Eat like a local: The A to Z guide of Singapore’s most iconic local, hawker and specialty foods

Loading up on hawker classics at Maxwell Food Centre. <i>Photo: Coconuts Media</i>
Loading up on hawker classics at Maxwell Food Centre. Photo: Coconuts Media

One of our favorite pastimes in Singapore is eating – ask any resident, and they’ll easily rattle off their top favorite local dishes (plus where to find them.) Thanks to our multi-cultural nation, we’ve got the best of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, and Peranakan cuisines, with all kinds of cross-cultural creations you’re not likely to find outside of the region.

That being said, it’s near impossible to define what’s actually ours, and there’s bound to be overlap with our neighboring countries (hello Malaysia and Indonesia). But we’re not laying claim to these foods – they’re just some of the more iconic ones familiar to and beloved by Singaporeans. (Oh, and we left out a few letters because, well, let’s not force it when we’ve got so many other delish dishes to focus on.)

So to help you load up your bucket list with our must-try foods, we’ve mapped out all the sought-after local classics to get you going. Prep your stomachs, because this is gonna be one full ride.


 

Ayam penyet

Photo: huixuan/Flickr
Photo: huixuan/Flickr

Translated as “smashed chicken” (to tenderize the fowl) in Javanese, the Indonesian-style fried chicken is typically served with sambal, fried beancurd, tempeh (fermented soybeans), and rice.

Get it: Ayam Penyet Ria at four locations, including #05-22/23 Far East Plaza

 

Bak chor mee

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

Its name means “minced meat noodles” in Teochew, and while there are soup versions, the more common ones are bowls of vinegar-tossed noodles with minced pork, sliced pork, pork liver, mushrooms, meat balls, and cubes of deep fried lard.

Get it: Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at #01-12, Blk 466 Crawford Lane

 

Bak kut teh

Photo: Kars Alfrink/Flickr
Photo: Kars Alfrink/Flickr

The pork rib soup is an aromatic stew made with herbs and spices for an herbal or peppery base, served with rice or sticks of you tiao (deep fried dough) to soak up all that broth.

Get it: Song Fa Bak Kut Teh at 10 locations, including #01-04 Chinatown Point

 

Carrot cake

Photo: su-lin/Flickr
Photo: su-lin/Flickr

Nope, it’s not the dessert, but instead chunks of “radish cake” made of white radish and steamed rice flour, stir-fried with garlic, eggs, and preserved radish, then seasoned with light or dark soya sauce.

Get it: Fu Ming Cooked Food at #01-49 Redhill Food Centre

 

Char kway teow

Photo: insatiablemunch/Flickr
Photo: insatiablemunch/Flickr

Rice noodles stir fried with light or dark soy sauce and ingredients such as prawns, cockles, bean sprouts, eggs, and Chinese sausage, the dish is tossed in a wok to get that smoky aroma.

Get it: Lao Fu Zi Fried Kway Teow at #01-12 Old Airport Road Food Centre

 

Chendol

Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr
Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr

For a refreshing break from the tropical heat, try this dessert of shaved ice topped with lashings of pandan jelly, red beans, coconut milk, and gula melaka (palm sugar).

Get it: Four Seasons Cendol at #01-07, 210 Lor 8 Toa Payoh

 

Chwee kueh

Photo: Joel Koh/Flickr
Photo: Joel Koh/Flickr

The steamed rice “cake” sprinkled with chye poh (preserved radish) and served with a side of chilli is usually eaten for breakfast, but you can munch on it anytime, really.

Get it: Bedok Chwee Kueh at six locations, including #01-53 Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre

 

Crabs

Photo: jh_tan84/Flickr
Photo: jh_tan84/Flickr

The most famous of the stir-fried crustaceans on the island is the chilli crab, a sweet, savory, and spicy dish drenched in a tomato and chilli gravy – but its black or white pepper alternatives are pretty tasty, too.

Get it: No Signboard Seafood at four locations, including 414 Geylang Rd

 

Curry puff

Photo: umami/Flickr
Photo: umami/Flickr

A deep fried (or baked) pastry stuffed with curried meat, potato, and the occasional hard-boiled egg, the curry puff has also seen a variation of fillings like sardines, black pepper chicken, durian, otah, and more.

Get it: Rolina Traditional Hainanese Curry Puff at #02-15 Tanjong Pagar Food Centre

 

Economic rice/noodles

This hawker stalwart is basically a mix of meat and veggies cooked in various ways, which you can get in any combination you want to pair with your rice or vermicelli noodles. Don’t worry if you have no idea what a specific dish is called – just point and nod like the locals do.

Get it: Hao Hua Cooked Food at #02-120 Chinatown Complex Market

 

Fish head curry

Photo: Douglas LeMoine/Flickr
Photo: Douglas LeMoine/Flickr

A spicy creation that was first sold in Singapore by Indian immigrant M.J. Gomez in 1949 that combines South Indian curry with fish head, a Chinese delicacy, this clay pot dish is made with tamarind and coconut milk, plus red snapper and veggies like okra.

Get it: Ocean Curry Fish Head at three locations, including 181 Telok Ayer St

 

Fishball noodles

Photo: Richard Lee/Flickr
Photo: Richard Lee/Flickr

Served in soup or dry renditions, with an assortment of noodle types, the bowl of fishballs and fishcake (both made of mashed fish), chilli, and lard bits is a hawker classic.

Get it: Joo Chiat Chiap Kee at #01-31, Blk 216 Bedok North Food Centre

 

Hainanese chicken rice

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

One of the dishes most associated with Singapore, the plate of poached, roasted, or braised chicken is most defined by its chilli and fragrant rice (cooked in a mix of chicken stock and pandan leaves), and can be found everywhere, from upscale restaurants to humble hawker stalls.

Get it: Loy Kee Chicken Rice at 342 Balestier Rd

 

Hainanese curry rice

A generous ladleful of curry gravy slopped onto steamed white rice, topped with braised cabbage, pork chop, and other sides, curry rice is messy comfort food at its best.

Get it: Beach Road Scissors Cut Curry Rice at 229 Jalan Besar

 

Hokkien prawn mee

Photo: degas.degas/Flickr
Photo: degas.degas/Flickr

This is no simple stir-fried noodle dish. The strands of yellow noodles and vermicelli are cooked in a prawn stock, tossed with prawns, squid, pork belly, egg, and fried lard, and served with a dollop of sambal chilli and a splash of lime juice for maximum flavor.

Get it: Tiong Bahru Yi Sheng Fried Hokkien Mee at #01-13 ABC Brickworks Market Food Centre

 

Ice kacang

Photo: Alpha/Flickr
Photo: Alpha/Flickr

In sunny Singapore, a frozen dessert like ice kacang is a godsend on any day. It’s essentially a mound of shaved ice drizzled with sweet syrups and prettified with red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, and attap chee (palm seed).

Get it: Jin Jin Hot/Cold Dessert at #01-21 ABC Brickworks Market Food Centre

 

Jemput-Jemput

A traditional Malay snack usually made at home, the fritter is most commonly comprised of mashed bananas, but it can have onion, prawn, or ikan bilis (anchovy) variations as well.

Get it: It’s usually found at Malay hawker kueh stalls (if you’re lucky).

 

Kaya toast

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

Like its name suggests, it’s kaya jam (made from coconut milk, eggs, and pandan) thickly slathered on melt-in-your-mouth slices of bread. Have it for breakfast or afternoon tea, and pair it with soft-boiled eggs and a cup of kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) for the full experience.

Get it: Tong Ah Eating House at 35 Keong Saik Rd

 

Kuehs

Photo: zol m/Flickr
Photo: zol m/Flickr

A broad term encompassing Nonya, Indonesian, and Malay bite-sized snacks typically made of glutinous rice, these little nuggets come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures, with flavors from coconut, pandan, and gula melaka (palm sugar).

Popular kuehs in Singapore include ang ku kueh (red tortoise cake with a sweet filling), kueh dadar (pandan roll stuffed with grated coconut), ondeh ondeh (glutinous rice flour spheres filled with pandan juice and gula melaka), kueh salat (glutinous rice with custard), and kueh lapis (layers of tapioca, rice flour, and coconut milk).

Get it: Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry at #01-39, Blk 55 Tiong Bahru Rd

 

Kway chap

Photo: Charles Haynes/Flickr
Photo: Charles Haynes/Flickr

Kway chap requires a brave heart (or an iron stomach), because it’s an offal dish paired with rice noodle sheets in a soy sauce gravy. The braised pig’s intestines usually go with sides like hard-boiled eggs, pork belly, beancurd skin, and salted mustard greens.

Get it: 284 Kway Chap at KPT coffee shop, 284 Bishan St 22

 

Laksa

Photo: Alpha/Flickr
Photo: Alpha/Flickr

A spicy coconut milk noodle soup beloved by locals, the combination of thick vermicelli, prawns, cockles, fried beancurd, and fishcake never fails to draw long lines, especially at famous eateries.

Get it: 328 Katong Laksa at various locations, including 216 East Coast Rd

 

Mee rebus

Photo: Jeremy Fulton/Flickr
Photo: Jeremy Fulton/Flickr

Blanched yellow egg noodles swim in a thick gravy flavored with coriander and green chillis, with a mix of beef, beansprouts, fried beancurd, and egg.

Get it: Yunos & Family at #01-01, Blk 724 Ang Mo Kio Food Centre

 

Murtabak

Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr
Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr

An Indian-Muslim dish with Arab origins, this pancake-like fried flatbread is typically stuffed with egg and minced chicken or mutton. Each bite can be soaked in curry for extra flavor.

Get it: Singapore Zam Zam at 697-699 North Bridge Rd

 

Nasi lemak

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

The famous Malay dish is beloved for its base of fragrant rice infused with coconut milk and pandan leaves, garnished with standard sides like fried fish or chicken wing, otak otak (see below), ikan bilis, peanuts, eggs, cucumber slices, and sambal.

Get it: Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak at #01-106 Boon Lay Place Food Village

 

Nasi biryani

A plate of long grain basmati rice made flavorful with an abundances of spices, biryani is usually served with meat like mutton or chicken drenched in gravy or curry.

Get it: Bismillah Biryani at four locations, including 48 & 50 Dunlop St

 

Otak-otak

Photo: namealus/Flickr
Photo: namealus/Flickr

The fish cake consisting of fish paste, spices, and a mix of garlic, lemongrass, turmeric, and shallots is wrapped in banana leaves before going on the charcoal grill.

Get it: Nam San Mackerel Otah at 263 Joo Chiat Rd

 

Popiah

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

A type of non-fried spring roll wrapped in a thin wheat flour or egg crepe, popiah is often stuffed with blanched turnip strips, fried garlic bits, crushed peanuts, beansprouts, egg, shrimp, and layers of chili sauce and “sweet sauce,” the latter of which is usually made from a mixture of sweet soya and soybean paste.

Get it: Good Chance Popiah at two locations, including #01-58, Blk 149 Silat Ave

 

Peranakan food

Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr
Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr

Peranakan or Nyonya food has its roots in Chinese, Malay, and Indonesian cuisines, with spice-laden dishes like ayam buah keluak (chicken cooked in tamarind gravy with buah keluak nuts), babi pongteh (braised pork belly or trotter), chap chye (stir-fried vegetables), mee siam (fried vermicelli with gravy), and kueh pie tee (a crisp tart shell filled with vegetables and prawns).

Get it: Violet Oon Singapore at five locations, including #01-205/206 Jewel Changi Airport

 

Pandan chiffon cake

A light and fluffy treat once named CNN’s choice for Singapore’s best national cake, this sponge cake is flavored with pandan leaves and coconut milk, and can be nibbled on for afternoon tea, dessert, or even breakfast.

Get it: Bengawan Solo at multiple locations, including #B1-02A Raffles City

 

Putu piring

Photo: Kyle Lam/Flickr
Photo: Kyle Lam/Flickr

The humble, disc-shaped Malay steamed rice cake, featured in Netflix’s Street Food series, is an old school treat filled with gula melaka and served on pandan leaves with a sprinkle of grated coconut. Similar to kueh tutu, it also comes in flavors like coconut, peanut, and even durian or chocolate.

Get it: Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring at four locations, including #01-07 Haig Road Cooked Food Centre

 

Rendang

Photo: Rumah Makan Minang/Facebook
Photo: Rumah Makan Minang/Facebook

The spicy Indonesian slow-cooked dish swims with coconut milk and spices, with the addition of chicken or beef, served alongside steamed rice and veggies. And no, it’s not supposed to be crispy.

Get it: Rumah Makan Minang at two locations, including 18 & 18A Kandahar St

 

Roti prata

Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr
Photo: Benjamin Ho/Flickr

A crisp, flaky Indian flatbread made of dough with ghee (clarified butter), roti prata is twirled, flipped, and stretched until paper thin, then fried on a griddle and served with curry or sugar. The traditional offering is either plain or with egg, but contemporary versions can include cheese, chocolate, mushroom, and even durian.

Get it: Springleaf Prata Place at four locations, including 1 Thong Soon Ave

 

Roti john

The street snack is a baguette-type sandwich stuffed with minced chicken or mutton, onions, and egg, paired with a tomato chilli sauce. 

Get it: Al-Azhar Eating Restaurant at two locations, including 11 Cheong Chin Nam Rd

 

Rojak

Photo: Alpha/Flickr
Photo: Alpha/Flickr

A salad without the leafy greens, rojak is a sweet and savory mix of vegetables, fruits, fried dough fritters, and peanuts, made sticky with a sauce of fermented prawn paste.

Get it: Balestier Road Hoover Rojak at #01-06 Whampoa Drive Makan Place

 

Salted egg stuff

The Chinese delicacy of salted duck eggs dates back to olden days, but eateries around the island can’t seem to get enough of it – from liu sha baos (custard buns) and croissants to pastas and ice cream to lava cakes, cocktails, fried chicken, and everything in between.

Get it: It can be found in all kinds of dishes at cafes and restaurants, and even potato chips

 

Satay

Photo: awee_19/Flickr
Photo: awee_19/Flickr

Beef, mutton, lamb, and chicken are skewered and barbecued over a charcoal grill until tender, then served with a rich, chunky peanut sauce and pieces of ketupat (rice dumpling), cucumber, and onion.

Get it: Chuan Kee Satay at #01-85 Old Airport Road Food Centre

 

Sliced fish soup

Photo: Alpha/Flickr
Photo: Alpha/Flickr

A rainy day favorite, this fish broth can be customized with boiled or deep-fried slices of grouper or batang (mackerel), rice or noodles, and with or without evaporated milk.

Get it: Piao Ji Fish Porridge at #02-100/103 Amoy Street Food Centre

 

Soya beancurd

Also known as tau huay in Hokkien, the pudding dessert is silky smooth, sweetened with syrup, and served either warm or chilled.

Get it: Rochor Beancurd House at 745 Geylang Rd Lor 39

 

Wanton mee

Photo: Myna Bird/Flickr
Photo: Myna Bird/Flickr

A dry egg noodle dish topped with greens, char siew (barbecued pork), and meat or shrimp dumplings, wanton mee is relished with black sauce, chilli, and a spoonful of lard.

Get it: Kok Kee Wanton Mee at 30 Foch Rd

 

Yong tau foo

Photo: Wee Sen Goh/Flickr
The ingredient selection. Photo: Wee Sen Goh/Flickr

At a yong tau foo stall, you get to pick your preferred ingredients from a selection of meat- or fish paste-stuffed tofu, veggies, fishballs, mushrooms, and fried items, before going for the carb of your choice and handing the bowl over to the hawker to cook. Each dish is priced according to what you choose.

Get it: Yong Xiang Xing Dou Fu at #01-1084 People’s Park Food Centre

 

Zi char dishes

Hor fun. Photo: Gabriel Sai/Flickr
Hor fun. Photo: Gabriel Sai/Flickr

A zi char joint is essentially an affordable Chinese stall that doles out a wide range of rice, noodle, vegetable, meat, and seafood dishes, the most popular of which include hor fun (stir-fried noodles in gravy), oyster omelette, cereal prawns (deep-fried prawns covered in cereal crumbs), har cheong gai (prawn paste fried chicken), and sambal stingray.

Get it: New Ubin Seafood at three locations, including #01-16, 18 Tampines Industrial Cres


 

Still hungry? Read on for more:

Best romantic restaurants in Singapore: Where to go for candlelit dinners, date nights, and special occasions 

Meatless meats: Where to try Impossible Foods’ plant-based burgers, pizzas, sausages, and more in Singapore 

Healthy desserts in Singapore: Where to find (mostly) guilt-free cakes, ice cream, brownies, and other alternative sweets

Where to get unusual ice cream flavors like butter beer, pineapple tart, and blue milk in Singapore


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