Singapore is famous for a number of things, including its amazing shopping, intense heat and delicious food. Oh yes, the food. When I was younger, I was lucky enough to live in Singapore with my family for a few years. One thing we quickly learned was there are two sides to Singapore, the very expensive side and the very cheap side.
You can go to a restaurant and easily pay hundreds of dollars for a meal, let alone a glass or bottle of wine, that would have cost you $80 in Brisbane. Similarly, you can go to a Hawker Centre or food court and pay $20 for dinner and non-alcoholic drinks for three people. The most authentic food experiences and the best places to eat in Singapore are Hawker Centres.
It’s always fun to go out for a nice meal, but in Singapore, it isn’t really sustainable to eat every meal like that and to be honest, it isn’t really that fun. But does that mean you have to compromise? Does it also mean you’re missing out on the best food Singapore has to offer? Ah no, amigo, it does not.
Watch our ‘Exploring Singapore’s heartland’s on the Makan Bus’ video
Some of the best food you can eat in Singapore comes from a Hawker Centre or food court and, what’s great about that is, they’re everywhere! There’s a food court in or close to every shopping centre and they serve incredible food at a fraction of the price of everywhere else. The most authentic food experiences you can have in Singapore will happen in a Hawker Centre or food court, so go there … immediately!
If you’re planning a trip to Singapore and are trying to find the best things to eat, while not blowing your budget, check out the list below for some serious Singapore food inspiration. Hint: eat ALL the dumplings!
The best things to eat in Singapore
1. Kaya Toast
Incredibly well-known in Singapore as a breakfast staple and snack, kaya toast is prepared using kaya, a coconut jam made with sugar, coconut milk, eggs and pandan. It is usually served sandwich-style, in between two pieces of toasted bread. Usually, it’s served with a solid slab of butter on the toast as well, but if that kinda thing makes you feel ill like I do, ask them to make it without butter. This Hainanese delicacy is sweet and delicious and costs around $1.50SG.
2. Tea and coffee
Rather than visiting a cafe, head to one of the traditional coffee shops or kopitiams at a food court or Hawker Centre. You’ll have an authentic Singapore rocket-fuel-coffee experience and save yourself a whole lotta dosh in the process.
There’s a lot to choose from, including kopi peng (iced coffee with condensed milk), teh peng (iced tea with condensed milk), cham or yin yang (a mixture of sweetened tea and coffee) and an assortment of other hot and iced drinks, from black coffee through to Milo dinosaurs! I’m a soy drinker and don’t like the taste of regular milk, but can easily knock back a kopi or teh with condensed milk. Each drink should cost around $1.20 – $1.50SG.
So many dumplings, so little time. Eating dumplings in Singapore isn’t a joke, guys, it’s pretty much a professional sport. Some of the best dumplings you will ever experience will come into your life on a trip to Singapore, so don’t miss out on them. For those on a budget, head to 126 Eating House in Geylang for a great experience. This rough and ready locals haunt isn’t known for its decor, it’s known for serving dang good dim sum and affordable prices. The fried prawn roll, fried carrot cake, signature tofu stick and custard buns are all must-try dishes.
For those with a little more cash to splash, visit Mouth Restaurant on Orchard Road or Cross Street, one of my absolute favourite places! This Singaporean institute is still very affordable and serves delicious dim sum, including amazing seafood – not to be missed.
4. Char Kway Teow
But… what does that mean? Literally, it translates to ‘stir-fried rice cake strips’. It consists of stir-fried flat rice noodles, light and dark soy sauce, chilli, belachan, prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and Chinese chives. It can also have egg, Chinese sausage and fish cake mixed through it, depending on the person preparing it. If you’re looking for a super-healthy meal, this ain’t it, but it is tasty! It should cost around $5SG.
5. Fried carrot cake
Traditionally known as Chai Tow Kway, it shatters our western ideas of what a carrot cake is as it contains no carrot and is not a cake. But… what? Why? Chai Tow Kway is made of stir-fried cubes of radish cake (steam rice flour, water and shredded white daikon) and, in South East Asian countries, the word for daikon can also refer to a carrot. Hence the confusion. The radish cake is fried with eggs, preserved radish and spring onions and goes incredibly well with a big whack of sambal or chilli on top. It should cost around $5SG.
Rojak is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad commonly found in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The word Rojak translates to ‘mixture’ and is a great option for vegetarians or those after something light to eat. It’s the perfect mix between fresh, spicy and sweet.
There are a few different kinds of Rojak you can get your mitts on, including my favourite, fruit rojak. Typically made of sliced cucumber, pineapple, benkoag, bean sprouts, a type of puffy/deep-fried tofu, Chinese-style fritters and possibly mango and/or green apple. Which is then tossed through a dressing of water, sugar, chilli and lime juice and topped with chopped peanuts and pink ginger bud. Non-vegetarian versions include prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs and cuttlefish and tend to be a little heavier, possibly including potatoes too. It should cost around $5SG.
7. Hainanese chicken rice
The holiest of all holy meals in Singapore. It’s so important to Singaporeans they even made a movie about it, a Romeo and Juliet inspired piece called The Chicken Rice War which tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers at the centre of their families’ bitter chicken-rice feud, played out mostly in a Hawker Centre. I’m not joking. It’s a real thing and it’s actually not that bad.
Chicken rice is considered Singapore’s national dish, which makes it a must-try for any visitor. It has been adapted from Chinese immigrants to Singapore, originating from southern China’s Hainan province. The chicken is prepared using traditional Hainanese methods, including steeping the entire chicken at sub-boiling temperatures in a pork and chicken bone stock. The broth is used repeatedly and is only topped up with water when needed. A separate chicken stock is used to prepare the rice, making it oily and full of flavour.
It is served authentically with a very hot chilli sauce (made of minced red chilli and garlic), fresh cucumber, light soy sauce and, sometimes, a side bowl of broth or steamed greens. It should cost you between $4SG and $7SG. Note: what it lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for in kick-ass flavour.
8. BBQ Chicken wings
Ooooh yum! You are in for a real treat here guys, because Singapore serves up some of the world’s best BBQ chicken wings. Crispy skin on the outside, perfect juicy meat on the inside. They’re cooked rotisserie style, using a kebab-like heat source and a hand-held fan and are served with a fresh lime and chilli, the same as the one you get with chicken rice. These wings are an absolute must-do for visitors and set you back around $1.50SG per wing or they usually have deals for a half dozen or dozen.
The best places to get them? Head to Bedok North BBQ Chicken wings at 85 Fengshan Centre, Blk 85 Bedok North Street OR Teddy Bear BBQ Chicken Wing at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, 1220 East Coast Parkway. Don’t worry, any cab driver worth his salt will know the Fengshan and East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centres.
9. Roti Prata
Roti Prata has to be my favourite thing to eat in Singapore, when I’m there I eat it just about every day. It’s a fried flour-based pancake or flatbread cooked over a flat grill and is served with a vegetable or meat based curry. You can get loads of different fillings for your part, including cheese, onion, mushroom, egg and even banana.
Most prata places will have a lunch-time deal where you can get a chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian curry and prata for a set price. I prefer to order one or two pieces of plain prata with a vegetarian dipping curry and wash it down with a traditional sweetened ice tea or teh pang. Plain prata with a dipping curry will cost you $1.20SG per piece.
10. Indian vegetarian
Oooh, yeaaaahhhh, another of my absolute favourite things to eat in Singapore. Go directly to Little India. Do not pass go and do not collect $200. Just go there and feast. My favourite place to visit is Komala Villas, a very well known spot in Little India which serves exceptional Northern Indian Food. Also, a good place to visit for Southern Indian food that isn’t vegetarian, is The Banana Leaf Apolo, which is famous for its fish head curry and mango-prawn curry.
If you’re going to Komala Villas, and you really should, be sure to try the amazing Masala Dosai. It’s basically a very long crepe made of rice batter and black lentils (perfect for those with gluten intolerance). The Masala Dosai is stuffed with curried potato and spices, the crepe is then wrapped around it, kinda like a really, really big cannoli. It’s served with a number of different dipping sauces and curries, all vegetarian of course. Masala Dosai should cost around $3.50SG.
(note: don’t get confused and go to a place called ‘Komala’s’… make sure you go to Komala Villas.)
11. Fresh crab
Sit down to a delicious fresh crab and an icy cold tiger beer at the Happy Crab in Geylang. Delicious fresh crabs are prepared perfectly and are served with a selection of home-made chilli sauces and mayonnaise or you can eat it as-is. Prepare to get covered in crab juice! Crack your way through the rock hard shells and feast on the tasty meat inside. What I love about Happy Crab, is they don’t overcook the seafood or mess with it, they just BBQ it to perfection! It’s cooked simply and cooked well to retain the maximum amount of flavour. Perfect!
13. Fresh fruit and juices
There is an abundance of beautiful, fresh, tropical fruit in Singapore, so take advantage of it. At every Hawker Centre there should be a fruit shop, just walk over and choose the fruit you want and ask them to chop it up for you. It’s served on a plate with toothpicks to eat with. It’s so hot the last thing you feel like is a stodgy, heavy dessert, so why not try some of the incredible fruit instead!
I also recommend trying the local ice lemon tea, ice honey lime tea and sugar cane juice which are lovely and sweet and cheap as chips! Much more refreshing on a hot day than a can of soft drink. A big honey lime tea or sugar cane juice should only cost around $1.50SG.
12. Ice Kachang
If you’re really feeling the heat, stop into a hawker centre for ice kachang. This Malaysian dessert is probably very different to what you’re used to eating, it consists of shaved ice topped with things like corn, logans, condensed milk, coloured syrup, coconut milk, red beans and jellies. It looks weird, like a rainbow shaved ice covered in jelly and corn, but tastes amazing! It should cost between $1.50SG and $3SG.
Watch our ‘Singapore for first-timers’ video
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.