If your experience of Singapore has been as a 24 hour stop-over en route to Europe with impressions of a clean but clinical city and an iconic skyline, then it may be time to plan a return visit to the Lion City and linger a little longer!
Singapore is now recognised as one of the culinary capital cities of the world boasting a dining scene not only of hawker centres, but also heritage eating spots and high-end celebrity chef restaurants. Every cuisine in the world is represented and such is the range on offer that it now has its very own Michelin Guide! (For a full list of Singapore’s Michelin-starred restaurants go to the link here.)
However, it’s the local foods in some of the city’s eclectic neighbourhoods that are now considered unique attractions in themselves. Settled by immigrants over the centuries with their own food influences these districts now showcase Singapore’s diversity – and thanks to an enviable transport system, it is easy to seek out dishes and eat like a local!
We suggest first heading to Katong/Joo Chiat Road – heart of Peranakan culture where you can admire the distinct architecture of pastel-hued rows of heritage shophouses that line the street. Spoilt for choice, regional specialities are endless such as a delicious bowl of spicy noodle laksa or the Malay-inspired nasi lemak in all its variations. This is where you should try Singapore’s treasured breakfast staple of toasted bread with butter and kaya, (jam made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves) with an optional extra of a soft-boiled egg. Combine this with a steaming cup of kopi, the signature strong coffee drink sweetened with condensed and evaporated milks and you are ready to start the day!
In the district known as Geylang lies another authentic food experience. The Geylang Serai Market has been in operation since 1964 and behind a façade that looks like a typical Malay house, sample traditional street food with an array of Nonya and Indian specialties including the delicious roti prata – a South Indian flatbread popular for breakfast or lunch usually dipped in accompanying curries.
For more local Malay delicacies head to Kampong Glam – once a fishing village and known for the Paperbark Tree that was used for building ships it was given to the Muslim community in 1822. For INSTA opportunities don’t miss Haji Lane – a row of stores, boutiques, bars and cafes, then seek out Singapore Zam Zam on North Bridge Road, one of the best places to try the popular dish murtabak, a stuffed pan-fried pancake filled with meat.
Feast on delicious Indian food in vibrant Little India – even more colourful if you are visiting during Deepavali (27-28 October 2019). Choosing where to try mouth-watering fish head curry, (fragrant red snapper head in a pot of curry with assorted vegetables), can be rather daunting, but one of our favourites is The Banana Leaf Apolo; or for Indian briyani head to Michelin-listed hawker stall Allauddin’s Briyani within the bustling Tekka Centre.
No visit to Singapore is complete without wandering the narrow alleyways in Chinatown discovering snapshots of the city’s history. It is also one of the hippest areas with a great selection of bars and restaurants along Club Street and Ann Siang Road. For possibly one of the most affordable dining experiences, head to the Chinatown Food Complex, with a variety of Singaporean street food including Char Kway Teow – flat rice noodles skilfully stir-fried, craft beer on tap and some Michelin-starred stalls such as Chan Hon Meng with his Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. Then there is the well-known and popular Maxwell Food Centre where the Hainanese Chicken Rice at Tian Tian is a Michelin Bib-Gourmand recipient – but expect to queue for the experience.
And who doesn’t love a satay? Lots of choice in Boon Tat Street – also known as Satay Street – blocked to traffic each night when little satay huts set up with sizzling sticks of meat charred over hot coals – best accompanied with a jug of Tiger beer. Just behind is the famous Lau Pa Sat, or Telok Ayer Market with its distinct octagonal shape and Victorian iron framework complete with clock tower. Slurp on bak kut teh – pork rib soup where the meat literally falls off the bone – surrounded by old world elegance.
Whether you are a lover of architecture, food or shopping, Tiong Bahru is the place to be with lots of cute indie boutiques and buildings inspired by a 1930s style called “Steamline Moderne”. Complemented by Tiong Bahru Market, visit its ‘wet’ market of vegetables, flowers, meat and fish downstairs then head upstairs for a never-ending choice of local specialties from up and coming “hawkerpreneurs” who are inspired by traditional family recipes that have been reinvented and so a new generation of cooks begins.
We end at Clarke Quay along Singapore River, where it is worth taking a stroll along the banks with its varied choice of bars, restaurants and clubs. For sensational chili crab with a tomato or black pepper base, you can’t go past Red House Seafood Restaurant, one of Singapore’s oldest restaurants at Clarke Quay.
In a country with no distinct seasons, the marking of time is passed with colourful festivals and parades and if you are a foodie, highlights you should mark on your calendar each year are the Michelin Guide Street Food Festival held in February, Singapore Restaurant Week in March, the World Gourmet Summit in April and the Singapore Food Festival in July.
The late Anthony Boudain described Singapore as having a “food crazy culture”. Why not call us to help plan your own culinary adventure in one of the world’s most exciting cities where you too can be captivated by its distinct districts whilst feasting on local delights!