Back To The Streets, Where It All Began

 


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As a tiny island country, Singapore has both invented and put its own personal spin on many a culinary masterpiece. Tourists from all over the world flock here for a sampling of marvellous, drool-inducing concoctions like chilli crab and laksa. Our cuisine has made a fan out of everyone from the great Gordon Ramsay, to Nicole Scherzinger of The Pussycat Dolls.

While kicking back in our slippers at a kopitiam or an air conditioned cafe is great, it’s time to brave the heat and hit the streets for some good old local street food.

Whether it’s a humble lone kiosk or a glorious row of pasar malam stalls, nothing beats munching on some fuss-free nosh on the go. From common streetside treats to old-school classics you may have forgotten about – or have yet to try, gasp! – here are 24 Singaporean street foods you need to get in your belly NOW.

 

1. Satay

 

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Try as you may to resist the heavenly aroma of marinated meat grilling on a charcoal fire, your growling stomach is sure to give you away. As will drool stains on your shirt.

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Probably one of the simplest street foods ever, they’re essentially bites of meat on a stick that you dip in yummy peanut sauce. Their ease of consumption probably has something to do with the fact that I can make 30 skewers disappear in any one sitting.

 

2. Goreng Pisang, a.k.a Banana Fritters

 

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I think we can all agree that anything deep-fried automatically becomes infinitely delicious. Bananas that have ripened to the perfect level of sweetness, generously drenched with batter, and fried to a crisp golden brown consistency. When you first break through that crunchy shell and sink your teeth into the gooey fruit centre? BLISS.

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Hundreds of calories apiece? Yup. A sugar, carb and fat overload? You bet. Sore throat the next day? Affirmative. But hey, at least it counts towards your daily recommended serving of fruits!

 

3. Popiah

 

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Think of it as a Chinese burrito that’s bursting with different flavours and textures. Boiled bamboo shoots that melt in your mouth, a medley of crisp and fresh veggies including grated carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and jicama (a crunchy root vegetable also known as bangkuang). It’s finished off with lashings of sweet soy and hoisin sauce, then packed neatly in a paper-thin crepe wrap.

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Back in the day popiah was cooked, constructed and served all from a pushcart. I don’t know about you but it was awfully impressive and delightful to see the ingredients from each designated “station” coming together in a flash!

 

4. Orh Luak a.k.a Oyster Omelette

 

Humble in nature, this chopped up omelette dish with flavours of the sea is certainly a hit or miss. The omelette aspect of it is pretty universal. Who could resist such aromatic eggs wok-fried to crispy perfection at surface level, with chewiness retained on the inside?

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One look at the squishy, gray coloured oysters is enough to make some stomachs churn though. Still, that hasn’t seemed to prevent orh luak from gaining hoards of fans. Not just in the streets of Singapore but abroad as well! Did you know it even received top honours as one of New York Times’ best dishes?

 

5. Kaya Toast

 

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Rarely is it possible to come up with a dish so simple yet so complex at the same time. You’ve got the sweet kaya and the salty butter, one’s rich while the other is creamy. Sandwiched between crisp slices of toasted bread, the combination gels everything together to form a perfect harmony of flavours in your mouth.

All this made from everyday ingredients that cost less than five bucks in total? No wonder we consider this our national breakfast!

 

6. Muah Chee, a.k.a Glutinous Rice

 

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Nothing spells a good time more like some chewy, crunchy, sticky sweet goodness in your mouth. Glutinous rice that’s beaten, pulled, snipped into little bite-sized pieces, and tossed in a truly delectable mix of crushed peanuts and sugar crystals.

Simple yet addictive, muah chee is a guilty pleasure for many Singaporeans. I personally like using the skewers as miniature chopsticks instead of poking them through!

 

7. Potong Ice Cream

 

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When you’re trying to function as a normal human being in the 40 degree weather that we have, an ice cold treat is a real lifesaver. That’s why something as simple as a block of frozen flavoured cream on a stick is enough to send us into a joyous frenzy.

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From the classic yam and red bean, to swanky new teh tarik and pandan flavours; you’ll be spoilt for choice. Which is the perfect excuse to wolf down 3 at one go! Plus, munching on solid chunks of sweet corn and even strips of chendol jelly based on what flavour you pick just means extra fun.

 

8. Assortment of Baos

 

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Call it subliminal conditioning if you will, but I’ll always remember grooving along to the bao song as a tiny tot. There’s been a special place in my heart for cha shao bao (barbecue pork bun) ever since. And lian rong bao (lotus paste bun), dou sha bao (red bean bun)…the list goes on.

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There’s something about fluffy dough giving way to a flavour-packed filling that other types of pastry just cannot match. There are hardly any stalls steaming them fresh on the streets, but nothing’s stopping me from ducking into a 7-Eleven to get my bun fix.

 

9. Neighbourhood Waffle

 

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Move aside, picture perfect cafe waffles. The OG (original gangsta) of waffles are the ones you’ll find in your heartland bakery. Simple, but ever-so-satisfying, these modest creations have been bringing happiness to every neighbourhood even before the reign of Instagram.

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Freshly made upon order, the hardest part lies in choosing what flavour of filling you’re feeling on that particular day. Kaya? Condensed milk? Maybe even blueberry jam? Waffles paired with soft serves might be a winning combo, but attempting to eat it on the go will create a sticky, dripping mess. These foldover waffles are yummy AND portable!

 

10. Ice Kachang a.k.a Shaved Ice

 

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Besides providing a welcome respite from Singapore’s sweltering heat, the mere sight of this rainbow-hued ice mountain sitting in your bowl is enough to induce a smile. Dig into the towering ice flakes and uncover a refreshingly delicious soup of treasures, from jellies and red beans to sweet corn kernels.

The best ingredient in my opinion? Fat and chewy attap chees. If I could find more than two swimming around at the bottom, I just knew it was going to be a good day.

 

11. Fish Balls & Fish Cakes

 

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It’s pretty much eaten on a daily basis, regardless of meal, and is an additional ingredient that effortlessly brightens up any dish. And when it comes to steamboats and hotpots, no meal would be complete without trays of the good stuff lying on the table!

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Still, my all-time favourite would have to be the skewered kind found on the roadside that you can conveniently eat on the go. Be it steamed or fried, the bouncy chewiness, and subtle seafood flavours are plain addictive.

Don’t even get me started on how weird it sounds to foreigners when we enthusiastically proclaim, “I love eating fish BALLS!”…

 

12. Apam Balik, a.k.a Peanut Pancake

 

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These might not be the flappy, syrup-soaked pancakes you’re familiar with, but when it comes to street food, apam balik is a must-try. The layer of uber tasty peanut, sugar and sweet corn spread in the middle is what really gets me.

Eat ‘em while they’re fresh off the griddle, all hot and fluffy! We totally get it if you can’t get enough of these fat, pillowy foldover pancakes. Which is just as well that some stalls offer super-sized versions!

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13. Dough Fritters

 

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In the age of endless diet fads and juice cleanses, you would think that we’d take healthy eating more seriously. But course through any kopitiam that sells traditional dough fritter pastries, and the smell of deep-fried grease will make you cave in one artery-clogging heartbeat.

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Whether in comes in the form of you tiao, hum chim peng, or a butterfly bun dotted with sesame seeds, these sinful treats are worth every calorie.

 

14. Tau Huay, a.k.a Soybean Curd

 

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Aside from the fact that it’s super tasty, soybean milk is also teeming with nutrients. Who else has been told by mother dearest since young that drinking it would give you lovely skin? (And a bigger bosom…but nevermind that. Ahem.)

And because chugging soybean milk alone is not enough to satisfy our undying love for it, we also have the edible dessert version. Whether you like to enjoy it cold or warm, drizzled with sugar syrup, or on its own – soybean curd is undeniably one of the nation’s most loved desserts. Just let the snaking queues for the iconic Lao Ban tau huay stores speak for themselves!

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15. Ice Cream Bread

 

Everybody from kindergarten kids to office executives can appreciate the sight of a friendly ice cream uncle fishing out frozen treats from the depths of his wondrous cart.

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Two fluffy pieces of colourful bread sandwiching a block of frozen cream trumps simply trumps any other form of dessert presentation you can think of. Something about the pastel rainbow swirls just spells pure, unadulterated joy.

 

16. Otah

 

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Not just a well-loved accompaniment to my nasi lemak lunches. Some evenings I am lucky enough to encounter a very pleasant surprise on my way home: the otah peddler is back to station their carts – complete with makeshift grills on the back of their bicycles – at my neighbourhood block!

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Smokey and fragrant, their robust fishy flavours are made all the more delicious with a heady blend of spices. There’s no such thing as picking up just one, you’ve got to buy them by the bagful!

 

17. Tutu Kueh

 

Singapore Food - Eat and Enjoy Kueh Tutu, Traditional Snack
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Singapore Food - Eat and Enjoy Kueh Tutu, Traditional Snack

A prime example of making something great from barely anything at all, tutu kueh, is a cake literally made out of rice flour and nothing else. Packed into a cute little mould that’s smaller than your palm, the rice flour only needs to be steamed for a matter of minutes before it takes the form of a fluffy cake and you can gobble it down.

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There are also a variety of fillings you can request your tutu kueh to be stuffed with. My personal faves are shredded coconut and…CHOCOLATE!

Besides providing a delicate fragrance, the layer of pandan leaf beneath it is a presentation that has become a local icon. From erasers and fridge magnets to giant cushions, tutu kueh-shaped merch can be seen all around town!

 

18. Rojak

 

It’s often used to describe our ethnic mix and the corresponding diversity of cultures. Essentially just a flurry of random ingredients put together and tossed in an addictive sweet and spicy sauce, you haven’t gotten the full Singaporean street food experience til you’ve tried rojak!

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Dough fritters and fried bean curd, prawn crackers and cuttlefish shreds, potatoes and eggs, bean sprouts and cucumber slices. Doesn’t that contain too many flavours and textures for you to even fathom? Now just imagine all that in your MOUTH. Sounds gross in theory, but it totally works.

 

19. Curry Puff

 

 

You know our love for curry puffs – also affectionately referred to as kali POK, is real when you see the familiar yellow storefront of Old Chang Kee all around town. And you never fail to jump for joy each time!

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For only $1.50, you get to enjoy a tasty pastry encasing piping hot cubes of chicken and potatoes in an addictive curry mixture. Not to mention the precious bit of hard boiled egg! The spice wimp in me always reaches out for some water to quell my flaming tastebuds, but I just can’t get enough.

 

20. Sng Bao, a.k.a Ice Pops

 

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Once an item enjoyed by kids after working up a sweat at the playground, traditional ice pops have since vanished from most supermarket freezers. But have no fear! A couple of young genius entrepreneurs have come to save the day by starting up The Sng Bao Society.

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Now, not only can you reminisce the good ol’ days with these nostalgic popsicles, you can take advantage of the fact that you’re all grown up and try some of their more hipster, “adult” flavours like Watermelon Soju and Choya Lemonade. Win win!

 

21. Ngoh Hiang a.k.a Deep Fried Meat Rolls

 

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Also known as lor bak, this is a truly great culinary creation that I’m glad is easily available on the streets of Singapore. Stemming from Hokkien and Teochew cuisine, the meat roll is marinated with a five-spice powder, and contains crushed chestnuts, giving it a wonderful crunch that accompanies each bite.

No doubt already packing a mean flavour punch from just the meat and vegetable filling alone, the insanely crispy deep-fried beancurd skin coating further amplifies this amazing snack tenfold.

 

22. Durian

 

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Ahhh, what would this list of the nation’s greatest street eats be without the King Of Fruits itself? For any true blue durian lover, encountering a streetside shelf stacked dangerously high with the thorny fruits is stumbling upon the Garden of Eden. Every time they’re in season, you can’t help but tabao (takeaway) several boxes home, much to the excitement of your entire family.

Or, in the case of durian dislikers, shrieks of horror and disgust ensue as the rancid odour wafts through the house and plagues the confines of your fridge for days.

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Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! Even our foreign friends have admitted that the pungent aroma is well worth enduring for the sweet, creamy deliciousness that is soon to follow.

 

23. Ramly Burger

 

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Undoubtedly the all-star of pasar malam cuisine, you just can’t let the night market stall pack up and leave your neighbourhood without snagging a Ramly burger. Or five.

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Americans may be synonymous with burgers. But our rendition featuring a perfectly spiced and seasoned patty, slices of melty cheese plus lashings of special sauces all enveloped by a layer of egg? Definitely worth having the smell of burger grease trapped in your hair!

 

24. Kacang Puteh

 

 

Bring me back to the good ol’ childhood days where I could hand over a single dollar coin and get an instant crunchy snack. All served in an adorable paper cone, to boot! The huge bags or tins filled to the brim with an assortment of beans, peas and nuts never fail to delight me.

Of the lot, chickpeas, green peas and sugar-coated peanuts were some of my all-time favourites. Once a smash hit amongst excited moviegoers, kacang puteh peddlers have practically vanished from our streets. Petition to bring them back ASAP! *cries*

 

Hit The Streets

 

Life’s too short for dinner reservations and acting posh in a stuffy restaurant. Bring along your loose change and go on one helluva street food smorgasbord. The satisfaction of casually chowing down streetside fare, sans cutlery is a form of simple indulgence in itself.

If you can’t recall the last time you’ve taken advantage of either a clear sunny day or a breezy evening – heck, turn your food crawl into a day-to-night event, we say! – use this list as your trusty street food itinerary. Happy feasting!