao long bao (soup dumplings)—try them at the renowned Din Tai Fung. In addition, almost every family gathering is occasion enough for a full-on Chinese feast. For the real deal, book a table at Asia Grand on North Bridge Road and order the Peking duck and roast suckling pig in advance; other dishes can be ordered à la carte. Chinatown’s charming Yum Cha serves a trolley-cart dim sum brunch on weekends. For something a bit fancier, Imperial Treasure in Ngee Ann City fits the bill with its classic flavors of Shanghai—feast on hand-rolled xiao long bao and sautéed shrimp with honey peas and egg whites in black-truffle oil.
    Photo by Jen Murphy
  • 2 / 10
    Unusual Sweets and Snacks
    Unusual Sweets and Snacks
    It’s not always love at first taste when Westerners sample Singaporean desserts and snacks, which tend to be extremely sweet. But these delectables do offer interesting flavor and texture combinations, such as the afternoon treat cendol: corn, red beans, coconut milk, and electric-green jelly noodles served with shaved ice. For a midmorning snack, try kaya toast, a local favorite. Kaya, a kind of egg-and-coconut jam, is spread on toast and topped with a pat of butter. It’s usually eaten with a cup of hot kopi, regional coffee with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk—Ya Kun Kaya Toast is the perfect place to check out this most Singaporean comfort food. When you need to cool down, take a cue from the kids and grab a large cup of bubble tea, which is milky iced tea with chewy tapioca pearls.
    Photo by Arwen Joyce
  • 3 / 10
    Romantic Wining and Dining
    Romantic Wining and Dining
    In Singapore, love is in the air: Many young people live with their parents, so courting is all about being out on the town. For a grand, romantic gesture, sweep your partner off his or her feet (literally) with an elegant Mediterranean meal 40 stories up at Artemis, atop the CapitaGreen building. For a low-key date night, opt for sharing plates and surprising combinations at restaurants in and around Chinatown, such as Cheek by Jowl in Telok Ayer or Buko Nero in Tanjong Pagar. The adventurous should embark on a unique sensory experience at Nox–Dine in the Dark, where—you guessed it—the meal is served in a pitch-black room.
    Photo by Warren Goldswain/age fotostock
  • 4 / 10
    Big Names and Hungry Young Chefs
    Big Names and Hungry Young Chefs
    The culinary evolution—nay, revolution—in Singapore over the past decade has meant a tremendous increase in the diversity and quality of fine-dining restaurants. Legendary chefs from around the world have brought their Michelin stars, TV personalities, and inimitable styles to Singapore’s shores. For the highest concentration of big names in one place, head to the celebrity-helmed restaurants at Marina Bay Sands. Wolfgang Puck’s Spago atop the middle tower is gorgeous, and so is the food. Ambitious young upstarts are also making a splash in the city-state. Taiwanese chef André Chiang’s exquisite degustation menu at Restaurant André, an intimate spot in Chinatown, pushes the boundaries of sophistication and often tops the list of the best restaurants in Singapore.
    Photo by Jen Murphy
  • 5 / 10
    The Best Outdoor Dining
    The Best Outdoor Dining
    Whether it’s on a rooftop, by the water, or in a local hawker center, eating outdoors is one of the perks of a city with balmy temperatures year-round. Check out Privé on Keppel Island—and snag a table on its large outdoor patio, near a marina of bobbing yachts. The Club Street area in Chinatown draws an after-work expat crowd and offers many options for alfresco dining and rooftop relaxing; try the Ô Batignolles wine bar and bistro for a sidewalk bite, or Screening Room’s open roof for drinks and snacks. Their leafy-green settings make the Cookhouse and PS.Cafe in Dempsey Hill, as well as Min Jiang in Rochester Park, a great choice for lazy outdoor Sunday brunch. These foodie destinations’ jungle backdrops alone are worth a trip to the western side of the island.
    Photo by Urs Flueeler/age fotostock
  • 6 / 10
    Spice Things Up in Little India
    Spice Things Up in Little India
    South Indian cuisine is king in Singapore’s Little India, although North Indian flavors are gaining ground. The hawker stalls at Tekka Centre offer a variety of cheap Singaporean Indian dishes; try roti prata (like a paratha: flaky bread cooked on a hot griddle), murtabak (an eggy roti stuffed with meat or cheese), or tissue prata (a very thin roti prata covered with honey). Ananda Bhavan and Komala Vilas are the joints for a quick and delicious dosa, a type of crepe often served with a spicy curry sauce. Anjappar is a homey chain specializing in the cuisine of India’s Chettinad region; Raj, across from Mustafa Centre, is vegetarian nirvana. If you’re craving rich curries, try Lagnaa Barefoot Dining on Upper Dickson Road. Patrons here relax on floor cushions upstairs or sit at standard tables (with shoes on) downstairs to test their mettle against the spice challenge.
    Photo by Desiree Koh
  • 7 / 10
    Try the Peranakans’ Fusion Cuisine
    Try the Peranakans’ Fusion Cuisine
    The Peranakans, a people unique to Singapore and its former Straits Settlements neighbors, developed a fusion cuisine that combines Chinese ingredients with Malay spices and cooking techniques. The tangy and aromatic dishes often incorporate elements that are unfamiliar to the Western palate, such as galangal (a root similar to ginger), candlenuts, and jicama. A frequent accompaniment is cincaluk, a pungent condiment made from ground shrimp that is often served up alongside lime juice and chilies. After going through the Peranakan Museum, swing by True Blue Cuisine for authentic meals in a space done up with Peranakan antiques. Equally gorgeous is the National Kitchen by Violet Oon in the National Gallery; the Peranakan-inspired decor of the cozy spot makes it feel like a mini museum. Feast on Peranakan classics as you soak up the ambience.
    Photo by Arwen Joyce
  • 8 / 10
    Family-Style and Buffet Brunch
    Family-Style and Buffet Brunch
    Singapore has embraced brunch in a big way. One option found at many major hotels is a lavish, all-you-can-eat brunch with freely flowing champagne. (Prices and selection will vary slightly among them.) The Marina Mandarin has a pool bar with lounge chairs—a convenient spot for a nap after you’ve stuffed yourself on its family-style brunch service. Capella on Sentosa Island is worth the trip for its gorgeous dessert spread alone. Senso, on Club Street, offers a high-end hotel brunch in a scaled-down courtyard setting. There are no eggs here, just hearty Italian options and plenty of prosecco. Pasta and main courses are served family-style, while appetizers and desserts are set on a buffet.
    Photo by age fotostock
  • 9 / 10
    Casual Dining, Singapore Style
    Casual Dining, Singapore Style
    You’ll find the best fast food in Singapore at hawker centers. In these Southeast Asian food meccas, standards for cleanliness and quality are high, and prices are low. The bigger markets boast more than 50 stalls selling everything from curries and dosas to dumplings and pig-organ soup. Try Maxwell Food Centre and Lau Pa Sat, two popular options that are centrally located. The seating part of the experience is entirely self-service, so during busy periods, claim a table by leaving a packet of tissues on it before you order.
    Photo by Jen Murphy
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    Wander the Wet Markets
    Wander the Wet Markets
    Colorful morning markets are located near housing estates, often just below the neighborhood hawker center. Dubbed “wet markets,” they are sprayed and scrubbed clean once the day’s goods are sold. You’ll see fresh meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fruit, and flowers at them—but go early before the heat sets in. Compared to grocery stores, wet markets’ prices can’t be beat; however, they’re not always marked, and you may encounter language barriers (many vendors only speak Mandarin or the Hokkien dialect). In most cases, you can just point at what you want and hand the seller a couple of Singaporean dollars to do the trick. Good options include the Tiong Bahru Market and the Tekka Centre in Little India.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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