Among our many nicknames like Garden City and Lion City, Singapore is known as Food Paradise and it is such. Way before local singer-songwriter Dick Lee sung the opening lines to Fried Rice Paradise, we have been renowned for our impeccable range of traditional and modern interpretations of food. Even as Singapore progresses on its wheel of revolution, you will continue to see these foods at our hawker centres or food courts where they are served at an affordable price range of not more than five dollars a dish. True to the Singaporean psyche, each of our local cuisines have something unique and authentic about them. It could be enveloping your mouth in some fried carrot cake or munching on a curry puff snack, you will discover something new at each trip to our local food places.
Since you are on your way to permanent residency in Singapore, let us explore four local dishes that you must dig into as new permanent residents of this food paradise.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
At the top of this list is Hainanese chicken rice and that is because of how celebrated they are as a dish. For most Singaporeans, this dish is the undisputed champion when it comes to quick lunch eats. Pressed for time and need something to fill you up? A plate of chicken rice could be served in less than a minute. But the preparation time for chicken rice takes much more than that — due to the need to boil the chicken in bone stock for all the flavours to seep in, it could take hours upon hours to achieve that rich flavour. The rice, on the other hand, is extremely satisfying and savoury from being prepared with chicken stock, ginger, garlic and pandan leaves. For those who can take a bit of spice in their life, what holds the dish together is the chilli that is specially made out of ginger and red birds-eye chilli.
Perhaps what you had in mind when we mentioned carrot cake is those moist and creamy carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on it, but the Singapore traditional version is nothing close to it. What the Singapore version represents is actually a Teochew dish that is whipped up with the ingredients of eggs, white radish flour cake and preserved radish, hence its name. You might have heard that there are two factions of fans when it comes to carrot cake, namely the light and dark side.
The light side is represented by the original crispy version with beaten eggs being poured over the white radish cakes to create little chunks of this delectable bites. On the opposite corner, you have the ‘black’ version of carrot cake. Essentially, it shares the same generous serving of egg and radish cakes but it is coated with black soy sauce that makes it sweet to the taste. Regardless of which side you pick, you are sure to enjoy the tantalising twang that carrot cake carries.
Singaporeans love rice dishes and that is why Nasi Lemak is another dish that you have to sample. This cultural dish of the Malay population in Singapore is normally eaten during breakfast to fill you up for the rest of the day and is packaged in banana rice, but now it is eaten across various times of the day. A simple fare of Nasi Lemak consists of coconut rice, fried anchovies, peanut, egg and some sambal chilli, but we are looking at more and more sides like fried fish, fried chicken and even otah to keep your tummy satisfied.
After the main course, we hope that there is still space for desserts. Durians seem to be a big hit with tourists who sample this fruit for the first time. But tourists are not the only ones who adore a taste of the flesh within that has a buttery custard-like texture, locals often go on durian hunts in appreciation of this thorny fruit and it is not uncommon to see us barrelling through two to three of these in one sitting. Although too much of durian is not advisable, you can be assured that they are worth every bit of their high calories. This is one fruit that you need to get acquainted with if you want to feel like a local — the smell, the taste and the texture of the fruit is simply Singaporean.
Singapore is more than just the fancy restaurants and snazzy bars that ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ have portrayed us to be. If you have the guts to venture out to the neighbourhoods and food markets, you will be shocked at the variety that is on offer. A good start would be to visit the Newton Food Court and it is there where your taste buds would definitely be treated to a new dimension of flavours.