Food & Beverage

If you come to Singapore, you gotta eat this ...

Aza Wee Sile
Lau Pa Sat Food Center in the Central Business District of Singapore.
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Singapore's thriving gastronomic culture will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the city-state. Most locals' social activities revolve around food and Singaporeans are relentless in their efforts to find the best and newest dishes. But it is old-school fare, originating from around Asia in a reflection of Singapore's rich cultural diversity, that occupies a permanent spot in the hearts and stomachs of the Lion City's people. Here are ten of Singapore's best-loved dishes.

By Aza Wee Sile
Posted 7 August 2015

1. Hainanese Chicken Rice

Hainanese Chicken Rice.
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Hands-down Singapore's most famous dish, Hainanese chicken rice is a version of Hainanese "Wenchan chicken," a boiled chicken dish, eaten with a dip made of spices from Hainan, China, and adapted by early immigrants from southern China.

The main ingredients are steamed or roasted chicken, rice and a clear chicken broth. Some might argue that the measure of the chef's prowess is the rice. Deceptively simple in appearance, the authentic flavors are hard to master, as celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay would know.

In a highly publicized cook-off in 2013, Ramsay's attempt at chicken rice lost to Foo Kui Lian's, owner of the popular Tien Tien Hainanese Chicken Rice restaurant chain.

2. Mee Pok / Bak Chor Mee

Fishball noodles.
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Mee Pok is a local noodle dish, served with either fish balls (Yu Yuan Mee Pok) or mushrooms and minced meat (Bak Chor Mee Pok). Thick, flat wheat noodles are blanched in hot water before being tossed into a mixture of chili, oil, vinegar, soy sauce and pepper.

For diners lacking Singaporeans' casual tolerance for spicy tastes, tomato ketchup can substitute for the chili.

3. Chai Tow Kway (Fried Carrot Cake)

Chai Tow Kway (Fried carrot cake).
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This one catches out every visitor, because the savory dish is neither a cake nor made of carrots.

White rice cakes made of a radish and rice flour mixture are marinated in fish sauce and dark soya sauce, before the dough is cubed and fried with eggs, oysters and prawns.

4. Laksa

Laksa Lemak.
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Laksa is a thick sauce (known as gravy) and noodle dish with fish cake, prawns, cockles and bean sprouts added. This dish is of Peranakan origin. Peranakans are the ethnic Chinese who settled in the group of British territories located in Southeast Asia, and adopted certain aspects of Malay culture. There are two main variations of the dish, characterized by different soup bases.

The first is Laksa Lemak - white noodles served in a spicy and creamy broth, heavy with coconut milk. It is also known as Katong Laksa because of the concentration of Laksa restaurants in the Katong area of Singapore. The second version is Assam Laksa, with a tangy, fish-based broth, served with lots of fresh mint leaves.

This dish can also be found in Malaysia, typically in areas with high Peranakan populations, such as Malacca or Penang.

5. Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak.
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Nasi Lemak is regarded as Malaysia's national dish and its popularity in Singapore harks back to the period in the city-state's history when it was a part of British Malaya.

The dish is composed of fragrant rice steamed with coconut cream, deep-fried fish or chicken wings, a fried egg and sambal (a chili condiment). Garnishes include sliced cucumbers, peanuts and fried ikan bilis (anchovies).

It is a popular breakfast option that is sold by both the Chinese and Malay food stall operators, known as hawkers, who cook it using numerous variations of the different components.

6. Rojak

Rojak.
CNBC

Rojak is Malay for "mixture." This traditional tropical salad consists of bean sprouts, deep-fried soybean cake (tau pok), fried flour strips (you tiao), turnip, pineapple, cucumber and chopped roasted peanuts. The salad dressing is a sweet and spicy fermented prawn paste that can take some getting used to.

7. Satay

Satay, with Kutupat and peanut sauce.
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Satay originated from Arab traders who traded in Southeast Asia in the 15th century, and was adopted into the Malay cuisine.

The meat skewers are barbecued over a charcoal fire, and served with a side of fresh onions and cucumbers, ketupat (Malay rice cakes wrapped in a weaving pattern of coconut leaves) and a sweet peanut sauce.

8. Roti Prata

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Roti Prata -- Roti is malay for "bread" and Prata or Paratha means "flat" in Hindi -- is a fried pancake served with sugar or curry. It is ubiquitous around Singapore, sold mostly by Indian Muslims at coffee shops or hawker centers and commonly eaten at breakfast or as a late-night supper.

The prata-making process is a delight to watch - the cook twirls the piece of dough in a circular motion until it thins out, before it is folded into a multi-layered pancake that is then fried on a griddle.

9. Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast.
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Kaya (coconut jam) toast is a breakfast or tea staple in Singapore. Kaya is generously spread on crust-less bread slices along with a dollop of butter.

It is generally ordered in a set with the local coffee and soft-boiled eggs, which the kaya toast is dipped into.

10. Durian

Durian fruit.
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Although this is technically a fruit, durians are a must try when in Singapore. Be warned though, to say it is an acquired taste is an understatement.

"A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine and other incongruous dishes," wrote Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist in his 1869 book "The Annotated Malay Archipelago."

Nicknamed the "King of Fruits," the odor of durian is so overwhelming and penetrating that it has been banned in most public spaces, hotels and modes of transport in Singapore.

The architecture of the Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, a performing arts center in Singapore, was inspired by the fruit's thorny shell.