Singaporean food indicates the unique blend of flavors derived from various world cuisines. The sheer ethnic diversity of this tiny island has crossed over into the cuisine leading to an amalgamation of food from all local regions as well as neighbouring countries. Modern Singaporean cooking has a melting pot of Indian, Chinese, Tamil, Malay, and even Western foods that are all modified to suit the Singaporean taste buds.
Historical and Cultural Influences
The ancient Singaporean food was bland rice, accompanied by fish and local game that could be found abundantly on the island. As the island was colonized, Chinese immigrants came over from the Chinese mainland and bought their cooking styles with them. This was followed by the Indians who came as sepoys from India, Arabs from the Hadramut region, the Jews and Armenians who came as traders to the Island. All these immigrants bought their own cooking styles and recipes that had to be adapted to fit the food ingredients available in the city. Rice remained the staple followed by local vegetables like corn, plantains, sweet potato, and tropical fruits. Fish was readily available and coconuts were used to create gravies. Sweets were very popular too with sweet cakes made from rice flour and agar-agar being the most popular. The Chinese bought noodles which became the staple breakfast dish of the city.
Singaporean food has three major influences. The inclusion of several food cultures is mostly seen in restaurants and in street food. But most locals eat almost all varieties of food and prepare them at home too.
- Chinese dishes- These dishes use more of Chinese cooking ingredients and contain more noodles. Roast pork, fish, meat and fresh vegetables are all included into the recipes. Classic dishes of this category include Bak kut the or pork rib soup in Chinese spices
- Malay dishes - Use a large amount of fresh herbs like lemon grass, pandan leaves and coconut milk. Food of this category are ayam goring or fried chicken with malay spices, ayam percik or sweet barbequed chicken, assam pedas or a porridge of seafood and chicken and vegetables in coconut milk etc
- Indian dishes - include traditional recipes like appams, dosa, achar or pickle, curry, putu mayam or rice noodle cakes, murtabak or a folded dough with mince on the inside etc
Commonly Used Ingredients
Ingredients that commonly found their way in the cuisine include curry powder from India, light and dark soya sauce, coconut milk, whole spice or five spice powder from China, oyster sauce, lemongrass, rice, fermented bean pastes, blacan or shrimp paste, Rice vermicelli or bee hoon, broad rice noodles or kway Teow, rice flour, pandan leaves, agar-agar, glutinous rice and ordinary rice, dang hoon or mung bean vermicelli, ikan bilis or dried anchovies, and yellow noodles or Hokkien.
Generally a mix of Singaporean food can be seen in Singaporean homes even if they belong to a particular community. Traditional recipes that are popularly cooked at home include the follwoing:
- Chicken Rice- this is a simple breakfast, lunch or even dinner dish that is served in different variations all over the state. Steamed or boiled chicken is served on top of fragrant rice with cucumber on the side. As a variation, roasted chicken or soy sauce chicken is served along with dipping sauces like chili with garlic for those who want it.
- Wonton or Wantan mee - small dumplings that are filled with meat and served at the beginning of a meal or just as snacks. This is a popular roadside Singaporean food but it is also made quite regularly at home too. Different versions of the steamed dumplings can be found at speciality wonton restaurants where they can be a complete meal in itself.
- Desserts - like almond jelly, beancurd barly, bubur cha cha, chndol asi, cheng tng, are all very popular street Singaporean food variations.
- Drinks - are a separate category too with a large variety that are sold by hawkers. Most popular variations include the Horlicks Dinasour where pressed powder is served on top, Milo Godzilla with ice cream and cream, the Singapore sling, soya bean milk, sugar cane juice, the halia tarik or giner tea, tiger beer, bandung or rose syrup drinks and bubble tea which are local specialties.
Singapore is very famous for its local street Singaporean food which is popular with the locals as well as the expats who have settled in the city.