Singaporean Street Food: UPGRADED
Every time a tourist asks for a food recommendation, we point him in the direction of Lau Pa Sat or Newton Food Centre. Sure, laksa and chilli crab will always remain as age-old classics, but there’s nothing quite like taking a familiar favorite and reinventing it into something new and exciting. I mean, just look at all the magical things you can do with milo!
Here’s a list that will change how you look at our hawker food forever. From a cocktail adapted from our kopitiam breakfast to a Japanese take on chicken rice, here’re 15 creations every local needs to introduce tourists to.
New Age Local Specialties
1. Salted Egg Yolk Eggs Benedict ($17)
This is a zichar classic with the power to make even a plain food like mantou delish. It’s often served with seafood, where prawns and crabs are doused in a rich and flavorful sauce made from salted egg yolk, basil leaves and chili padi bits.
Think fresh prawns and perfectly poached eggs smothered in a creamy sauce full of golden salted egg yolk chunks. Instead of English muffins, the Singaporean factor is amped up with fluffy white paus instead. When zichar meets cafe staple, let’s have a moment of silence for the usual Hollandaise.
Address: 94 Tanjong Pagar Road S(088515)
Mon & Tues 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
Wed to Fri 8:00am – 10:00pm
Sat & Sun 9:00 – 6:00 pm
2. Ondeh-Ondeh Pancakes ($14)
Ondeh-Ondeh is a traditional kueh many would’ve learnt to make during Home Econs back in school. These glutinous rice balls are tinted green with pandan and rolled in grated coconut. When bitten into, it releases a spurt of sweet palm syrup called gula melaka.
But if it’s not substantial enough, or too jelak for you, this should do the trick:
The stack of pandan-infused buttermilk pancakes gives the familiar visual aspects of ondeh-ondeh, but with a modern twist. The key components? A dollop of gula melaka dripping with syrupy goodness and crunchy coconut shreds aplenty.
It is, of course, incomplete without a scoop of good ol’ vanilla ice cream. Still unclear about its identity as dessert or breakfast, but we’ll take it either way.
Collective Brewers Cafe
Address: 301 Changi Rd S(419779)
Tues to Fri 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sat & Sun 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Closed on Mon
3. Chilli Crab Cheese Fries ($14)
Chilli Crab - the king of all zichar dishes that’s undeniably our most iconic local dish. Think stir-fried crabs bathed in a signature sweet-and-spicy sauce with the tanginess of tomato and the kick of chili.
Things will get messy, because you don’t use cutlery to eat chili crabs. If you do that, other diners and I will judge you. So if you’re not a fan of getting your gelish nails dirty, here’s an alternative:
First there were french fries. Then, KFC came along and said “let there be cheese fries”. Soon after, Loof created Chilli Crab Cheese Fries and said, “You’re welcome, Singapore.”
This is a dish of crunchy fries topped with slivers of Sri Lankan crab and traditional chilli crab sauce. The addictive sweet and spicy mixture has garnered fans from across the globe. Thought it couldn’t get any better? Boom, here’s a heaping pile of melted cheddar cheese. Go big or go home!
Address: 331 North Bridge Road #03-07 Odeon Towers Extension Rooftop S(188720)
Mon to Thurs 5:00 pm – 1:00 am
Fri & Sat 5:00 pm – 2:00 am
Closed on Sun
4. Hainanese Chicken Rice Sushi ($8)
If there’s one dish you can find in every kopitiam, it is without a doubt, Hainanese Chicken Rice. Steamed white chicken and flavourful rice cooked in a robust broth, served with ginger sauce and special garlic chilli.
For a long while Singapore and Malaysia have been vying over claims to this ‘local food’. But let’s step aside for a moment for Japan’s refreshing take on it:
Succulent chunks of poached chicken rest on a piece of tasty chicken rice with a smidge of ginger sauce in between. The garlic chilli on top gives each bite a piquant kick worth setting your tastebuds aflame for. Wrapped together with seaweed to make a perfect bite-sized morsel, you’ll be popping them into your mouth one after the other with no end in sight.
Address: 1 Park Rd #06-00 People's Park Complex 059108
Tues to Thur 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Fri 4:00 pm –12:00 mn
Sat 11:00 am – 12:00 mn
Sun 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Closed on Mondays
5. Kaya Toast Cocktail ($20)
The kopi and kaya toast combination is a traditional Singaporean breakfast that only gets better with time. Creamy butter and fragrant pandan kaya slathered on toast, creating flawless harmonies between sweet and salty, crunchy and soft. How could it not?
Forget its pairing with Kopi-C or Milo though and try its nighttime rendition:
With potent notes of pandan kaya within Mount Gay rum and Earl Grey tea, this cocktail is served with slices of golden brown toast and a dollop of our beloved breakfast spread. Who knew getting buzzed on kaya could be this yummy?
Bitters & Love
Address: 118 Telok Ayer Street S(068587)
Mon to Thur 6:00pm – 12:00 mn
Fri & Sat 6:00 pm – 2:00 am
Closed on Sundays
6. Beef Rendang Nachos ($19)
Beef rendang is a hearty meat stew slow-cooked in coconut milk and a mixture of ground spices, usually served with steamed rice or ketupat (compressed rice cakes) and a side of veggies.
In 2013 McDonald’s launched the Beef Rendang burger, but because they love to tease with seasonal goodies, it hasn’t made a comeback since. Something’s gotta pass on the baton, and that shall be this unsuspecting plate of nachos.
Where the nachos at?
Forget pairing your chips with boring nacho cheese or plain old salsa dip, rendang sauce is where it’s at. Besides generous amount of beef, the array of toppings include everything from edamame peas to pomegranate seeds. This dish looks deceivingly like a salad, and it is just about as colourful and diverse as Singapore’s culture itself.
Slake Bar + Kitchen
Address: 15 Swan Lake Ave S(455711)
Opening hours: 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm daily
7. Chendol Waffles ($12)
Chendol is a well-loved dessert in Singapore, featuring shaved ice, coconut milk, gula melaka and plenty of jelly noodles made from rice flour and tinged green with pandan. Other topping variations include red beans, grass jelly and creamed corn.
But eating it out of a bowl isn’t the only option, presenting an updated Chendol Ver. 2.0:
One thing I’ve learnt from my years of cafe-hopping is that Singaporeans LOVE waffles. Mix a classic dessert with a modern favourite and you’ve gotta chendol waffle every generation would enjoy digging into. Nonya chendol flavoured gelato sits atop fluffy yeast-risen waffles, completed with a scoopy of azuki red beans, green jelly “worms” and lashings of syrup.
Address: 94 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh #01-32 S(310094)
Mon to Thur & Sun 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Fri & Sat 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm
8. Satay Burger ($17)
Satay is pretty much the Asian play on Kebabs - seasoned grilled meat skewers served with onion, cucumber, ketupat and the absolute must-have: peanut gravy dip.
But if nibbling the meat off every satay stick isn’t nearly shiok enough, here’s something that will do a satisfying job of filling your tummy:
Tender grilled pork patties are sandwiched between two ever-so-slightly charred rice “buns”. Drizzled over with signature peanut sauce and slivers of onion and cucumber to cut through the richness, this is one creation that nobody can resist.
The Quarters Bistro Cafe
Address: 16 Enggor Street #01-09 S(079717)
Mon to Fri 8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sat 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sun 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
9. Singaporean Ramen ($5.50)
Wanton Mee is an ultimate comfort food - egg noodles served with wanton dumplings made from prawn and minced meat, available in a soup base or dry and dressed with sambal hot sauce.
But what if we upsized the whole thing with a bunch of other ingredients?
Classic Singaporean style wanton noodles meet sous vide Japanese char siew, onsen egg and prawn tempura. Tossed with a fiery spoonful of belacan (shrimp paste) chilli, this culturally mixed bowl of delights will fill you right up for just a little over five bucks.
Unlike the other fusion numbers, this is found in a hawker stall at Amoy Street Food Centre. The stall is run by 2 young lads, debunking the myth that the uncles and aunties at kopitiams are our local food’s only shot at surviving.
Read more about our interview with the owners here.
A Noodle Story
Address: #01-39 Amoy Street Food Centre S(069111)
Mon to Fri 10:00am – 7:00pm
Sat 10:00am – 2:00pm
Closed on Sun
10. Har Cheong Gai (Prawn Paste) Burger ($16)
Har Cheong Gai is a sinful zichar delight of deep-fried chicken wings coated in a crunchy batter made from fermented prawn paste. If you ever want a taste of it without having to buy an entire zichar feast for 4, here’s how to make a meal outta it:
Be warned that the dish is rather pungent, but the flavour packs a mean punch that will have you hooked from the first bite. Do away with the hassle of bony chicken wings and drumlets by indulging in a whole decadent slab of har cheong gai instead. The patty’s so colossal it barely fits in between the two toasted buns!
Sinpopo Brand Cafe
Address: 458 Joo Chiat Rd Singapore S(427671)
Tues to Thurs 12:00pm – 10:00pm
Fri & Sat 12:00pm – 12:00am
Sun 12:00pm – 10:00pm
Closed on Mon
11. Seafood Laksa Pasta ($16.90)
Laksa - a noodle dish served in a spicy coconut milk curry broth, usually containing a bunch of toppings including fish cakes, shrimp, fresh cockles and tau pok (bean curd puffs). Some say the best can be found at 53 East Coast Road, but it’s probably because they haven’t met its Italian match.
Laksa can be prepared with thick rice noodles or thin vermicelli, also known as bee hoon. Shake things up by having it in the form of pasta instead. What started out as a marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisines now contain Western influences as well! Al dente spaghetti is bathed in rich laksa sauce with plenty of fresh seafood - much like the Asian play on spicy seafood marinara.
Address: 277 Orchard Road, Orchard Gateway #02-01, S(238858)
Opening hours: 11:00am to 10.30pm daily
12. Pulut Hitam Tart ($6)
Pulut Hitam is a dessert one can easily find at the Kopitiam drinks stall, made from black glutinous rice porridge mixed in with coconut milk. Getting its sweetness from a drizzle of either cane or palm sugar, this dish can be enjoyed both chilled or warm.
Or as a dainty looking pastry that be awfully out of place at the kopitiam...
Pulut hitam gets an atas (Malay term for “high class” or fancy) makeover in the form of this gorgeous tart. Coconut panna cotta and a chewy layer of pulut hitam are encased by a buttery base. Topped off with shards of nougatine, who knew this kopitiam favourite would look AND taste this good in solid form?
Address: 30 Bendemeer Road #01-889, S(330030)
Tues to Fri 11:00am – 7:00pm
Sat 10:00am – 7:00pm
Sun 10:00am – 6:00pm
13. Deep-fried Otak ($16.80)
Also referred to as otak-otak or otah, these are charcoal grilled fish cakes wrapped in banana or coconut leaves, usually served with breakfast foods like economic bee hoon or nasi lemak.
But if you’re that big a fan, you just gotta have it as a main course:
Otak meets fish and chips in this ingenious creation. The same distinct smoky fish aroma and delightful mouthfeel, now within a crispy fried batter with a side of chips. As if it isn’t flavorful enough, there’s a side of It is served with curry peanut mayo for an added dimension of taste sensations.
Flavours At Zhongshan Park
Address: Ramada Singapore, 16 Ah Hood Road, S(329982)
Mon to Thurs 6:30am – 11:00pm
Fri to Sun 6.30am – 11.30pm
14. Durian Creme Brulee ($8.50)
Foreigners probably know of durians as the wickedly pungent that even some locals find unbearable. Its popularity is undeniable though, judging from the how they fly off the racks of street side fruit stalls whenever they’re in season.
Instead of getting your hands dirty at a roadside stall in Geylang or being death-stared by other commuters for bringing it onboard, round up your meal with a durian dessert:
Ease into your first durian experience with a creamy and potent creme brulee. Trust me, beneath that putrid scent lies a delicious treat that will have you clamouring for more. Durian already has a custard-like texture, so this is just a creme brulee with strong durian flavours swirled throughout. Break through that caramelised sugar shell now and begin your journey with the king of fruits!
The Quarters Bistro Cafe
Address: 16 Enggor Street #01-09, S(079717)
Mon - Thurs 8:00am - 10:00pm
Fri 8:00am - 10:00pm
Sat 10:00am - 10:00pm
Sun 10:00am - 6:00pm
15. (Bonus!) Bak Kwa Sandwich a.k.a Prosperity Sandwich
Just as how the Americans have beef jerky, we’ve got bak kwa - thin slices of sticky, salty-sweet barbecued meat that’s typically enjoyed Chinese New Year. Phew!
Instead of having it alone, here’s something you can throw together in less than a minute for those days when you just don’t feel like heading out the door:
Obtain bak kwa. Slap it in between two pieces of bread. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner and creator of a fuss-free homemade snack so yummy you won’t even believe how simple it is.
To offset the guilt from how indulgent this meat treat is, opt for wholegrain bread. Throw in some other sandwich ingredients like lettuce, tomato and egg and you’ve got yourself a Singaporean BLT. Bak kwa, lettuce, and tomato.
Made in Singapore
Note: As of 2016, the contest below has since expired. Please ignore it!
It doesn’t matter you’re a first time visitor to the Little Red Dot, or a true blue Singaporean who has grown up chowing down on all these local favourites. These quirky recreations may seem like unlikely combinations, but then again, dough fritters and chopped pineapples must’ve sounded like a nasty pairing before rojak was invented.
As a bonus treat, the Singapore Invites contest by STB is offering the chance for your friends and family to be brought here from overseas for free! All you have to do is share what you wish to experience with them. If your submission gets selected as one of the 25 winning entries, they get to visit Singapore with accommodation and airfares taken care of. Plus, you get a free staycation with your invited guest when they arrive. Imagine all the fun you could have! Just like these two friends who met on our sunny shores after a whopping 9 years apart.
There’s never been a better time to reconnect with your loved ones who’re abroad, and no better way to do so than through food. Get ready to embark on a wonderful food journey. You know what they say, good friends get fat together. #noshame
What better way to enjoy these treats than with the company of your loved ones who haven’t had a taste of legit Singaporean fare in a while? Invite that special someone on a free trip to Singapore now and you guys could share a trip for your tastebuds!
Invite a friend to Singapore with these guides!
This post was brought to you by Singapore Tourism Board.