It’s a city renowned as a shoppers’ paradise but the Lion City is also gaining a reputation as one of the world’s great food and destinations. Ben Hall gets the lowdown on how to chow down in Singapore.
As the latest Bollywood hit song blares out across the street, Indian families stream out of the Hindu temple after their prayer rituals and the curry houses quickly fill up.
It’s a colourful explosion of colour, sound and smells, but this is not Mumbai or New Delhi. This is an enclave of “sanitised” Singapore, and Little India is a vibrant and intoxicating slice of a culture that has not just survived, but thrived, in the techno-clutter of modern Asia and is a great holiday destination in its own right.
Serangoon Road is the backbone of Little India and its distinct atmosphere and buzz stretches for almost a kilometre down this busy thoroughfare. The scores of smaller streets and alleyways running off Serangoon is where the heart and soul of Little India can be found and the smell of vat-cooked curries hangs in the air.
For devotees of Indian food, it doesn’t get any more authentic than this and the best piece of advice for eating out here is: follow your nose and if you see lots of Indians in the restaurant, then it must be good. One of the culinary specials of the area is the Fish Head Curry, which is exactly as it sounds.
Eating out seems like a full time occupation for the locals in Singapore and for good reason. It doesn’t take much to sniff out an inexpensive gem, be it on a main street, a back street or in the middle of a shopping mall.
This is a city that has something to suit all taste buds, and budgets, and even if you don’t fancy a curry, there’s enough variety of food types to keep even the most fussy of eaters happy.
A good place to start is Singapore’s famous hawker centres where authentic Malay, Indonesian and Chinese dishes will set you back for as little as $3. This is where you can tuck into a real Laksa or spicy noodle soup, satay sticks made with chicken and lamb, char kway teow which is a popular noodle meal, and Singapore chilli crab which is cooked in a tomato and chilli gravy. Most shopping malls also have food courts where hawker food is abundant, and although slightly more expensive than the local joints by a dollar or two, they’re still excellent value.
Although European, Malay and Indian culture remain an integral part of Singapore, its heart and soul is undoubtedly Chinese, and a visit to Chinatown is the best way to get acquainted with the dominant culture of Singapore. Street vendors hawk everything from fruit and vegetables to slabs of meat, fast food, Bhuddist symbols, lucky charms, shoe repairs, hair cuts, massages, and fortune telling. It’s also where the locals meet and eat, which is an essential part of Singaporean life, and a meal at one of Chinatown’s busy food halls is an experience which is uplifting for the soul, and very easy on the wallet. In the chaos, clattering and confusion ordering the food may seem a little tricky but a simple point-at-the-food-you-want strategy works perfectly well. This is where you can order up dim sum, or a simple Hainan chicken which is boiled with garlic and ginger and served with fresh vegetables, duck and its multiple ways of being prepared, and standard dishes such as Kung Pao chicken, sweet and sour pork and chow mein.
Singapore is not all ethnic cheap eats and it has arguably some of the best international restaurants in the world including French and Italian with European chefs heading to the far east in droves to be a part of the city’s foodie revolution.
And no matter where you go or what you eat, you can always finish it off with a $1 ice cream from an umbrella vendor.
Here’s where to find the best of Singapore food:
Lau Pau Sat Festival Market: Singapore’s first food centre is right in the centre of the CBD and is open 24 hours. 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore.
Gluttons Bay Food Centre: Set alongside the picturesque Marina Bay it’s popular with both locals and tourists and has stunning views of the Singapore skyline. 8 Raffles Avenue, Esplanade.
Simpang Bedok Kway Chap: A real locals’ joint near Tanah Merah MRT station. It doesn’t get any cheaper or more authentic than this. Bedok Shopping Complex, 288 Bedok Road, Bedok.
Kerbau Road, off Serangoon Road, has a good concentration of restaurants and locals say it’s difficult to find a sub-standard meal because the competition is so fierce.
The Gandhi Eating House (31 Chander Road) is popular with the locals and very cheap, even by Singaporean standards, and they also offer a good range of vegetarian options.
Muthu’s Curry (138 Race Course Road) is the place to go for a fish head curry.
It’s eaten with rice and vegetables and there’s actually quite a lot of meat on the head. Eating the eyeballs is optional, though not necessary, although connoisseurs believe the tissue behind the eyeballs is the best part of the whole dish.
Jumbo Seafood: Located in the popular East Coast Seafood Centre, this is the perfect place to truly dine Singaporean style. This is where you can dig into crispy baby squid, marinated in oyster sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and served over crispy noodles. +64 6442 3435; www.jumboseafood.com.sg.
Jing: This is the ideal place to nestle down and luxuriate over a long lunch of Peking duck and their take on it is a combination of crispy duck skin and seared foie gras which is is simply wicked. 1 Fullerton Road. +64 6224 0088; www.jing.sg
Ristorante Bologna: Located on level 4 of the Marina Mandarin Hotel this was one of the first Italian restaurants in Singapore when the Marina Mandarin opened in 1987 and chef Carlo Marengoni has created an authentic menu which has a loyal following among the locals. Marina Square, 6 Raffles Blvd, Singapore. +65 6845 1199
Le Bouchon: Here, sweet lovers will delight in one the biggest portions of crème brulee served in Singapore along with traditional French fare at an inexpensive price. 7 Ann Siang Road. +64 6423 0737.