One can hardly talk about Singapore without talking about the Food. The word amazing does not even start to cover the cuisine here. Eating is truly the Singaporean national past time, so much so that the most common local greeting is - " have you had your ______ yet” (fill in the blank with the nearest appropriate meal - breakfast, lunch, dinner). At first the greeting kind of freaked me out. I feared that if I answered “no” they would try to feed me and I would then be in their debt - or if I said yes that they would think I was being disingenuous or something. (yes I know I am insane). Eventually I realized that it was just a greeting and that the answer was not all that important (kind of like the American equivalent of “how are you doing” – to which no one really wants a truthful answer - just try it one day, try telling someone how you really are - the look on thier face is priceless). But in fairness it is not really just a questions because eating and food play such a vital part of life in Singapore. It’s not just about filing your pie hole (I love that expression), it about many other diverse things; flavor, community, relaxation, family, camaraderie, recreation, sharing, obligation, spirituality, good fortune and much more - as well as the filling of ones stomach. (we will have to wait for another post to cover the social implications of food in Singapore)
The variety of food styles in Singapore can’t be beaten, there is just no way. There is no other place like it, where so many cultures have come together and still retain the gastronomic heritage. As well as those instances where a fusion of cuisine cultures has occured (like Peranakan food - yum). There are more than a half dozen styles of Chinese food, as well as Malay, Indonesian, Indian (north and south), Thai, Pilipino, Myanmar, Vietnamese, Korean, Peranakan (a blend of Malay and Chinese), and then there area the imports; Japanese, Australian, American, Russian, and all forms of European. The only things that I can’t seem to find here are, Samoan, and soul food (but I am still looking).
Part of my job (a very nice part) is to know and understand the many varying cuisines of Singapore. Upon my arrival I was sent out to explore and discover all that I could about local food and cooking. I had some help from renown Singaporean Chef, writer and all around food expert Violet Oon. Violet pointed me in the right direction and armed with the always useful (and mostly reliable) Makan Sutra guide, and off I went. At first my searching around Singapore was a solo undertaking. I would wander at random the streets and alleys in search of local delicacies. Later my explorations were aided by the many friends & collogues I came to know; Laksa with Kah Sing, Bah Kut Teh with Max, Fish Head Curry with Ernest, Otah with Scott, diners at Kim and Tang’s House. Each week I would go forth to seek out new places and find new foods to try; from the corner Nasi Padang to The Shangri La hotel I have endeavored to taste as much as possible – and yet there remains much to still explore. After two years in Singapore I am still by no means an expert on local cuisines and cooking, but I do have a better grasp than your average Ang Moh (which may not really be saying much).
The availability of tasty cuisine and the number of places to eat at is also astounding. They number in the thousands (and remember Singapore is a small island). In my far flung neighborhood of Bukit Gomba there are almost a 100 places to eat within a two block radius and in more densely populated areas there can be twice that number within the same area. It truely boggles the mind.
The prices are pretty hard to believe as well. A tasty meal of noodles can be had for as under $1.00 SGD and your average Hawker center meal comes in around $5.00 SGD. Of course you can spend more (there are plenty of mid range to extremely high end restaurants in town) but honestly, the food is probably not going be a whole lot better. As is true in many places some of the best food is found in the smaller shops that cater to the local customers. Obviously there are a few exceptions to that rule. The real key to Singapore and it's cuisine is to explore !
Brewer’s Recommended food and places not to be miss in Singapore:
Char Kway Teow - anywhere as it is all good (some places are better)
Duck Rice – better than chicken rice (easily)
Fish Head Curry – Lau Hock Guan Kee in Joo Chiat (Samy’s also can)
Beef Rendang – each place makes there own version (YUM!)
Nasi Lemak - (a good place in Boon Lay, Changi Village has several)
Laksa – (each place has their own recipe – try them all!)
Bah Kut Teh – (Joo Chiat area has some good places for Bah Kut Teh)
Sambal Stingray - Lau Pa Sat is a nice place to try
Perankikan food – True Blue on East Coast Road
Ayam Buah Keluak – (A MUST TRY when at True Blue)
Wild boar – On Pulau Ubin (when they have it)
Pepper Crab – (forget chili crab - try black pepper crab instead)
Char Siew Pau** – (a constant favorite of mine since childhood, also try the baked kind)
Durian ice cream – look for the mobile ice cream carts (so good, broke da mouth)
Durian Puff - Durian wrapped in pastry
Nasi Padang - Indo-Malay "buffet" dinning
Bak Chang – Wrapped up sticky rice (with hidden treasures inside)
Durian - the more you eat the more you want
For more suggestions visit the Pau Hana Time Lounge at - http://pau-hanatime.blogspot.com/
*Makan is the Malay/Indonesian/Singlish word for food or eating
**For all you Hawaiians out there Char Siew Pau is da same as Mana Pua (except smaller)