Last Updated: March 14, 2021
Without a doubt, Singapore, given its size, packs a barrage of food options that are sure to satiate every craving and longing. Our geographical location also means that much of the food we love comes from the intersectionality of cultures and locale, influenced by neighbouring Southeast Asia countries—Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia.
What good are these gems if not easily found near where Singaporeans live? Enter our hawker centres, coffee shops, and food courts—gastronomical destinations ubiquitous and unique to this small island nation, shaping the way Singaporeans think and dream about food.
So here’s the ultimate list of 30 famous local food, steeped in heritage, that has shaped the culinary landscape of Singapore and defined what it means to be a foodie in food-obsessed, trend-driven Singapore.
If you’re a tourist visiting Singapore for the first time, or a newly minted citizen looking to brush up on your local food knowledge, this is a good check-list of authentic local cuisine in Singapore that would do right by you.
You can also easily save and view the places listed here on TripAdvisor.
One of the many stories of the invention of Bak Kut Teh ((Meat Bone Tea/Pork Ribs Soup) is that during the olden days of Singapore, a poor, starving beggar came by a roadside pork noodle store to beg for food. The stall owner was in poverty but wanted to help him.
He boiled some of the leftover pork bones and added whatever cheap spices he had to flavour the soup, including star anise and pepper which created a soup that resembled tea in terms of colour. Thus, pork bone tea was born. Another story claims that it was a tonic invented to ‘reinvigorate’ the Chinese coolies who worked in the Clark Quay area.
Bak Kut Teh has been around in Singapore since we were still a developing country and deserves its recognition as a simple, humble dish. Most of the Bak Kut Teh here are of the pepper variety with mild use of herbs like star anise.
Choose pork rib meat in your soup for a more tender bite. The other variant would be the Klang Bak Kut Teh, a dark and highly flavoured herbal soup originating from Malaysia.
Nasi Lemak is a very versatile dish and what was once a breakfast item, is now eaten during lunch and dinner too. Traditionally wrapped in banana leaves, Nasi Lemak is a Malay, santan-infused rice dish that, in Singapore, has more variations and iterations than we can ever catch up to.
The rice is steamed with coconut cream to give it a sweet fragrance. A typical Nasi Lemak set comes with Ikan Bilis (fried anchovies), peanuts, egg and sambal (chilli paste). A good sambal is arguably the mark of a good Nasi Lemak.
Nasi Lemak is so popular in Singapore, the other races have adopted this dish in their own variations and offer a wide selection of additional ingredients like fried chicken drumsticks, luncheon meat and sotong (cuttlefish) balls.
GUIDE: 15 Nasi Lemak Stalls In Singapore To Try When You Need Comfort Food
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Uptown Nasi Lemak
Spice & Rice
Beef Bro Nasi Lemak
Kedai Makan Muhajirin
This Singapore wanton noodle dish was probably influenced by Hong Kong cuisine, but has become entrenched in our culture over the years. The Singapore version is typically eaten ‘dry’, drenched with some light sweet sauce, slices of pork char siew and wanton dumplings filled with pork, with a small bowl of soup on the side.
Auntie will also ask if you want it spicy or not. The spicy type sees chilli mixed into the noodles, while the non-spicy kids’ version comes with tomato sauce. The wanton dumplings may be either deep-fried or come in the form of soup dumplings. wanton
The Malaysian variant uses a darker-coloured sauce and sweeter tasting mee (noodles).
No, this isn’t the Western dessert. This is far from it. The Singapore Fried Carrot Cake is made with eggs, preserved radish (chai poh) and white radish flour cake, which resembles a ‘white carrot’, thus giving rise to the dish name.
This is a Teochew dish popular in both Singapore and Malaysia. Variants include the ‘black’ version, which has sweet sauce (molasses) added, or a crispy version with the cake fried on top of a beaten egg to create a crust and chunks of cake. Most commonly seen in Singapore though is the chopped up version with individual radish cake cubes.
Biryani (or Briyani, Biriyani, Biriani and Birani) is a mixed rice dish of Indian-Muslim influence made using distinctive long-grain rice, usually Basmati rice. A little bit of saffron is also added to give the dish its distinct colour. Meats like chicken, mutton, beef or fish are often included on the side. Vegetarian versions are also popping up, to reflect the growing demand for non-meat local favourites.
Spices used are heavy in flavours like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and bay leaves, rendering the entire dish incredibly aromatic with a heady and irresistible bouquet.
GUIDE: 10 Best Nasi Briyani in Singapore that are Burp-worthy
Food Showdown: Zam Zam Restaurant VS Victory Restaurant VS Al-Tasneem
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Ali Nachia Eating House
Geylang Briyani Stall
MA Deen Biasa
Briyani by Hamidah Bi
Another Hong Kong/Shanghai-inspired type of cuisine available in Singapore is Dim Sum or ‘Dian Xin’. This is not exactly one dish, but a set of small dishes to be savoured in a group – a typical Chinese dining sharing custom. Popular Dim Sum dishes include BBQ Pork Buns, Xiao Long Bao, Siew Mai, Chee Cheong Fun and many more.
There are even Halal-certified and Muslim-owned dim sum houses to cater to Halal diners.
Guide: Best Dim Sums in Singapore History: The Ultimate Guide
Food Showdown: 126 Dim Sum Wen Dao Shi 揾到食 VS Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant 瑞春
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Kampung Amin Dim Sum (Halal)
MASA by Black Society
Kun Shu Food Stall
Sum Dim Sum
Kimly Dim Sum
The one and only traditional Singaporean breakfast – Kaya Toast with Soft-Boiled Eggs. The traditional bread is an old school rectangular white loaf, toasted on a bread grill, slathered with coconut or egg kaya, then slapped with a thick slice of butter that slowly melts between two slices of warm bread.
This is the classic kaya toast. Variations include using thinly-sliced brown bread, round buns or ‘Jiam Tao Loh Tee’ (like a French baguette).
For the eggs, they’re usually placed in a large hot water metal pot and covered with a plate to allow it to cook. Then you time it and take out the eggs when they’re ready (about 7 – 10 minutes depending on how well you like your eggs).
Trying not to scream like a banshee, crack open the eggs with your bare hands onto one of the two plates given and throw the shells onto the remaining plate. Season with pepper and dark or light soya sauce and pip the kaya toast into the eggy mixture for extra deliciousness.
The two most famous styles of cooking crabs in Singapore are with a sweet, spicy tomato-ish chilli sauce, or with black pepper sauce. Chilli crabs are commonly eaten with fried mantous (buns), which are dipped in the luscious chilli sauce.
To achieve a delicious texture, the crabs go through a two-step cooking process; they’re first boiled then fried so that the meat doesn’t stick to the shell. Recently, many new popular styles of cooking have surfaced as well, like salted-egg crabs or crab bee hoon.
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Laksa is a dish created from the merging of Chinese and Malay cuisine, otherwise known as Peranakan culture. There are two main types of Laksa – Curry Laksa and Asam Laksa.
Curry Laksa is more predominant in Singapore, while Asam Laksa is more commonly found in Malaysian regions like Penang. In fact there are loads of variants of Laksa, differing in the type of fish used, broth and even noodles.
Traditional Singapore Curry Laksa uses vermicelli, coconut milk, tau pok (beancurd puffs), fish slices, shrimp and hum (cockles). Due to cost-cutting, taste preference, and climate change, some stalls might opt out of shrimp and cockles.
A unique Singapore variant known as Katong Laksa, features vermicelli that’s been cut into short pieces and eaten only with a spoon. There is much debate on which establishment is the original Katong Laksa, but most bowls are delicious in their own way.
Is it Chinese, Indian or Malay? This is another ambiguous dish that probably has a South Indian origin, but has been heavily influenced by the various ethnicities in Singapore. What I do know, is that it’s delicious.
Either half a head or a whole head of red snapper is stewed in curry with assorted vegetables like lady’s finger (okra) and brinjal (aubergine). The Indian-style of curry has heavier spices and flavours, while the Chinese-style is lighter and sweeter. Variants include the Assam-style fish head curry, which has an added tinge of sourness from tamarind fruit (assam).
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Colloquially known as ‘Bak Chor Mee‘ 肉脞面, this is a noodle dish with minced pork, liver, meatballs, fish balls, fish cake slices, and a signature vinegary braised sauce that adds some wetness.
Typically, the dish is ordered ‘dry’ to savour the full flavours of the sauce and you can choose between chilli or ketchup, and the type of noodles that you would like. Noodle choices are normally either mee pok (a flat noodle) or mee kia (thin noodle), while some stalls offer bee hoon, mee sua or mee tai mak as well. Variants include a soup version with homemade noodles that’s famous at Bedok Blk 85.
GUIDE: 12 Must Try Bak Chor Mee 肉脞面 Stalls in Singapore
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QiYin Teochew Keto Bak Chor
Gimee Face Noodle House
Soon Heng Pork Noodles
Boon Kee Kway Teow Noodle
Quan Ji Bak Chor Mee
Popular in Singapore hawker centres as well as in Taiwan night markets, this is a dish that many foreigners and locals love. Stalls that sell Carrot Cake typically also sell Oyster Omelettes as it’s a similar cooking process that also utilises a common ingredient: Eggs.
Potato starch is usually mixed in when frying the egg and gives a thicker, fuller taste. Variants include a version without the starch, which is priced slightly higher due to more eggs needed instead. A special vinegar chilli is also paired exclusively with Oyster Omelettes in Singapore.
GUIDE: 11 Best Oyster Omelettes in Singapore for You to Clam On
GUIDE: Oyster Omelette showdown: Famous Old Airport Road Fried Oyster VS Lim’s Fried Oyster VS Ah Chuan Fried Oyster Omelette
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Hougang Oyster Omelette & Fried Kway Teow
Singapore Hokkien Mee features a combination of fried egg noodles and rice noodles in a rich prawn stock with cubes of fried pork fat, prawns, fish cake and squid. Some vendors add pork strips as well to add more flavour.
This dish was the creation of post-war Hokkien noodle factory workers who would gather along Rochor Road and fry any excess noodles they had. Another version easily confused by the same name is called Hokkien Char Mee, which, unlike the classic, is covered in a signature thick dark sauce and uses only one type of egg noodles.
GUIDE: 18 Best Hokkien Prawn Mee Stalls in Singapore
Food Showdown: Albert Street Prawn Noodle VS Whitley Road Big Prawn Noodle – Which Prawn Noodle Is Better?
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YouFu Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodle
Xiao Di Fried Prawn Noodle
Nam Sing Hokkien Fried Mee
Satay is a dish of skewered, turmeric-marinated meat that is grilled on an open fire. It originates from Indonesia but has become a common hawker dish in Singapore. Stalls are not restricted to any race and may be operated by the Chinese, Malays or Indians.
Typical meats include chicken, beef, mutton and even pork which is sold by the Chinese stall owners. Ketupat (rice cake), onions and cucumbers usually accompany Satay. A spicy peanut dip is also provided for the Satay and sides as well.
In the past, having a fridge or freezer was as rare as winning TOTO (lottery); barbecuing or frying fishes to mask the fishy odour after being left out in the open for days was a popular cooking choice.
Also known as Ikan Bakar (barbecued fish), stingray has since risen in popularity since Singaporean Malays figured out that sambal (chilli paste) on top of stingray = delicious. It is traditionally wrapped in banana leaf and barbecued, then a sambal paste made with belachan (dried shrimp paste), spices, shallots and Indian walnuts is smothered generously all over the top. Lime is usually squeezed over the fish right before eating as well.
Tau Huay is a dessert made with beancurd tofu, sweetened with sugar syrup. It can be eaten hot or cold, sometimes with Tang Yuan (glutinous rice balls), grass jelly or soya bean milk added as well.
In recent times, a popular and more gelatinous, jelly-like version of Tau Huay has surfaced and for a period of time, drove Singaporeans to queue like beesto honey. This version is smoother and can incorporate pretty much any flavour like mango, melon or sesame. The texture is distinct from the traditional types and some camps advocate against it due to unnatural stabilisers used. This version is only eaten cold as the heat would break the structure.
SethLui.com search listing: Tau Huay
A grinding machine is used to produce a mountain of shaved ice on a bowl filled with assorted ingredients such as red bean, attap chee (palm seed), agar agar jelly, chendol, and grass jelly.
Evaporated or condensed milk is then drizzled on top, along with red rose syrup and Sarsi syrup to produce the multi-coloured, kaleidoscope effect. Variations may include drizzling with gula melaka (palm sugar), adding ice cream or other novelty toppings like durian puree or chocolate syrup.
SethLui.com search listing: Ice Kacang
This is another breakfast dish seen regularly in both Singapore and Johor, most stalls selling Chwee Kueh only open in the morning and close by lunch time. Rice flour and water are mixed together to form the rice cake, then put into little saucers and steamed to produce the typical bowl-like Chwee Kueh shape.
It is topped with chai poh (preserved radish) and chilli. Making Chwee Kueh is a dying trade that the young generation does not want to carry on, so try it before it’s gone forever.
SethLui.com search listing; Chwee Kueh
Durian is widely regarded by many as the ‘King Of Fruits’ in Southeast Asia. In Singapore, we’ve adopted it as our national fruit—we even modelled a performing arts venue, The Esplande, after it. Most foreigners are turned off by the strong ‘pungent’ smell, while locals adore the succulent flesh so much that they turn it into desserts, cakes, tarts and even shakes.
Many expensive and popular varieties of durian have surfaced like D24 or the Mao Shan Wang (猫山王), which are even more pronounced in fragrance. There is a taste preference for either the more bitter variety or sweeter flesh. Whether you love it or hate it, you can always smell it when it’s in the room, leading to bans in many public areas like on trains, buses, and hotel rooms.
Popular among the Malay community as well as the Chinese, Mee Siam means “Siamese noodles” and is a plate of vermicelli soaked in a sweet and spicy gravy flavoured by tamarind (assam), dried shrimp and Tau Cheo (fermented bean paste). It usually comes with a boiled egg, beansprouts, tau pok (beancurd puff) and is garnished with chives.
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In the past, mobile hawkers would sell Mee Rebus by the roadside using a pole balanced on the shoulders with a basket hanging at each end—one basket would hold the ingredients and the other contained a stove and boiling hot water.
Mee Rebus is a noodle dish that uses yellow egg noodles like the type in Hokkien Prawn Mee, with a brown, sweet peanut-ty gravy. Compared to Mee Siam, the Mee Rebus gravy is much thicker and viscous, lacking in the sour assam taste. The gravy is made from sweet potatoes (the starch makes it thicker), curry powder, peanuts, dried shrimp, and salted soybeans.
Yet another cross-cultural dish that has been popularly adopted by Singaporeans is the Roti Prata. Roti Prata is of Indian origin, has a Malay name, and is eaten by the Chinese! That’s what Singapore racial harmony is all about.
A fried flour-based pancake, popular Roti Prata variants include adding cheese, eggs, mushroom, onions or even chocolates and strawberries to the batter. The dough is tossed, flipped and stretched multiple times into a large thin layer before folding the edges inwards.
Some outlets also stretch the dough so thin that it turns crispy when fried on the metal pan. These are called ‘paper’ or ’tissue’ prata. Prata is served with fish or chicken curry while some people like myself like to sprinkle sugar onto it—sacrilegious as some may deem it.
SethLui.com search listing: Prata
What originally started as Fish Head Bee Hoon in the 1920s has slowly evolved to using fish slices or chunks of fish meat in this age of abundance. In the past, meat was scarce and food sellers had to maximise every part of the fish including the head.
The fish head was fried to mask the fishy odour, as back then refrigeration wasn’t as accessible. These days, boiled fish slices are now an available option.
The Fish Bee Hoon Soup broth is made from fish or pork bones that have been boiled for several hours, and some stalls might add evaporated milk for a fuller taste. Variants include adding XO cognac or brandy.
Singapore Chinese or Malay Rojak is a mixture of you tiao (dough fritters), bean sprouts, tau pok (beancurd puffs), radish, pineapple, cucumber and roasted peanuts. Everything is then mixed with a sweet-savoury black, fermented prawn paste sauce. Chilli is optional.
The ingredients in Rojak is quite standard. The other distinctive variant is the Indian version. Indian Rojak lets you pick what ingredients are added and usually doesn’t include you tiao. Red gravy made with potato and spices is used in Indian Rojak instead. It is also dipped in a fiery red peanut sauce.
More accurately known as Hainanese Chicken Rice, this is one of Singapore’s most well-known and celebrated dishes. No coffee shop in Singapore is complete without a Chicken Rice stall.
The whole chicken is steeped in sub-boiling pork and chicken bone stock to absorb the flavours and cook. Some shops will also dip the bird in ice after cooking to create a jelly-like finish on the chicken’s skin.
Variations include roasting the chicken which is called ‘black chicken’ (pictured), in contrast to the ‘white chicken’. The stalls with better service will de-bone the chicken for you.
The rice used in Chicken Rice is cooked with chicken stock, ginger, garlic and occasionally pandan leaves for added fragrance. Chilli sauce made with garlic and red chilli is served with Chicken Rice, and the dish sometimes comes topped with sweet dark soy sauce and heaped spoons of chopped ginger.
GUIDE: 15 Best Chicken Rice in Singapore You Can Find
Food showdown: We compared 5 instant Chicken Rice pastes & found the best
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Daily Green Bedok vegetarian chicken rice
Green Chilli Chicken Rice
Sometimes Chicken Rice stalls will sell Duck Rice as well, but the good ducks are in specialised Duck Rice-only shops. The common version of Duck Rice, influenced by roast meats in Hong Kong, uses plain white rice with ruby red roasted duck, is drizzled with an ddictive braised sauce.
The other Teochew version uses braised yam rice and braised duck meat, along with some tau pok (beancurd puffs), eggs and peanuts on the side. Teochews just love braised sauce. Both are equally yummy and have distinct taste profiles.
Char Kway Teow is another signature Singapore noodle dish made with flat rice noodles (河粉) with sweet dark sauce. Stir-fried with egg, pork lard, Chinese sausages and fish cake, Char Kway Teow was intentionally made to be loaded in fats because labourers in the past needed a cheap source of energy and what better way than to get that from one huge fatty meal.
Cockles are also usually added, as there was plenty of it in Singapore’s port island. A Penang Char Kway Teow variation exists as well, using chives and prawns and lacks the sweetness that is distinctive of Singapore-style Char Kway Teow.
A Curry Puff is a small baked pie enclosed with either shortcrust or puff pastry, the former being the more traditional option in Singapore. A common local snack, the filling is usually made with curry gravy, chicken, potato and egg. Other variants include fillings with yam, sardines, otak (grilled fish cake) or even durian.
Being an island port, Singapore used to have many fishermen who would bring their fresh unsold catch to be sold as dishes instead. Teochew Fish Head Steamboat is another result of our geographic situation.
The soup typically contains a mix of fried yam, sour plums, fried fish bones and vegetables which add flavour to the soup. Raw fish slices are added in later. Grouper, red snapper or pomfret are the usual choices available in Fish Head Steamboat.
Old school steamboat places still use hot charcoal as a heat source, which apparently adds more flavour as compared to just using an electric or fire stove. Be warned—good and popular Fish Head Steamboats in Singapore have fervent customers queuing for more than an hour regardless of how nonchalant the restaurant service is.
And finally, the last dish on this list to eat in Singapore before you die: Popiah. The Teochews call it 薄餅仔 (thin wafer) or 薄餅 in Mandarin, which in the Teochew dialect reads as ‘Bo-BEE-ah’, thus resulting in the English name Popiah.
The round Popiah skin is a thin paper-like wheat crepe that encases all the ingredients. A sweet sauce called hoisin is lathered onto the laid-out flat skin before fillings are added. Ingredients within a Popiah typically include small prawns, boiled eggs, Chinese sausage, lettuce, bean sprouts and primarily filled with cooked carrot and turnip strips.
Sethlui.com search listing: Popiah
Now you know where and what to eat in Singapore! This is, however, in no way an exhaustive list of classic Singapore dishes. As expected, this article has generated a lot of passionate comments from Singaporeans, with their own take on who is the ‘best’ or on the history of our dishes.
Many of the Singapore dishes were created out of poverty and whatever ingredient was available at the time. The high number of immigrants predominantly from China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia and Indonesia also shaped how our food culture mingled and interacted to create many of these dishes. Some people disagree and think that certain dishes listed here are not Singaporean, but as mentioned, Singapore adopts dishes from overseas and assimilates them into our culture. We’re shameless like that.
No matter if you are a local or a tourist, I hope this guide I’ve compiled gives you a better, more authentic picture of what local Singapore food is all about.