Sing for your supper
Life in Singapore revolves around food. When Singaporeans are eating breakfast they are thinking of lunch, when they have lunch they are thinking about what to eat for dinner. Whether their insatiable appetites have spawned a glut of eateries or the other way around, there is an impressive choice in this city-state 24 hours a day. And nowhere are the options more varied. In Singapore (or Sing as the expats call it) you could start the day with Kaya toast – a “jam” made of coconut milk, egg and sugar – with a soft boiled egg at a corner coffee shop; eat cheap but safe street food for lunch and finish with dinner at a celebrity chef restaurant.
Singaporean food is a diverse and delicious display of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian as well as European cooking – indicative of all the cultures that have settled here. Some have intermingled like Peranakan – the term for the offspring of Malay and Chinese and the cuisine they have created: Chinese ingredients and techniques with Malaysian spices resulting in tangy, spicy food that’s incredibly flavoursome. Brightly painted shophouses in Chinatown or Little India provide their own ethnic cuisines while the many hawker centres around town offer a mix of everything under one roof.
Named after erstwhile hawkers, these centres make Singapore one of those rare places where you can eat street food without fearing the after effects (the stalls are even given a cleanliness rating). Some have appropriately engaging names like Chomp Chomp Food Centre in the north east and Gluttons Bay on the harbour front. And everyone eats at them. If they don’t they send their drivers to pick up food to eat at home.
Locals mark one of the tables with a box of tissues they’ve brought with them while they go in search of the best looking dishes. Each stall has a speciality with favourites including Laksa (a spicy, coconut milk based soup with prawns, tofu and noodles), Hainanese chicken rice (boiled chicken with rice cooked in chicken stock served on the side and chilli, ginger and soy sauces), fish head soup (exactly how it sounds) and beef satays with peanut dipping sauce.
It’s hard to spend more than £2 on a dish and the most popular sell out early. One stall way out east at Block 51 sells nothing but crocodile meat – it always has a long line.
Singapore may get labelled (unfairly) as being on the dull side but you won’t get tired of eating here.
Where to eat
Maxwell’s Hawker Centre
Some Hawker Centres are more touristy than others but this one consistently comes out as a locals’ favourite. Look out for Char Kway Tewo (stir fried noodles and beansprouts), spicy curry puffs and satay with peanut sauce. Open 24 hours but best to visit at lunch time.
2 Murray Street.
Serving the best Peranakan food in town at very reasonable prices. Star dishes are Ayam Buah Keluak (braised chicken with tumeric, galangal and lemongrass with earthy Indonesian black nuts), Chap Chye Masak Tilek (cabbage with mushrooms in a prawn stock) and a rich and spicy Beef Rendang.
97 Tanjong Pagar. Tel: 65 6222 3928
Fine dining Singapore style, Iggy’s is a frequent entry on the 50 Best Restaurants in the World list. Recently moved to a bigger location, which means more chance of getting a seat, the menu offers a fusion of Asian and European cuisine in a set tasting menu.
Hilton Hotel, 581 Orchard Road. Tel: 65 6732 2234 http://www.iggys.com.sg
A colourful, bustling antidote to the gleaming newness of city’s malls. Join the crowds shopping for spices and queuing for freshly made chapattis on the streets either side of Serangoon Road. There are countless restaurants here, particularly on Race Course Road, offering both northern and southern Indian cuisine including Banana Leaf and Dehli right next door to each other.
Still an institution and rightfully so. Raffles is not just a beautiful building but a treasure trove of restaurants from an Indian curry buffet in the Tiffin room to an excellent Sunday brunch buffet in the Billiard’s Room. You’ll need deep pockets but it’s worth the money.
1 Beach Road. http://www.raffles.com/singapore
[UPDATE: Parts of Raffles including the Tiffin Room are closed for refurbishment until mid 2018.]
Also worth a look
Marina Bay Sands is massive hotel and shopping mall that’s heaven for starstruck foodies. Within there’s a stellar line up of celebrity chefs: Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy among them. It’s the only place in the world I’ve seen a signpost for “Celebrity chef restaurants”.
[UPDATE Guy Savoy has now closed, David Thompson will open his Thai street food concept Long Chim in it’s place at the end of 2014. Gordon Ramsay is set to open a branch of Bread Street Kitchen at MBS.]