Singapore is widely considered a culinary capital, and the fantastic range of cuisines celebrated from a myriad of different cultures make it appealing to any food lover. In addition to readily available international fare, Singapore blends its own unique cultures and history to offer Singapore cuisine that takes the best from Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western dishes. Undoubtedly, Singapore’s food culture is a point of national pride and a major attraction for tourists and residents alike.
The food culture in Singapore is largely shaped by colonialism and the influx of immigrants from elsewhere in the region. Singapore was first populated by Malay natives and later inhabited en mass by Chinese, Indians, and Europeans. Each brought their own food cultures along, creating four distinct food types: European (Western), Chinese, Indian, and Malay. As time passed, inter-racial and cross-cultural exchanges took place through the blending of communities and families (supported by the government’s active policy of racial integration). These cross-cultural exchanges gave birth to distinctly Singapore foods, including the celebrated Peranakan cuisine. Peranakans are mixed Malay and either Chinese or Indian and have their own unique culture and cuisine, notable for its pastries, or “kuehs”.
Each race also presents its own distinct food culture. For example, the various Chinese ethnicities, including Teochew, Hokkien, and Cantonese, each brought their own dishes, which are notably different from each other. The Europeans brought in English, French, Dutch, German and Italian cuisine, while Indians have a large array of cuisines, ranging from South to North. While there are a few restaurants offering authentic cuisines from specific ethnic groups, many offer dishes infused with a mix of several cultures, thereby making the Singapore food scene so special. Popular local dishes include ba chor mee (minced pork noodle), fried hokkien prawn mee, satay, chilli crabs, roti prata, chicken rice, laksa, fried kuay teow, sliced fish soup, fried oyster, and curry fish head.
Hawker centres (food courts without air-conditioning) are the best (and cheapest) places to taste local foods. The best way to judge the many options available is to check for the queue at each stall. Foods are ordered directly from each stall, and brought to communal tables to enjoy. Foreign food is a bit harder to find in hawker centres and food courts, though, as of late, many food courts have begun to include Japanese, Korean and Western food vendors.
Aside from Singapore’s ‘indigenous’ cuisine, foreign food options are abundant. Every shopping center houses at least a dozen cuisine types, including Japanese, American, English, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Italian, and the like. Singapore is also well known for its stylish fine dining scene. Beautiful restaurants, though often pricey, are celebrated for their world-renowned chefs and award-winning décor.
Food in Singapore is very clean as there are tight licensing rules regulating food vendors. Thus, one need not worry too much about food-borne illness. Even hawker centres engage independent cleaning companies to ensure cleanliness and must meet strict criteria from food inspectors, as evidenced by the posted ‘grade’ on each stall. Therefore, it is generally safe to purchase any sort of food in Singapore, except for those items sold by the few illegal vendors who tout food in cardboard boxes outside MRT stations.