Hainanese chicken rice
No visit to Singapore is complete without sampling Hainanese chicken rice. As its name suggests, the dish traces its roots to early immigrants from southern China’s Hainan province, and has since evolved into a national icon. Its magical formula? Oily, fragrant rice (cooked in chicken stock, ginger, garlic and pandan leaves) that’s topped with strips of steamed chicken, and served with a spicy dipping sauce of minced red chilli and garlic.
Where to try it: Boon Tong Kee, 399/401/403 Balestier Rd, +65 6254 3937
Who would have guessed that an improvised recipe of steamed crabs, tomato sauce and chilli, invented by Cher Yam Tian with her husband back in the 1950, would still be such a roaring success? Ranked number 35 on CNNGo’s 2011 list of the World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods, chilli crab continues to be one of the nation’s best-loved dishes. At the couple’s Roland Restaurant, a whole crab is first stir-fried then drenched with an addictive, sweet-spicy gravy made of blended tomatoes, chilli paste and beaten egg. Mop up every last bit of sauce with pieces of mantou (buns that are steamed, then deep-fried) for a truly satisfying meal.
Where to try it: Roland Restaurant, #06-750, 89 Marine Parade Central; rolandrestaurant.com.sg
Bak kut teh
Bak kut teh (meat bone tea) was first brewed in the 1930s to supplement the paltry diets of coolies; today, this belly-warming dish is consumed by people from all walks of life. It essentially comprises pork ribs steeped in a flavorful broth that’s infused with assorted herbs and spices, such as star anise, cloves, ginseng, fennel seeds, garlic and cinnamon. Enjoy it with a bowl of steaming hot rice.
Where to try it: Song Fa Bak Kut Teh, #01-11, 11 New Bridge Rd, +65 6533 6128
Kickstart your mornings with a few slices of kaya toast, a local breakfast favorite. In this quintessential dish, a thick layer of coconut jam and a pat of butter is sandwiched between browned slices of bread. Add two soft-boiled eggs and a cup of kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) for a breakfast trifecta that hits the spot every time.
Where to try it: Killiney Kopitiam, 67 Killiney Rd, +65 6734 9648; killiney-kopitiam.com
At its most basic, this Peranakan noodle dish comprises thin rice vermicelli in a spicy soup. There are two kinds of laksa in Singapore — the first with a coconut milk-based broth, and the second with a tamarind base — with the former being more popular. More often than not, the noodles are topped with ingredients like cockles, prawns and fishcakes for extra oomph.
Where to try it: 328 Katong Laksa, 53 East Coast Rd, +65 9732 8163
In this Javanese dish, skewers of mutton, beef, chicken or pork are grilled over a charcoal or wood fire, and then served with rice cakes, cucumbers, sliced onions and a rich peanut dipping sauce. You’ll find that they’re sold in sticks of 10 for a reason — it’s quite impossible to stop at just one!
Where to try it: Kwong Satay, Sing Lian Eating House, 549 Lorong 29 Geylang; kwongsatay.com.sg
This Malay staple literally translates into “rich rice”, and sinful it is — think rice infused with coconut milk and pandan leaves, topped with deep-fried fish or chicken wings, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), peanuts, eggs and a fiery sambal (chilli paste). Mix all of the ingredients together for a party of flavors in your mouth. Fun fact: In an ironic twist, TIME recently put nasi lemak on its list of Top 10 Healthy Breakfast Foods, but the jury’s still out on whether it really is good for you!
Where to try it: Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak, Adam Food Centre, 2 Adam Rd
Originating from the north of the Indian subcontinent, this mixed rice dish is a real savory treat — think basmati rice peppered with spices like nutmeg and saffron, topped with vegetables, meat and egg, and served alongside chutney and curry. It’s one of the spiciest dishes on this list, so be sure to have a glass of water on hand.
Where to try it: Taj Authentic Indian Cuisine, 214 South Bridge Rd, +65 6226 6020