Singapore tastes that win the race: go off-track and enjoy the national dishes
From its chilli crab to its laksa, the Lion City is famous for its cuisine, which is influenced by styles from different cultures and incorporates local twists to create fare that is special
It is no secret that Singaporeans are passionate about food. It is part of their national identity, and part of the visitor appeal. This passion extends to being proud of Singapore’s national dishes that have been influenced by numerous cuisines, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan.
Hainanese chicken rice
Topping the national dish list is Hainanese chicken rice.
True, it has its origins in China, and it is available in many Asian countries, but Singapore has claimed the dish as its own.
The dish came to be thanks to the settling of Chinese immigrants from Hainan Island. Served across the board, from hawker stalls to high-end hotels, this comforting dish consists of poached young chicken, which is silky and succulent, served with fragrant, oily rice, a spicy sauce, and other condiments.
The rice is cooked using the liquid and fat from the chicken stock, with the addition of ginger and pandan leaf in Singapore.
Chilli crab is an extremely popular dish with locals and visitors. According to the Singapore Tourism Board, this dish was invented in 1956 by a couple using a pushcart to sell steamed crab.
However, the base for the version served in Singapore came later, when a noted Chinese chef used sambal, tomato paste and eggs to make the sauce, instead of bottled sauces, chilli and tomato.
Of course, the stir-fried crabs must be good, but the dish is all about the sauce, which needs to be sweet, savoury, spicy, but not too hot, all at the same time.
Bak kut teh
Chinese in origin, bak kut teh, which translates to meat bone tea, is a favoured pork dish
It consists of pork ribs simmered for hours in an aromatic complex broth, which includes star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, and garlic.
Its name is said to refer to the oolong tea often served with the soup. It is thought the tea aids digestion of the delicious fat, which is a highlight of the dish. There are many versions, some of which have dark soy, some medicinal herbs, and others peppery notes. Chicken and vegetarian, using mushroom, versions can also be found.
There are many variations of laksa in Singapore – such as Penang, defined by tamarind; and Sarawak, which is close to a curry – but it is the home-grown hybrid, Katong laksa that is most famous. Created by the Peranakans living in the Katong area of Singapore, it consists of a spicy coconut and dried-shrimp soup, topped with ingredients such as prawns, egg, fishcake and tofu.
Its defining characteristic is the noodle – rice noodles cut into shorter pieces for easy eating with just a spoon, chopsticks are often not served with the dish. Modern twists are also appearing, such as yong tofu laksa, featuring the stuffed tofu it is named after, and lobster laksa.
A hawker favourite in Singapore since the 1940s. This popular street food of marinated, skewered and charcoaled grilled meat, seafood, or even vegetables, is associated as much with the city as it is the rest of Southeast Asia. In Singapore, the most preferred options are chicken, beef, mutton, duck, prawn, beef intestine and tripe.
It is served with compressed rice cake called ketupat, onions and cucumber, and most often a semi-spicy peanut sauce. Sauces can vary – some sellers mix pineapple pulp into a fiery peanut sauce, for a sweet spicy taste. These are just some of the signature dishes of Singapore.