15 Must-Try Local Dishes in Singapore
Singapore is a true-blue foodies’ paradise, where fine-dining establishments sit side by side with local hawker stalls, all coexisting peacefully and harmoniously. With its diverse neighbourhoods – Little India and China Town, being but two – you’ll find food for all tastes in the city-state.
But to truly get a taste of the place, we recommend you go local. And in a place like Singapore, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to delicious local dishes. Here’s our pick of some of the best, must-try local food in Singapore – you’ll wish you’d stayed here longer just for it.
1. Kaya Toast & Kopi
This breakfast dish has its origins in Malaysia, but overtime has been locally adopted and boasts of being the country’s signature dish. Kaya might be an acquired taste, but if you like jam and toast, there’s a good chance you’ll be blown away when you take your first bite. A traditional Singaporean breakfast consists of kaya jam (made with a mixture of eggs, sugar, coconut milk, and pandan leaves), a soft-boiled egg, and a hot beverage (tea or coffee). A thick layer of butter and kaya paste is smothered on toasted bread and is served alongside adip of soft-boiled egg, soy sauce, and white pepper.
In Singapore, kopi is made with sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Don’t go expecting a cappuccino or espresso – this one is sweet, frothy, and utterly delicious. Kaya toast and kopi is a combination to be had either for breakfast or as a quick snack in the middle of the day – either way you’re bound to love it!
2. Chilli Crab
Despite its ominous name, chilli crab is not very spicy at all. Singapore’s national dish is actually a well-balanced mix of tomato paste, chillies, eggs, and of course, crab meat. The crabs used in this dish are usually hardshell mud crabs and served whole along with pincers, so you have to work your way to get to the sweet meat.
Another variant of the dish is black pepper crab, where the crab is coated with a fine blend of black pepper along with butter to give it a smooth consistency. While the pepper flavour is strong, it isn’t overpowering, ensuring a kick of flavor without the burn.
Make sure you try both these varieties when you’re in Singapore – we promise you won’t leave disappointed!
Traditionally a Malay dish, laksa has been imported and adapted to become a Singaporean specialty. Known as katong laksa, the Singaporean version uses cut-up vermicelli instead of noodles that are typically used in Malaysia. The vermicelli is combined with coconut milk, tau pok (beancurd puffs), fish slices, shrimp, and hum (an edible mollusc) for an aromatic blend that is a treat for the senses.
You can eat laksa anytime – for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And of course, the best ones are found at the street stalls, especially around Sungei Road.
4. Char Kuay Teow
Char Kuay Teow is to Singapore what Pad Thai is to Bangkok. The dish was initially created for wage labourers who needed an instant dose of energy, but has now become a fast favourite of Singaporean foodies. Here, broad and flat rice noodles are liberally doused with dark soy sauce and a number of other ingredients ranging from bean sprouts, fish cake, clams, and Chinese sausage to egg, shrimp paste, chilli, blood cockles, and pork lard.
5. Fish Head Curry
What do you get when you cook a fish head (the most loved part of the fish for the Chinese) in South Indian spices? A finger-licking delicious dish, of course.
As with many things Singaporean, this is a culinary culmination of Indian and Chinese influences. Fish head, the most loved part of the fish in China, is cooked along with vegetables, tamarind, and rich spices of South India. It is typically served with bread or rice.
6. Char Siew Rice Or Noodles
This dish is sure to entice all the pork fans out there. Steamed rice or noodles are served up with barbecued pork in a thick, sticky sauce. Literally meaning fork roasted, char siew is a traditional cooking method where long strips of seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and roasted in a covered oven or over a fire. The seasoning is a mix of honey, five-spice powder, red fermented bean curd, dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sherry or rice wine.
7. Roti Prata
Roti Prata, or Roti Canai as it is known locally, is South Indian in origin. This flaky, flat bread is made with a mixture of plain flour and eggs. It can have a variety of stuffings, including mushrooms, cheese, onions, and chillies. You can eat it with fish, chicken, vegetable curry, or even by itself for breakfast.
A sweet iced dessert, chendol is a delicious concoction of coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, “worm-like” green rice flour jelly, and red beans. Sometimes, diced jackfruit or durian are added for extra flavour. It might not sound very appealing, but the combination somehow works beautifully. Pick up a chendol from one of the street stalls in a local market – the flavour will be something you won’t easily forget.
9. Bak Kut Teh
This simple dish has very humble origins – a cheap dish made for the poor who couldn’t afford better food. However, it has now become an extremely popular dish among locals and tourists of all classes
Simply put, it’s a pork bone soup that is infused and cooked for hours with soy sauce and garlic, and sprinkled with herbs like star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, dang gui, and white pepper. “Teh” literally means tea in Chinese and owes its name to its colour, which resembles that of tea. Have it with rice as a wholesome meal, or by itself if you want to keep it light.
10. Hokkien Mee
Originating from the town of Hokkien in Southern China, this is a noodle dish that’s become a Singapore signature. Here, fried egg noodles and rice noodles are cooked along with prawn stock, fried pork fat, prawns, fish cake, and squid with a seasoning of soy sauce, vinegar, and chilli. To make things spicier, you can add the sambal sauce served on the side, along with lime to cut the acidity. This spicy dish might make your eyes water, but the taste makes every tear worth it!
11. Hainanese Chicken Rice
Taking a breather from the spicy food, this dish is perfect for those who prefer subtle spice in their food. Making its way to Singapore from a Chinese town called Hainan, a whole chicken is cooked in warm pork or chicken broth. Once it’s done, the chicken is sliced and served with rice, which too has been cooked in chicken broth.
Flavourful and fragrant, this dish makes use of soft spices like ginger, garlic, and sometimes pandan. If you still crave for some spice,, add some sambal or chilli sauce which is usually served on the side.
This popular snack is made of meat either skewered or grilled and served with ketupat (rice cake), peanut sauce, and cucumber-chilli relish. Some street stalls also give a spicy peanut sauce on the side, which is absolutely delicious. Meats used primarily in satay can include pork, chicken, beef, and mutton, although sometimes fish may also be used.
13. Nasi Lemak
Literally translating to coconut rice, this dish has Malay origins and is a concoction of rice, coconut cream, fried anchovies, cucumber slices, peanuts, eggs, and sambal wrapped in a banana or pandan leaf. Traditionally a breakfast dish, it is now eaten liberally for lunch or dinner. The flavour combination in this dish is brilliant and its piquant taste is nicely offset by the side serving of chicken or fried fish.
Though not strictly a dish, this is Singapore’s national fruit and is widely known as ‘the king of fruits’ across South-East Asia. The spiky fruit has a strong and pungent smell, probably the reason why it is banned on the metro or in hotels.
Creamy, fleshy, and thorny with a giant seed, this fruit is something you’ll either love or hate. Locals have it in desserts like cakes, tarts, and even milkshakes. If you have an appetite for the unusual, make sure you give it a shot. You can grab one from one of the many hawkers and street stalls in the city.
15. Tau Hua
This snack made with tofu, first originated as ‘dou hua’ in China. The Singaporean variant is more like a dessert, with grainy bean curd doused with a sweet syrup, infused with pandan leaves, and topped with ginkgo seeds. After all that spicy, flavour-rich food, a portion of tau hua is the perfect end to a local meal.