So this year marks Singapore’s 50th year of independence and don’t we know it – commemorative merchandise, meal deals, special edition everything, “SG 50” is a catch-all call to arms to express patriotism proudly and economically productively. Though I may be one of the only things on the island not branded with the ubiquitous pink circle (not to be confused with a pink dot), I love my country. My feelings about Singapore are as complex as the flavours of its cuisine, and as deep as our famously deep-water harbor.
This love that starts in the belly, rises up from within like smoke emanating from gently grilling sambal sting ray, nestled against rows of satay skewers – it is this love that we Singaporeans want to share with the world, and everyone who does us the honour of stopping by – and if your heart is cold and your palate is closed off to the foodie paradise that embodies everything we love about our home and heritage, we will be extremely offended. But if you embrace the Singaporean way, which is to eat to live and live to eat in an eternal cycle of joy and deliciousness, even if you’re just passing through, you too can be one of us.
Hawker Center Basics: Eat Local, Like Locals
Most tourists do know that food in Singapore is more than meets the eye. However, as Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world, many visitors believe you have to pay to eat well. Don’t pay premium for mediocre approximations of pasta. Mexican food may be super hip and trendy right now, but that doesn’t mean you should pay 5 times more for tacos. No secret to locals, the best food in Singapore is found in hawker centers – remember that food was already here before the cosmopolitan vibe arrived. Some Hawker stars went far, working even as a private chef. Whether it is BBQ food you have a hankering after, local favourites or a decent attempt at Japanese, Korean or Filipino cuisine, you can have almost anything your heart desires – both in the Hawker Center and at home.
Don’t know if Singapore BBQ is your jam?
Can’t choose between rice, noodles or other? Sniff out good food in Singapore the local way:
- Join the longest queue. If the queue is long, the food must be good. It is an unspoken rule that we all abide by, whether we admit it or not. Of course, don’t be too dismayed if you get to the front of the line only to be told the stall’s sold out for the day. It’s just part and parcel of wanting the best food in Singapore, and it happens to us all.
- Don’t be shy about checking out (the plate of) the person next to you. Keep your eyes peeled as you wander through the snaking lines of hungry people and the labyrinth of stalls that you are trying to navigate. Take your time; let your gaze linger on plates that whizz by you. If you see something you want (even if you have no idea what it is), don’t be afraid to ask for directions to the source. We Singaporeans won’t judge, and even if we did, come now, we don’t bite.
Getting hungry? Why don’t you invite a chef to cook for your next gathering with friends? No queuing with Clubvivre.
“Die Die Must Try”
You don’t need to like all the food in Singapore, but you must at least try as much as you can. One can live here all their life and not have eaten everything that our wonderfully diverse, delicious country has to offer, but we certainly aspire to try. Eating is a national pastime, and there’s no better adventure to be had than searching out the best food in Singapore (often by word-of-mouth) and trying out new cuisines. That’s why our customary greeting is “Have you eaten?” instead of “How are you?” – if you’re full of good food, how bad can your life be?
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Never eat alone – bring a friend and order everything and anything that catches your fancy. So what if it’s enough to feed an army? There’s no better way to get to know the country than through its food – the mouth wateringly greasy, carb-loaded Nasi Lemak, Hokkien Mee, the delicate restraint of Teochew porridge, stars players in our all-star food in Singapore team. Each dish unlocks a simultaneously personal and public history of the lives that this city was built on. The kind of work they did, their resourcefulness in thinking up thrifty, scrumptious ways to eat and live, to the tastes of home that they longed for.
Marvel at the sheer ingenuity of generations of private chefs cooking for their families, often far from home – Singapore BBQ food (as in Malaysia and Indonesia) uses banana leaves not just to inject flavour, but to double up as plates as well, and the secret of Hainanese Chicken Rice lies in re-purposing the bones to make a hearty broth that the rice is boiled in, instead of just water. Everything you need to know about Singapore you can learn through eating your way across the island. Only then will you see food in Singapore in all its glory, only then will you love this country the way we do.