Eating is a national obsession in Singapore. Whether you’re a first timer or frequent visitor, the city-nation is full of culinary delights, many of which are unique to Singapore’s melting pot of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures and its British heritage.
I’ve been visiting Singapore twice a year since 2012 for Chinese Metaphysics workshops. (Did you know that the ancient art of Feng Shui has greatly influenced the landscape and prosperity of Singapore?) Most recently I had 10 days to explore the city – the longest time I’d spent since I was a permanent resident there many years ago. So what did I do in my free time? Eat, of course! Here are some of my favorites, old and new. For locations, refer to the map at the bottom.
The new and the trendy
Singapore has gone through dramatic changes in the past few years. What used to be the red light district around Keong Saik Road in Chinatown is now the city’s coolest block, with new restaurants and bars along side mom and pop shops.
Esquina is a must go for its yummy tapas & sangrias – from Chef Jason Atherton of 22 Ships in Hong Kong. It’s fun to sit at the bar and watch the chefs in action right in front of you. I’d love to do one of their Supperclub Series next time I’m back in town – check out their Facebook page for upcoming dates. While at Esquina, ask for the password to enter The Library, a hidden speakeasy-style cocktail bar next to The Study. You can’t miss the iconic building of Potato Head Singapore across the way – it’s whimsical inside, with a rooftop bar, too. If you like BBQ done the gourmet way, Burnt Ends is another super popular spot. Sit at the bar or reserve the one and only table in the back way in advance – I was lucky to share the booth with a friend and two strangers on our visit.
Hipsters will love the revitalized Tiong Bahru area. Have coffee at 40 Hands or a cupcake at the adorable Plain Vanilla Bakery before checking out the stores on the same block. Book lovers will be in heaven at BooksActually. Stop by Tiong Bahru Market if you’re hungry for cheap local street food – it’s one of the best hawker centres in Singapore.
After spending my first few days in the city trying the new, the Asian in me started craving the classic Singaporean food I grew up eating every summer and winter holidays of my childhood.
Must-try local favorites include Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, nasi padang, bak kut teh, Peranakan food (fusion of Chinese and Malaysian cuisines), and Chilli Crab. You’ll see the first four at every hawker centers like Maxwell Food Centre (the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stall is a must stop), Lau Pa Sat, or Tiong Bahru Market, and in food courts (a good one is the Food Republic at Wisma Atria on Orchard. I also like the one at Marina Bay Sands). Long Beach Seafood and Jumbo Seafood are known for their Chilli Crabs. Of course, everyone has their favorites and can get very opinionated! For laksa and Peranakan food, explore the shops and cafes on East Coast Rd in the quaint Katong area. Most well known is 328 Katong Laksa.
Hawker centres, food courts and humble coffee shops are neither glamorous nor comfortable – you sit on plastic chairs under fluorescent lights, and during lunch hour people stand over you ready to take your seat. The dishes don’t look too photogenic on Instagram either, but they’re truly satisfying comfort food, with prices that are easy on the wallet. For sure, these are the true taste of Singapore you’ll remember the most.