When it comes to range and diversity of cuisines in Asia, it’s hard to rival Singapore’s. From local gastronomy that’s rich in history to foreign fare brought to the country by expat chefs, the country has become a satisfying stew of sorts, delivering not just flavor but also value for money, be it from a Michelin-star restaurant or a hawker descended from generations.
In time for the 26th edition of the much-celebrated Singapore Food Festival (July 12-28), we come up with a list of places to dine in and items to order when in the city—this, on top of the activities lined up for the annual food celebration.
So tuck that napkin into your shirt and have an insatiable appetite—food coma awaits you in the Lion City.
Get to know the country through its food. In Singapore, it’s Nyonya, “which looms large as this is the cuisine with the most distinctive Singapore character,” says Violet Oon who has been advocating this kind of food in the chain of restaurants bearing her name. “It is a marriage of southern Chinese food from the Fukien province and the native Malay food of Singapore, with its strong roots in the Padang cuisine of Indonesia.”
Her restaurants have become synonymous with Singapore’s food traditions and culture. It started in 2014 with the launch of her first shop on Bukit Timah. Today, it has five branches, winning critical acclaim and loyal customers, both young and old.
“Innovation is not my space. Traditional is where I want to be,” she tells Lifestyle in an interview.
This is apparent in her nostalgic dishes like the buah keluak ayam, a classic Nyonya spicy chicken stew; udang goreng chili or prawns tossed in chili padi garlic rempah; and kueh beng kah, a grated tapioca cake topped with coconut milk.
One restaurant that has received a Michelin star for serving local cuisine is Candlenut. Led by chef Malcolm Lee, it gives traditional food a contemporary approach without losing the food’s flavor and essence. His spice pastes are made from scratch, and some of his dishes are lovingly cooked for long hours, the way he learned them from his mother at an early age.
His homemade kueh pie tee shells are filled with Boston lobster that’s been laminated with a baby shrimp dressing, and his satay is composed of lamb necks grilled and glazed with kecap manis. He has a stuffed baby squid bakar that comes with a candlenut turmeric broth; a kurobota pork curry with pumpkin; and a chendol made of shaved young coconut ice, pandan jelly and coconut konnyaku—classic Peranakan dishes that have been made more refined with Lee’s style.
For the long run
Singapore is ahead of the game when it comes to the drive for environment sustainability. It has committed itself to long-term goals meant to ensure it remains a liveable city amid rapid economic development. The F&B industry is in step with this advocacy.
At Yellow Pot Restaurant at Six Senses Duxton Hotel, for instance, the kitchen team researches and learns more about the ingredients they use, from what is fed the animals to the strict no-plastic, no-styrofoam delivery. All Six Senses hotels have banned the use of plastic straws and bottles since 2011.
Yellow Pot serves contemporary Chinese food and since the brand is big on health and wellness, the dishes come without preservatives, enhancers and MSG.
It strives to cut the carbon footprint of its supply chain. Take its Steamed Kühlbarra Barramundi. Instead of importing fish from Australia, the team takes trips to Singapore’s kelongs for the freshest catch.
Even the bars are in step with this sustainability drive. Native, which is in the top tier of the World’s 50 Best Bars, uses foraged ingredients. Founder Vijay Mudaliar sources ingredients for its cocktails, such as wild sorrel and tamarind, within the bar’s 400-meter radius. It doesn’t stock up on common spirits, and instead, serves liquors from the region such as Singapore gin and Filipino rum.
Eating with your hands
Dining is not just about food these days—people crave for the whole experience. Be it commendable staff service or scenic ambiance, eating out has become an affordable luxury. This is the case not just with tourists but also with locals looking to spice up their daily meals.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood has been hot even before it was featured in Netflix’s “Street Food” series. Famous chefs like Jose Andres make it their first stop in Singapore. Its coffee ribs and moonlight horfun (raw eggs on wok-fried rice noodles) make for easy bait.
This Michelin Plate zi char restaurant is run by brothers Wayne and Paul Liew, and what makes it an experiential dining destination is the hands-on service by the duo—they run the show almost every day. And the delightful dishes require you to wear a disposable bib and eat with your bare hands.
You can eat the mingzhu, prawn roll and clay pot liver with chopsticks, but once the signature dishes such as the chili crab, fried salted egg yolk crabs and butter cereal prawns are served, you simply roll up your sleeves and enjoy them the way you should, with fingers to lick after the meal.
How about dining in the open seas without having to rent a yacht?
With the Floating Donut Company, this unique experience will cost S$29 per person for a group of four.
In December 2018, owner Miriam Becker brought in her company from Phuket to Singapore and offered this service, starting with three donut boats.
A party as big as eight can sail around the bay, while feasting on a cold cut platter (comes with artisanal cheese, dried fruits, marmalade, waffle crackers and a sandwich) or seafood menu (Fine de Claire oysters, clams, Boston mussels, prawns, smoked salmon, olives, pickles and a sandwich) with a bottle of champagne or cold beer.
Each boat has a built-in table or ice bowl, cooler, umbrella, LED lights, and of course, a private captain to bring you from the Clifford Pier down to the calm waters of the Collyer Quay and around Marina Bay. And—there’s karaoke.
There are vegan restaurants like HRVST Bistro, and hawkers that specialize in single dishes like Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Taking over the space formerly run by Meta (they have moved to a bigger location on the same Keong Saik street), Thevar started introducing diners to mod-Indian food late last year. Spearheaded by Mano Thevar whom the place is named after, the contemporary grill restaurant will let you have your fill of spices and reacquaint you with traditional Indian fare presented in a more refined manner.
Rasam granita is placed over fresh Pacific oysters, butter mushroom naan is paired with paneer cheese, and the murtabak is stuffed with veal bone marrow. A must-order is the pork cheek coconut sambal where a chunk of gelatinous meat has been crumbed, deep fried and wrapped in a betel leaf along with aioli and sweet pickled cucumber.
Much anticipated this month is the opening of Cheek by Jowl chef Rishi Naleendra’s Cloudstreet. The 40-seat modern Australian restaurant on Amoy Street is a dream come true for the talented 34-year-old. Naleendra will serve the kind of inspired food that reflects his culinary evolution since he moved to Singapore five years ago.
Lunch will be three courses, dinner five. The chef plans to keep the diners in suspense. We had the pleasure of trying his tasting menu last week—licorice and dark malt bread, lamb saddle with jackfruit curry, and caramelized porcini cream with milk ice cream—and if that’s any indication of the cuisine at Cloudstreet, the diners are in for a delicious treat.
Singapore won’t be outdone when it comes to desserts.
For kuehs, it’s Kim Choo Kueh Chang. It has been around since 1945, churning out popular pasalubong like pineapple tarts, almond sugee cookies, and pandan love letters, which are similar to our barquillos. Kuehs of different shapes, sizes and colors like the kueh lapis, which is akin to our sapin-sapin, oteh, and wa ko kueh are the first thing you see at the entrance. It will be hard to leave the shop without either enjoying one or taking a bunch home.
More than a handful of shops offer trendy and reinvented specialties. For instance, the gula melaka or palm sugar, an important component of chendol, has already seen many inventive interpretations. Among them is the gula melaka cake from Sinpopo, just one in a range of pastries inspired by local confections. They carry ondeh ondeh, kueh sarlat, and pulut hitam layer cakes, too.
Cremier in Tiong Bahru offers salted gula melaka ice cream. It has become a cult favorite, best enjoyed with cooked-to-order waffles.
If those aren’t enough to tease your tastebuds, here’s a sure draw. Running from July 12-28, the Singapore Food Festival has activities. This year, “Streat” will showcase 12 F&B stalls at The Promontory on Marina Boulevard July 12-13. Among those participating are Woo Wai Leong of Restaurant Ibid who will serve Chinese beef curry bowls; Wok In Burger with chili soft shell crab spaghetti; Meat Smith with smoked char siew ribs; and the Origin Bar with signature cocktails. Workshops will also be held on both days.
Other notable events include a Vegan Street Food Crawl hosted by VegThisCity, a limited offering of chili crab ramen from Ippudo, a tea festival by Teapasar, a Park Bench Deli x Candlenut collab featuring a buah keluak burger, and a kueh appreciation day by Slow Food (Singapore). —CONTRIBUTED
For a complete list of events: www.visitsingapore.com. Special thanks to the Singapore Tourism Board.