Singaporean cuisine

A hawker centre in Lavender, Singapore

Singaporean cuisine is diverse and contains elements derived from several ethnic groups, as a result of its history as a seaport with a large immigrant population. Influences include the cuisines of the native Malays[1] and the largest ethnic group, the Chinese, as well as Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan, and Western traditions (particularly English and Portuguese-influenced Eurasian, known as Kristang). Influences from other regions such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Middle East are also present.

In Singapore, food is viewed as crucial to national identity and a unifying cultural thread. Singaporean literature declares eating 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 choosing food that is acceptable for all.

Other than Singaporean cuisine, it is also common in Singapore to find restaurants specialising in cuisine from a great variety of countries around the world.

Hawker centres

When dining out, Singaporeans often eat at hawker centres, coffee shops or food courts rather than restaurants, due to its convenience, wide range of options and affordability. These hawker centres are widespread, cheap and usually feature dozens of stalls in a single complex, with each stall offering its own specialty dishes. Well-known hawker centres include Lau Pa Sat and Newton Food Centre. Coffee shops are non-air conditioned versions of food courts and are commonly found island wide, usually at the bottom of blocks of HDB flats. Hawker centres are the place where people can experience all kinds of different cultural food in one place. "Hawker centres, or open air food courts, have come to define Singaporean food culture. Popular markets like Old Airport Road Food Centre in Geylang, Golden Mile Food Centre on Beach Road and Maxwell Road Food Centre in Chinatown offer the best of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cooking, wrapped into foods that are uniquely Singaporean" (Sood).

In 2016, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle became the first two street food locations in the world to be awarded a Michelin star.[2] The former gains the title of the world's "cheapest Michelin-starred meal".[3][4]

Singapore food internationally

Singaporean food is a significant cultural attraction for tourists and visitors. Some Singaporean dishes have become internationally known. In 2011, four Singaporean dishes were included in 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 Hainanese chicken rice (13th), chili crab (29th), Katong Laksa (44th) and roti prata (45th).[5]

Popular American celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, brought international attention to local food available in hawker centres on his show, No Reservations. He featured Tian Tian Chicken Rice and Maxwell Food Centre in that TV Series. Bourdain has also publicly spoken about hoping to feature 4 Singaporean dishes in his upcoming food hall in New York City.[6]

Singaporean cuisine has been promoted as a tourist attraction by the Singapore Tourism Board. The Singapore Food Festival, held every year in July, is a celebration of Singapore's cuisine. The Overseas Singaporean Unit also organises Singapore Day in major cities around the world as a platform for Singaporeans living abroad.[7] One of Singapore Day's major draws is the local Singaporean hawker food, which is prepared on-site by well-known hawkers specially flown in for the event.

Background and history

Singapore is geographically located in between the Pacific and Indian oceans but it also has shape of peninsula and island at same time, where various cultures and trades are flowing. Indonesia is located to the south, Thailand, China, Philippines, and Malaysia are located to the North and India is located to the West. Since Singapore's position is between various Asian countries, there is a diversity in food and culture. (Sood) "When British imperialist Thomas Stamford Raffles sought to convert Singapore into a trading post for the East India Company in 1819, writes Wendy Hutton in Singapore Food, immigrants from China, Malaya, India, Indonesia, Europe, America and the Middle East flocked to the island" (Sood). The culture of Singapore is made up of diverse influences from different continents and countries. This led Singapore cuisine to be mixed-cultural society food. Also like other Asian countries, Singapore experienced a period of colonization. Singapore used to be colonized by Britain in early 19th century and like most of Asian countries did, they were colonized by Japan during World war 2 (Tarulevicz 11). Also Colonization of Japan influenced Singaporean cuisine. For instance, Yee sang which is food that Singaporean people enjoy to eat during Chinese new year includes raw fish. Raw fish is rare ingredient to put in dishes except for Japanese or Korean dishes.

Food culture

Singaporean food is mostly based on Chinese cuisine, so when a person is first meeting with a new person they ask "Have you eaten?" It is one way to express a greeting to another person. It is also possible to assume that this is how Singaporeans think about the meal and food. Since Singapore is a mixed cultural nation there is a diverse range of people who might have different and restricted diets, such as Muslims and Hindus.[8] In Singapore it is common to see Halal food and Muslims who are fasting in time of Ramadan. Since Singapore is influenced by so many different regions, religion, and areas, there are also many events or anniversaries. During Chinese Lunar new year people eat Nian Gao which is like a cake similar to Songpyeon in Korea's lunar year (Chinese New Year Cake). "Singapore's cuisine is as diverse as its culture. It’s an extension of Malay cuisine but influenced by the Chinese — not to mention the Indians, Arabs, British, and other settlers who have contributed to making Singapore one of the world's most important trading ports" (Trinidad).

Types of food and some world popular food

Singaporean food can be divided into five types: Meat, seafood, rice, noodles, and dessert or snacks. Singapore is especially renowned for its seafood. Chili crab and black pepper crab are two quintessential dishes that dominate the scene and is recommended to tourists. Another favourite is sambal stingray. In the meat category, Hainanese chicken rice is the most popular dish. Essentially, it is rice cooked with chicken fat, served with boiled chicken, accompanied with chili sauce. Three noodle dishes stand out in Singapore cuisine. “Fried Hokkien mee”, fried egg noodles with prawns, sliced pork and gravy, "Nonya laksa", rice noodles served in a coconut prawn broth and "Char Kuey Teow", fried rice noodles with prawns, Chinese sausage, lard and cockles. In the snack category, "Kaya toast" is pretty prolific. "Kaya kopitiams" dot the island. These affordable coffee shops dish out toast spread with coconut jam and butter and local coffee and tea.

Common dishes and snacks


Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore
Kaya toast, a traditional breakfast dish

The dishes that comprise "Singaporean Chinese cuisine" today were originally brought to Singapore by the early southern Chinese immigrants (Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese). They were then adapted to suit the local availability of ingredients, while absorbing influences from Malay, Indian, and other cooking traditions.

Most of the names of Singaporean Chinese dishes were derived from dialects of southern China, Hokkien (Min Nan) being the most common. As there was no common system for transliterating these dialects into the Latin alphabet, it is common to see different variants on the same name for a single dish. For example, Bah Kut Teh may also be called Bak Kut Teh, and Char Kway Tiao may also be called Char Kuay Teow.


Nasi goreng (fried rice)

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 their counterparts in neighbouring countries. Although Malays are native to Singapore, most of the Malays in Singapore today are relatively recent immigrants from Indonesia and Malaysia and their descendants.[9] Hence, Singaporean Malay cuisine features a unique set of influences, especially from 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 the following dishes also exist.


Indian rojak
Rice served with papadum on a banana leaf

Like other Singaporean ethnic cuisines, Indian Singaporean Cuisine has been influenced by multiple cultural groups. Dishes from both North India and South India can be found in Singapore.[13]


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


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


A durian stall in Singapore

A wide variety of tropical fruits are available all year round. 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. Durians are banned on public transport, elevators, 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.



Singaporean desserts have a varied history. A typical food court or hawker centre dessert stall will usually have a large variety of desserts available, including:

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.

Drinks and beverages

A typical open-air kopi tiam in Singapore

Popular Singaporean drinks include:

"Singaporean" dishes uncommon in Singapore

See also


  1. "Singapore Food." Accessed July 2011.
  2. Kim, Soo (July 25, 2016). "Singapore street food stalls get Michelin stars". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  3. Han, Kirsten (October 1, 2016). "Michelin star for Singapore noodle stall where lunch is half the price of a Big Mac". The Guardian. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  4. "The world's first Michelin-starred hawker stall". The Guardian. October 1, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  5. Tim Cheung (7 September 2011). "Your pick: World's 50 best foods". CNNGo. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  6. hermesauto (2016-02-17). "4 Singaporean dishes make Anthony Bourdain's wishlist for his new street food hall in New York". Retrieved 2016-07-18.
  7. "Singapore Day". Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  8. "Dining in Singapore." Dining in Singapore. InterNations, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.
  9. Minorities at Risk (MAR) Project assessment for Malays in Singapore
  11. "Singapore - White Curry Jackfruit (Gudeg Putih)".
  12. Yellow Rice Singapore – Nasi TumpengTemplate:Date=October 2012
  13. "Indian Cuisines in Singapore". Retrieved 7 April 2013.

External links

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