The world’s most famous chefs and foods personalities gush about Singapore’s hawker fare: Hainanese chicken rice, creamy laksa, crispy roti prata… the list goes on. But Singapore’s reputation as a gourmet destination comes not just from its hawker food, but also the world-class fine-dining restaurants and everything else in between. This means that you can eat very well whether you’re spending $200, $20 or $2. If you’re looking for authentic, budget-friendly gastronomic treats on your trip, try our selection of quintessentially Singaporean restaurants serving up local cuisine.
Also read: 8 of the best new cafes in Singapore
At this hip café that serves up fun interpretations of local desserts, signature treats include a moist, rich Gula Melaka Cake (S$7) smeared with molten palm sugar in between the layers, and a Chilled Pandan Soufflé (S$9) with crumbly almond streusel. For those without a sweet tooth, there is also a menu of Singapore-inspired savories such as beef short-rib noodles (S$16) — a dish made with unexpectedly crisp rice noodles in a silky broth, offering lots of interesting textures with each bite — and fried wanton dumplings stuffed with crab meat (S$8).
458 Joo Chiat Rd; +65 6345 5034; www.sinpopo.com
Founded in 1989 by a Singaporean couple now in their seventies, Jing Hua is a family-style restaurant specializing in delicate Shanghai-style dumplings, such as its popular signature of boiled mixed seafood and pork dumplings (S$8 for 10 dumplings) – and hearty noodle dishes such as Zha Jiang Noodles (S$5) with minced seafood in soybean sauce. Traditional desserts such as a crispy red bean pancake (S$10) will wrap up your meal in authentic southern Chinese style.
The restaurant has since opened up in Ginza, Japan and Milan, Italy under the leadership of second-generation family members. In Singapore, there are also swanky new outlets at Bugis and most recently, Palais Renaissance in Orchard. However, the Neil Road outlet in Singapore’s Chinatown is where it all started, and the menu has remained unchanged since the shophouse restaurant’s inception.
21 Neil Rd; +65 6221 3060; www.jinghua.sg
Dong Po Colonial Cafe
Kelvin Soh, son of Albert, set up this retro-chic café in 2013 to help his father fulfill his dream of running an authentic old-school bakery, as Albert did at popular ’70s bakery Tip Top. It also aims to preserve the Hainanese-Western confectionery passed down by his great-granduncle, who had learned baking from a French pastry chef during the 1950s.
Everything here — from bottled jams to the buttercream icing on the cakes — is made from scratch, and apart from reducing the sugar in a number of items, and replacing margarine with butter, the goods follow the old style quite faithfully. Interesting picks include the Butterfly (S$1.80), a buttery cupcake lled with buttercream; and the Soh family specialty of Almond Macaroon Tart (S$1.70), a tart filled with almond meal and topped with a crisp, airy macaroon — a treat that goes perfectly with black coffee.
56 Kandahar St; +65 6298 1318; facebook.com/DongPoColonialCafe
Stepping into this 75-year-old Hainanese eatery takes you back to the past. The old-world charm is ubiquitous: everything, from the walls tiled halfway to the ceiling, tables numbered by stickers, even the chopsticks rolled in filmy paper napkins, will take just about every Singaporean down memory lane. The chicken rice (S$5), for which Yet Con is famous, is made in a rustic style. Using mature chicken, the meat is a lot more gamey in taste. And with the bird cooked through to the bone and not plunged in cold water after, the skin is dry and salty in flavour. Those who appreciate this old-school Hainanese style of cooking come here specifically for it.
The home-style Hainanese dish of pork chops (S$6), drenched in a sweet-and-sour, ketchup-based sauce and served with almost-mushy peas and potato wedges on the side, is also a popular classic. The well-marinated fillets are robust in flavor, and cooked just right so that the meat is succulent while the breadcrumbed exterior is deliciously crisp.
25 Purvis St; +65 6337 6819
Spring Court Restaurant
Singapore’s oldest Chinese restaurant with 86 years’ history, Spring Court remains a firm favorite among diners seeking a taste of classics such as crisp suckling pig, and time-tested specials such as roast chicken with prawn paste, created at the restaurant in 1929. Set meals for one start at S$48 for six courses, and go up to S$98 per head for the extravagant Buddha Jumps Over the Wall — a nourishing double-boiled broth chock-full of premium ingredients such as sea cucumber, fish maw, scallops and abalone.
52-56 Upper Cross St; +65 6449 5030; www.springcourt.com.sg
Chin Mee Chin Confectionery
One of the last surviving Hainanese bakeries from the 1950s, this landmark coffee shop has been serving breakfast to generations of locals — and it still packs a crowd today. While the regulars come in for kopi (local-style coffee brewed with butter-roasted Robusta beans), soft-boiled eggs and soft, toasted buns (S$1 each) slathered with kaya (a custard jam made from coconut milk and screwpine leaves), the nostalgic flavor isn’t just in their food. Pick up a tub of their home-made kaya (S$3–5) to relive that Singaporean breakfast experience at home.
204 East Coast Rd; +65 6345 0419
Serving dim sum from as early as 7am, Red Star was the first to introduce the Hong Kong concept of “morning tea” when it was started 41 years ago. Helmed by Sin Leong, 88, and Hooi Kok Wai, 76 — two legendary chefs who have created dishes which have become modern classics, such as yu sheng (raw fish salad) and fobo piaoxiang (deep-fried yam ring with assorted vegetables) — it continues to be where innovative Chinese dishes are created. One such is the Golden Phoenix Big Bun ($3.20) that is as large as a dim sum steam basket and weighs 600g. Stu ed with ingredients such as chicken, pork, salted egg yolk, waxed sausage and Chinese mushrooms, it easily feeds a few hungry people. The weekend crowds are huge, but if you have time to queue, it is the perfect place to soak up the inimitable atmosphere of an old-school Chinese restaurant.
54 Chin Swee Rd, #07-23; +65 6532 5266
Guan Hoe Soon
Started in 1953 by Yap Chee Kuee, this is Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant. It continues to be run by the same family, and dishes are
still prepared using Yap Senior’s recipes. Serving cuisine from the Straits Chinese who assimilated local Malay culture, signature dishes here include the rich, earthy ayam buah keluak (S$14–30), a chicken stew with Indonesian black nuts, sweet, tangy and spicy tamarind fish curry (S$29.80) and Chinese-style fish maw soup (S$14–30). The hearty dishes, served in large sharing portions, are best enjoyed as a group.
38/40 Joo Chiat Pl; +65 6344 2761; www.guanhoesoon.com
Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant
This no-frills eatery is just about as iconic to locals as the golden-domed Sultan Mosque just across the street, occupying the same unit where it was started in 1908 by Abdul Kadir from Kerala in southern India. It continues to be run by the same family and remains exceptionally popular for its murtabak (Middle Eastern stuffed pancake; S$6), which comes with a wide variety of fillings from grilled mutton to even venison. Also popular here is the Hyderabadi dum biryani (S$6–6.50), a generously portioned dish of long-grain basmati rice cooked with succulent pieces of meat, such as chicken, mutton or fish. Vegetarian versions are also available.
697/699 North Bridge Rd; +65 6298 6320
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Smile magazine.