Nothing represents the diversity of Singapore like her food. The only thing louder, above the clanging woks and bubbling broth pots, are the numerous recommendations.
Katong Laksa, Chili Crab, and Hainanese Chicken Rice – we are sure you’ve heard of them. But for the explorer insistent on authenticity, we let you in on what the locals are really having on their daily menu.
Instead of Newton Circus Food Centre
Grills and seafood dominate the Newton Circus hawker space, but for a more humble selection, try Maxwell Food Centre at Maxwell Road. The unassuming eating space has over 100 stalls, with some of the island’s best eats.
There’s the institute that is Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, but other hot contenders include Jing Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon and silky smooth Zhen Zhen Porridge. Local flavours stay unchanged in the over-60 years and is a perfect spot to people-watch. The hawker is so laid back, there’s even a stall where you have to fry your own fritters! Post-meal, head over to nearby Chinatown for a colourful wander amongst souvenir and trinkets.
Instead of Chicken Rice
It’s world-famous and can be found in almost every eatery, but for a change to the classic, the foodie adventurer can hunt down the Hainanese Pork Chop Rice. A lightly-battered fried pork fillet is drenched in a piquant tomato sauce, reminiscent of the Sweet and Sour Pork dish common in Chinese cuisine.
This locally-adapted recipe is a favourite with lunch crowds for its unusually appetising taste, and Prince Coffee Shop is a hotspot for nearby office workers. The nostalgic design of the 40-year-old shop harks back to the traditional “Coffee Houses” of the 70s – restaurants that served western food. Even the staff, including head waiter-turned-owner Mr Jimmy Lim, remains largely unchanged – evident from the many old photos printed on the walls.
Instead of Chili Crab
We stay in the crustacean family and offer you Cereal Prawns or Salted Egg Prawns. While our crabs are delicious, they are a little on the heavy side for daily consumption. Locals include the flavoured prawns instead when they order zi char (literally cook and fry) at a restaurant, because they satiate seafood cravings without the intensity.
Large prawns battered in a crumbly cereal skin combine the crunch of oats and spring of the shellfish, which goes perfect with a bowl of fragrant white rice. The salted egg version uses solely the yolk to form a savoury yet creamy batter to wrap the prawn. Singaporeans love the version at New Ubin Seafood, located at Bukit Batok, but you can easily find this item at other zi char stalls, often found at coffee shops around the island.
Instead of Katong Laksa
Maybe you might be intolerant of coconut milk, or can’t take something too spicy. Equally packing a punch like the famed Laksa is another Singaporean favourite – the Prawn Mee. Over at Beach Road, Blanco Court Prawn Mee draws in the local crowd with this savoury dish.
Available in soup or dry versions, the former is preferred thanks to the rich, clear broth. Pick from a selection of noodles (the standard is the yellow), and how you want your shellfish. It’ll be served piping hot to your table, where you can add fried shallots or sliced chili to up the intensity. Every sip of the exquisite soup will be worth your visit, but to make things even better, the shopping enthusiast can visit quaint Haji Lane round the corner, full of unique buys.
Instead of Nasi Lemak
The coconut milk-flavoured rice is an aromatic win, but Nasi Padang is the heartier entry that features during local meals. At Hjh Maimunah, they keep to the basics – start at the line with a bowl of rice, and point to the buffet of side dishes to let the servers scoop a portion onto your plate. They tally the cost for you at the end, after which you just pick an available seat and enjoy.
From the deeply earthy Beef Rendang (beef stewed in coconut milk and spices), and punchy Sambal KangKong (water spinach with spicy relish), to the satisfying potato mash patty that is Begedil, the Malay cuisine is both balanced and delicious.
Now pair and compare the recommendations with what the average Singaporean is really having for their meals, and ask yourself, which would you prefer for your own lunch or dinner?