This article has been written for the NZ Food Writers monthly Digest
Melissa Koh is a photographer from Singapore who has been living in New Zealand for the past five years. Over the summer holiday, she went home and spent three weeks eating all her favourites. We asked her for her advice on must-eats for any of us heading that way in 2020.
“Aiyo, let’s makan there lah, more ho jiak!” This mishmash of Tamil, Malay, English and Hokkien (Chinese dialect) is Singlish for “The food at the other place is tastier, we should dine there instead” — reflects the nation’s unique multiculturalism at play. Like this colloquial expression, Singapore’s food scene exhibits diversity and hybridity.
This food-obsessed melting pot is home to a staggering number of travel-worthy eats —from $3 to $300 a meal, from down-to-earth hawker food to some of the finest gastronomic indulgence. Here is a personally-curated list of dining destinations for like-minded food lovers eager to travel off the beaten path in search of palatal pleasure and inspiration:
Singapore is world-renowned for Chilli Crabs, and where better to enjoy it than at Roland Restaurant (#06-750, 89 Marine Parade Central), which dishes up the original recipe created in 1956. Lavish crustaceans don’t often make an appearance in a regular Singaporean lunch or dinner. The best way to eat like a local is to soak in the vibrant atmosphere of hawker centres.
Hainanese Chicken Rice — which shares a similarly internationally-recognised status — is a common staple. It can be found island-wide from humble hawker centres and hotel restaurants, to sky-high on Singapore Airlines. You can’t go wrong with the Gordon Ramsay-approved Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (#01-10 Maxwell Food Centre). However, be prepared to wait in line during lunch hours, with office executives arriving in droves from neighbouring CBD offices. While you are at Maxwell Food Centre, don’t miss out on comforting Hoe Kee Congee (#01-45/46).
Apart from Hainanese Chicken Rice, must-try local favourites including Hokkien Mee, Oyster Omelette, Fried Carrot Cake, and Satay. I satisfy my cravings for all these at Chomp Chomp Food Centre (20 Kensington Park Rd), a hawker centre I frequent. I get my Char Kway Teow fix from Zion Riverside Food Centre (#01-17, 70 Zion Rd) or Old Airport Road Food Centre (#01-12, 51 Old Airport Rd), both equally artery-clogging but irresistibly scrumptious.
Steeped in rich history, Sungei Road Laksa (#01-100, 27 Jln Berseh) is definitely worth a detour. Enjoy Malay delights like Mee Rebus and Nasi Padang (pick from a myriad of dishes to go with rice), at Arab Street’s Kampong Glam Cafe (17 Bussorah St), and generous portions of Singapore’s favourite Indian food like Nasi Biryani and Fish Head Curry at The Banana Leaf Apolo (54 Race Course Rd). A popular supper spot, The Roti Prata House (246 Upper Thompson Rd) serves up some of the crispiest Roti Prata in Singapore.
A trip to Singapore is not complete without a Peranakan meal, especially at the iconic Violet Oon (Singapore’s food ambassador). Strategically located in Jewel Changi Airport (#01-205/206), ION Orchard (#03-28/29), Clarke Quay (#01-18), and National Gallery (#02-01), attractive exploration and shopping options are aplenty between meals.
This tiny urban island has attracted some of the finest culinary talents. Find exquisitely crafted and gloriously decorated creations at any of Singapore’s 44 Michelin-awarded restaurants. Notably, JAAN (Swissôtel The Stamford) celebrates reinvented British cuisine 70 floors above ground level, while Labyrinth (#02-23, Esplanade Mall) revolutionises Singaporean flavours. If you have time for just one gastronomic indulgence, 3 Michelin-starred Odette (#01-04, National Gallery) promises a solid modern French dining experience.