Singaporean cuisine

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A hawker centre in Lavender, Singapore

Singaporean cuisine is indicative of the ethnic diversity of the culture of Singapore which originated from Malaysia, as a product of centuries of cultural interaction owing to Singapore's strategic location. The food is influenced by the native Malay,[1] the predominant Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan, and Western traditions (particularly English and some Portuguese-influenced Eurasian, known as Kristang) since the founding of Singapore by the British in the nineteenth century. Influences from other areas such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Middle East exist in local food culture as well. In Singaporean hawker stalls, for example, chefs of Chinese background influenced by Indian culture might experiment with condiments and ingredients such as tamarind, turmeric, and ghee, while an Indian chef might serve a fried noodle dish. With a variety of influences from different countries, it is suffice to note that the globalization phenomenon affects the cuisine in Singapore as well.

Some of Singaporean dishes are quite popular. In 2011, four of Singaporean popular dishes make it to the list of 'World's 50 Most Delicious Foods (Readers' Pick)' — a worldwide online poll by 35,000 people held by CNN International. They are chicken rice (13th), chili crab (29th), laksa (44th) and roti prata (45th).[2]

This globalization phenomenon on the cuisine of Singapore proves to be a significant cultural attraction. Most prepared food is eaten outside the home at hawker centres or food courts, examples of which include Lau Pa Sat and Newton Food Centre, rather than at restaurants. This is because such Singaporean hawker stalls include a huge variety of cuisines, ranging from Malay food, to Thai, Indian, Western, Korean, Japanese and even Vietnamese food. These hawker centres are abundant and cheap, hence encouraging a large consumer base.

In Singapore, food is viewed as crucial to national identity and a unifying cultural thread; Singaporean literature declares eating as a national pastime and food, a national obsession. Food is a frequent topic of conversation among Singaporeans. Religious dietary strictures do exist; Muslims do not eat pork and Hindus do not eat beef, and there is also a significant group of vegetarians. People from different communities often eat together, while being mindful of each other's culture and choose food that is acceptable to all. There are also some halal restaurants catering to Muslim dietary preferences.

Singaporean cuisine has been promoted as an attraction for tourists by the Singapore Tourism Board, as a major attraction alongside its shopping. The government organises the Singapore Food Festival in July to celebrate Singapore's cuisine. The multiculturalism of local food, the ready availability of international cuisine and styles, and their wide range in prices to fit all budgets at all times of the day and year helps create a "food paradise". In addition, the Overseas Singaporean Unit organizes Singapore Day as a platform for Singaporeans who are overseas to come together as one.[3] During the event, local Singaporean hawker food will be prepared for the overseas Singaporean to enjoy.

As Singapore is a small country with a high population density, land is a scarce resource devoted to industrial and housing purposes. Most produce and food ingredients are imported, although there is a small group of local farmers who produce some leafy vegetables, fruit, poultry, and fish. Singapore's geographical position connects it to major air and sea transport routes and thus allows it to import a variety of food ingredients from around the world, including costly seafood items such as salmon from Norway.

Common main dishes and snacks[edit]

Chinese[edit]

Fish soup bee hoon at Food Junction
Hainanese chicken rice is popular in Singaporean and considered to be one of the national dishes of Singapore
Kaya toast, a traditional breakfast dish
Pig's organ soup, one of popular dish in Singapore
Pau in Singapore

Many of these dishes were brought to Singapore by the early southern Chinese immigrants (Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese) and adapted to suit local circumstances (such as available ingredients) and cannot strictly be considered mainstream Chinese cuisine due to the presence of Malay, Indian, and other influences. Singaporean Chinese cuisine is largely derived from the cuisines of the Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese, and Hakka dialect groups that comprise the majority of the Chinese population in Singapore.

Most of the names of Singaporean Chinese dishes were derived from dialects of southern China, with Hokkien (Min Nan) being the most commonly used dialect. As there was no systematic transliteration of southern Chinese dialects into Latin alphabets, it is common to see many different forms of transliteration for the same dish. For example, Bah Kut Teh may also be called Bak Kut Teh, and Char Kway Tiao may also be called Char Kuay Teow and so on. Another common variation occurs due to the different types of Hokkien accent used. For example, Ngo Hiang (五香) is the pronunciation of the Zhangzhou Hokkien accent while Ngo Hiong is the pronunciation of the Quanzhou Hokkien accent.

  • Bak kut teh (Chinese: 肉骨茶; pinyin: ròu gǔ chá), pork rib soup made with a variety of Chinese herbs and spices
  • Bak Chang (Chinese: 肉粽; pinyin: ròu zòng), savoury glutinous rice dumplings, usually filled with pork, mushrooms and stewed egg, steamed in bamboo leaves. Chinese in origin, but a longtime favorite in Peranakan cuisine
  • Bak chor mee / minced pork noodles (simplified Chinese: 肉脞面; traditional Chinese: 肉脞麵; pinyin: roù cuò miàn), egg noodles with minced pork or chicken and other ingredients, served dry or with soup; usually the flat, tape-like mee pok noodle is used; a variation on fishball noodles
  • Ban mian (simplified Chinese: 板面; traditional Chinese: 板麵; pinyin: bǎn miàn), hand-made flat noodles served with vegetables, minced meat, sliced mushrooms, and an egg in an anchovy (ikan bilis)-based soup; noodle variations are common, Ban mian usually refers to flat, long noodles; mee hoon kuay (Chinese: 米粉粿; pinyin: mí fěn guǒ; literally: "rice vermicelli cake") refers to squarish flats; you mian (simplified Chinese: 幼面; traditional Chinese: 幼麵; pinyin: yòu miàn; literally: "thin noodles") refers to thinner noodles
  • Chai tow kway / carrot cake (simplified Chinese: 菜头粿; traditional Chinese: 菜頭粿; pinyin: cài tóu guǒ), also known as Char kway (Chinese: 炒粿; pinyin: chǎo guǒ), radish (or daikon) cakes that are diced and stir-fried with garlic, egg, chopped preserved radish, and sometimes with prawns that comes in black (sweet dark soy sauce) or white (savory) versions, with a chili paste added sometimes
  • Char kway teow (simplified Chinese: 炒粿条; traditional Chinese: 炒粿條; pinyin: chǎo guǒ tiáo), thick, flat rice flour (kuay teow) noodles stir-fried in dark soy sauce with prawns, eggs, beansprouts, fish cake, cockles, green leafy vegetables, Chinese sausage, and some fried lard
  • Chwee kueh (Chinese: 水粿; pinyin: shuǐ guǒ), steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish; usually eaten for breakfast
  • Drunken prawn (simplified Chinese: 醉虾; traditional Chinese: 醉蝦; pinyin: zuì xiā), prawns cooked with Chinese rice wine
  • Duck rice (simplified Chinese: 鸭饭; traditional Chinese: 鴨飯; pinyin: yā fàn), braised duck with rice cooked with yam and shrimps; it can be served simply with plain white rice and a thick dark sauce; side dishes of braised hard-boiled eggs, preserved salted vegetables, or hard beancurd (tau kua) may be added; Teochew boneless duck rice is a similar, but a more refined dish; due to the slightly tougher texture of duck, the duck is artfully deboned and sliced thinly for the convenience and ease of the diner, allowing the sauces to seep into the meat, making it a more pleasant experience on the whole; Hainanese chicken rice and other similar dishes have followed this style due to the popularity
  • Har Cheong Gai (simplified Chinese: 虾酱鸡; traditional Chinese: 蝦醬雞; pinyin: xiā jiàng jī; literally: "shrimp paste chicken"), chicken wings fried in a batter with fermented shrimp paste
  • Hum chim peng (simplified Chinese: 咸煎饼; traditional Chinese: 咸煎餅; pinyin: xián jiān bǐng), a deep-fried bun-like pastry sometimes filled with bean paste
  • Kaya toast, a traditional breakfast dish; Kaya is a sweet coconut and egg jam, and this is spread over toasted bread; combined with a cup of local coffee and a half-boiled egg, this makes a typical Singaporean breakfast
  • Kuay chap / kway chap (Chinese: 粿汁; pinyin: guǒ zhī), a Teochew dish of flat, broad rice sheets in a soup made with dark soy sauce, served with pig offal, braised duck meat, various kinds of beancurd, preserved salted vegetables, and braised hard-boiled eggs
  • Min Chiang Kueh (Chinese: 面煎粿; pinyin: miàn jiān guǒ), a thick chewy pancake with a ground peanut and sugar filling; other variations include grated coconut and red bean paste; this traditional snack also is served in blueberry, cheese, and chocolate varieties
  • Pig's brain soup, a Singaporean soup dish comprising pig brain with special soup herbs
  • Pig fallopian tubes, a dish comprising stir-fried pig Fallopian tubes with vegetables and sambal
  • Pig's organ soup (simplified Chinese: 猪杂汤; traditional Chinese: 豬雜湯; pinyin: zhū zá tāng; literally: "pig spare parts soup"), a soup-based variant of kuay chap
  • Popiah (simplified Chinese: 薄饼; traditional Chinese: 薄餅; pinyin: báo bǐng), Hokkien / Teochew-style spring roll or rolled crêpe, stuffed with stewed turnip, Chinese sausage, shrimp, and lettuce
  • Soon kway (Chinese: 笋粿; pinyin: sǔn guǒ), a white vegetable dumpling with black soy sauce
  • Turtle soup, soup or stews made from the flesh of the turtle
  • Vegetarian bee hoon (simplified Chinese: 斋米粉; traditional Chinese: 齋米粉; pinyin: zhāi mǐ fěn), thin braised rice vermicelli to which a choice of various gluten, vegetable, or beancurd-based delicacies may be added
  • You Tsia Kway油炸粿 (simplified Chinese: 油条; traditional Chinese: 油條; pinyin: yóu tiáo), fried dough crullers similar to those served in other Chinese cuisines around the world

Malay[edit]

Mee soto is a noodle dish served in Singapore
Nasi goreng (fried rice) served in Singapore
Mee rebus sold in Bukit Batok, Singapore
Chendol commonly found at hawker centers in Singapore

Singaporean Malay dishes, influenced by the food of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, and the Riau Islands, tend to be adapted to local tastes and differ from the regional variations in neighbouring countries. Although Malays are native to Singapore, most of the Malays in Singapore today are immigrants from Indonesia and Malaysia and their descendents,[4] subsequently the Singaporean Malay cuisine traditions is influenced by neighboring cooking traditions of Malaysian and Indonesian (especially Minang cuisine). Spices and coconut milk are common ingredients, although Chinese ingredients such as taupok (tofu puffs) and tofu (known as tauhu in Malay) have been integrated. Many Chinese and Tamil Muslim adaptations of these dishes also exist.

  • Acar, pickled vegetables or fruits with dried chilli, peanuts, and spices; this condiment also has Indian and Peranakan versions
  • Assam pedas, seafood and vegetables cooked in a sauce consisting of tamarind, coconut milk, chilli, and spices
  • Bakso, also Ba'so, meatballs served with noodles
  • Begedil or Perkedel, mashed potato mixture that is fried into patties, eaten together with mee soto,
  • Belacan, not a dish in itself, but a paste made from shrimps commonly used in spice pastes
  • Curry puff, also known as epok-epok, a flaky pastry usually stuffed with curry chicken, potato cubes, and a slice of hard-boiled egg and sometimes sardines are used in place of chicken
  • Dendeng paru, a dish of "dried" beef lung cooked in spices
  • Goreng pisang, bananas rolled in flour, fried, and eaten as a snack
  • Gudeg Putih, white curry jackfruit[5]
  • Gulai daun ubi, sweet potato leaves stewed in coconut milk
  • Keropok, deep fried crackers usually flavored with prawn, but sometimes with fish or vegetables
  • Ketupat, rice cake that is steamed in a square-shaped coconut leaf wrapping and usually served with satay
  • Lemak siput, shellfish cooked in a thick coconut milk-based gravy
  • Lontong, compressed rice cakes (see ketupat) in spicy vegetable soup,
  • Otak-otak / otah, spicy fish cake grilled in a banana leaf wrapping
  • Pecel Lele, fried catfish served with chili paste
  • Sambal, not a dish in itself, but a common chili-based accompaniment to most foods,
  • Satay, grilled meat on skewers served with spicy peanut sauce and usually eaten with ketupat, cucumber, and onions
  • Soto ayam, a spicy chicken soup that features chicken shreds, rice cakes and sometimes begedil,
  • Tumpeng,[6] is a cone-shaped rice dish like mountain with its side dishes (vegetables and meat)

Indian[edit]

Indian rojak
Rice served with papadum, on banana leaf

Like other divisions of Singaporean cuisine, Indian Singaporean Cuisine has influence from multiple ethnic groups. Dishes from both the North Indian region and the South Indian region can be found in Singapore.[7]

  • Appam, a fermented rice pancake
  • Murtabak, originating from the Middle East, this Indian-Muslim dish today consists of folded roti prata dough stuffed with spiced minced meat, onions, and egg and often is served with curry
  • Roti prata, a local evolution of the Pakistani and Indian paratha is popular for breakfast or late night supper; this dish is enjoyed by all Singaporeans and commonly served with sugar and curry and a plethora of modern variations are available including egg, cheese, chocolate, masala, durian, and even ice cream; ideally it should be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the dough is flipped to attain the right texture, then cooked quickly on a greased stove
  • Soup kambing, a local Mamak (Tamil Muslim) dish of spiced mutton soup
  • Soup tulang, a local Mamak (Tamil Muslim) dish of mutton or beef bones stewed in a spicy red sauce with the intent of eating the marrow
  • Tandoori, marinated meat, usually chicken in a mixture of spices and yoghurt and cooked in a clay oven
  • Dosa, rice and lentil pancake. Commonly served as a "masala" version that includes spiced potatoes and served with different types of sambar
  • Vadai, spicy, deep-fried snacks that are made from dhal, lentils or potato

Cross-cultural[edit]

A number of dishes, listed below, can be considered as truly hybrid or multi-ethnic food.

  • Ayam buah keluak, a Peranakan dish of chicken stewed with spices and Southeast Asian black nuts
  • Fish head curry, a dish created by Singapore's Malayalee (an Indian ethnic group from Kerala) community with some Chinese and Malay influences that includes the head of a red snapper (ikan merah, literally "red fish") stewed in curry consisting of varying amounts of coconut milk and tamarind juice with vegetables (okra and eggplants are common) and it usually is served with either rice or bread
  • Kari lemak ayam, a Peranakan chicken curry with a coconut milk base
  • Kari debal, a Eurasian Singaporean curry dish with Portuguese and Peranakan influence, includes chicken, cabbage, sausage, and bacon bits stewed in a curry sauce
  • Kueh pie tee, a thin and crispy pastry tart shell filled with a spicy, sweet mixture of thinly sliced vegetables and prawns is a popular Peranakan dish
  • Laksa, thick rice noodles (bee hoon) in a coconut curry gravy with prawn, egg and sometimes with the addition of chicken, tau pok (beancurd puffs) or fish cake is Peranakan in origin; a specifically Singaporean variant (as opposed to shared by Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine) is Katong laksa; raw or lightly blanched cockles also are usually added to the dish and the cutting of the noodles, both being a distinctive trademark
  • Mee goreng, yellow egg noodles stir fried with ghee, tomato sauce, some chilli, egg, vegetables, and various meats and seafood may be added
  • Cereal prawns, prawns that have been stir fried with sweetened cereal
  • Sambal kangkong, a dish of leafy green vegetables (water spinach) fried in sambal
  • Tauhu goreng, fried bean curd with sweet sauce is served at many Malay stalls
  • Tutu kueh, steamed rice flour pastries with a sweet shredded coconut / peanut filling

Seafood[edit]

Singaporeans also enjoy a wide variety of seafood including fish, squid (known as sotong in Malay), stingray, crab, lobster, clams, and oysters.

Popular seafood dishes include

Western cuisine[edit]

Commonly seen dishes such as sirloin steak, chicken or lamb chops, fish and chips, mixed grills, baked beans, chicken pie, sausage rolls, fried chicken wings, and cheese fries are popular in Singapore, typically spotted in hawker centers and food courts in Singapore.

Fruit[edit]

A durian stall in Singapore

A wide variety of tropical fruits are available all year round, though most of them are imported from neighbouring countries. By far the most well known is the durian, known as the "King of Fruits", which produces a characteristic odour from the creamy yellow custard-like flesh within its spiky green or brown shell. However, in spite of their popularity, durians are banned on public transport, certain hotels, and public buildings because of their strong odour.

Other popular tropical fruits include mangosteen, jackfruit, longan, lychee, rambutan, and pineapple. Some of these fruits also are used as ingredients for other dishes: iced desserts, sweet-and-sour pork, and certain types of salad such as rojak.

Desserts[edit]

Red ruby
Tangyuan
Italian ice cream (gelato) in Shaw House Basement Food Court

Singaporean desserts have a varied history and can be found in every hawker centre and food court in the region. A stall will usually have a large variety of desserts for sale, including but not limited to:

  • Cheng tng, a light refreshing soup with longans, barley, agar strips, lotus seeds and a sweet syrup, served either hot or cold, analogous to the Cantonese Ching bo leung
  • Ice kacang, a mound of grated ice on a base consisting of jelly, red beans, corn and attap seeds, and topped with various kinds of coloured sugar syrups such as palm sugar, rose syrup and evaporated milk
  • Kuih / kueh, small cakes or coconut milk based desserts that come in a variety of flavors, usually having fruit such as durian, banana, or sometimes pandan and commonly in Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan cooking; Kueh lapis is a rich, multi-layered cake-style kueh using a large amount of egg whites and studded with prunes; Lapis sagu is also a popular kueh with layers of alternating color and a sweet, coconut taste
  • Or-ni, a Teochew dish consisting of yam paste, coconut paste and ginko nuts, a popular dish in Chinese restaurants
  • Pulut hitam, a creamy dessert made of black glutinous rice and served with coconut cream
  • Tau suan, mung daal beans in jelly, served hot, with dough crullers

Drinks and beverages[edit]

A typical open-air kopi tiam in Singapore

Popular Singaporean drinks includes:

  • Chin chow drink (Chinese: 仙草水; pinyin: xiān cǎo shuǐ), sweetened drink with grass jelly
  • Lemon barley drink (柠檬薏米水)
  • Bandung, rose syrup with evaporated milk
  • Sugar cane juice, usually taken fresh from farms and ground into a freshly blended juice
  • Teh halia tarik, ginger tea with milk pulled (tarik)
  • Beer in Singapore

Local terms for coffee and tea[edit]

Traditional Kopi O commonly served in Malaysia and Singapore

At kopi tiams (Chinese: 咖啡店; pinyin: kā fēi diàn; literally: "coffee shop"), coffee and tea are usually ordered in the local vernacular which blends together different languages.

One can request for ice or sugar or milk to be included with the beverage. For example, one can add the "peng" (Chinese: ; pinyin: bīng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: peng; literally: "ice") suffix to form other variations such as Teh-C-peng. (tea with evaporated milk with ice).

Other foods and information[edit]

Singapore radish cake (simplified Chinese: 星州炒萝卜糕; traditional Chinese: 星州炒蘿蔔糕; pinyin: xīng zhōu chǎo luó bò gāo), is a common dish featuring diced and stir fried radish with an egg mixture, flavoured with chilli. There are two types of this dish, one which is cooked with black soya sauce and another without. Hence, when buying this dish, most people would ask for the 'black' (referring to the former) or 'white' (the latter) version. Another name for the dish is chai tow kway. It is easily available in the food centres in Singapore.

Given the passionate nature of most Singaporeans regarding food, and Singaporean cuisine, a constantly updated food guide, Makansutra, has been developed, which focuses on the hawker scene in Singapore, and identifies popular stalls in Singapore. Similarly, a highly popular food blog, ieatishootipost, mainly reviews and photographs uniquely Singaporean food and features up-and-coming and popular eateries in Singapore.

"Singaporean" foods uncommon in Singapore[edit]

  • Singapore style noodles (Chinese: 星州炒米粉; pinyin: xīng zhōu chǎo mí fěn), a dish featuring fried rice vermicelli flavoured with yellow curry powder, is not commonly found in Singapore. It is popular with Chinese takeaways in the West as well as Hong Kong. The close relative to this dish is fried bee hoon (thin rice noodles), which comes in a wide number of variations across ethnic lines.
  • Singapore Sling, the cocktail developed in Singapore's Raffles Hotel, is not very common in Singapore either. While it was invented in Raffles Hotel, and can still be found there, it is not easily found at most bars around Singapore however.
  • Singapore fried kway tiao (simplified Chinese: 星州炒粿条; traditional Chinese: 星州炒粿條; pinyin: xīng zhōu chǎo guǒ tiáo), a dish featuring fried thick, flat rice noodles flavoured with dark soy sauce commonly available in some Chinese restaurants in Canada and the United States, also is not found in Singapore. The closest dish related to it found in Singapore would be char kway teow, or a variation of it.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]