THE cosmopolitan diversity of Singapore's population is enjoyably reflected in the variety of its cuisine. The island, offering some of the best Chinese, Indian and Malay food in Asia, also has a number of dishes uniquely its own. Singaporean food is a synthesis of the other cuisines of Asia with its own subtle spiciness. Essentially, it has developed through a process of adaptation as the different ethnic groups have exchanged recipes which have been fine-tuned according to local taste and the availability of ingredients. An abundance of fresh seafood means that fish and shellfish feature prominently in Singaporean cuisine, although beef, pork and chicken are staple meats. Fish-head curry and chilli crab are more or less the national dishes. Ironically, the dish that flies the flag for the republic all over the world - the ubiquitous Singapore noodles - is not of Singapore origin at all. A wide selection of noodle dishes is available, but the diner will seek in vain for an entry bearing the island's name on a Singapore kedai kopi (coffee shop) menu. Hainan chicken, on the other hand, is actually a dish native to Singapore, developed on the island by Hainanese settlers. Other Chinese regional cuisines which have left their mark on Singaporean food include Cantonese, Sichuan, Peking, Hakka, Hokien, Hunan and Shanghainese. Although the majority of Singapore's Chinese population is of Hokkien origin, Cantonese is the cuisine best represented in local restaurants. Indian and Malay food have also had an influence. From India come the popular hot curries of the south, tandoori dishes and breads, along with snack foods such as samosa , pakora and bhajia. Fish-head curry is an adaptation of an Indian dish. Much of the Malay population of Singapore eats halal food. But non-halal food has a strong Malay influence in the use of chillies, dried fish and coconut. Popular dishes in Singapore include beef rendang, rojak salad, coconut curry, laksa noodle soup and a variety of other noodle dishes. Nonya cuisine was developed by the Straits Chinese or Peranakan, in Malacca, Penang and Singapore during the last century. Essentially, it combines a Chinese insistence on fresh local ingredients with the spiciness of Malay food. For the visitor to Singapore, several restaurants around Peranakan Place serve traditional halal nonya fare in carefully restored shophouses that offer an insight into how the Straits Chinese lived in the 19th century. Although Singapore was once world-famous for its street hawker food, this tradition fell foul of the government's sanitation legislation. The areas in which it can be eaten now are much more hygienic but lack most of the atmosphere that existed before the great clean up. One exception, however, is the Satay Club near the Padang where a collection of licensed food stalls sell Chinese, Indian and Malay snacks, including, of course, satay. These morsels of chicken, beef or prawns are skewered, cooked over charcoal and served with a spicy peanut-dip sauce. An advantage of the Satay Club, for those who still like a cigarette after a meal, is that as it is in the open air it is legal to have one. Under current legislation, virtually no restaurants or bars serving food can allow patrons to smoke. One tradition that has survived is that of eating food from a banana leaf rather than a plate. Mostly Indian and Malay dishes are eaten, by custom, with the hands from an artificial bowl which the diner moulds from a mound of rice into which the food is poured. It can be messy for the uninitiated but it is fun. Indonesia, Singapore's largest neighbour, has also had an influence on the island's cuisine and Singaporean adaptations of dishes such as nasi goreng and gado gado appear on many menus.