Where better to get your bearings and sample the culinary delights of Asia than in cosmopolitan Singapore. This multicultural city is a melting pot of the exquisite tastes from around the continent and a go-to destination for sampling the delicious dishes of its nearby neighbors.
A luxurious starting point for your gastronomic journey is the storied Raffles Singapore. Check in here and allow yourself to be swept up in the iconic history that spans more than a century, sinking into the elegant colonial suites with their antique furniture and dedicated butler. Besides being the height of comfort and luxury, you will be spoilt for choice with Raffles’ myriad of dining options – ideal for getting a taste for the finer flavors in the city. Meanwhile, at its culinary academy, you can discover how the divine alchemy of ingredients comes together. But more on that later.
As a cosmopolitan city, it is perhaps no wonder that Singapore’s top restaurants serve cuisine from all over the world. Pay a visit to Fratini La Trattoria to be guided by chef Gabriel Fratini through course after course of Italian classics, crafted with expertise – and with no menu. The south Indian influences in Singapore’s culinary landscape come through vibrantly at MTR in Little India, a well-loved, wholesome vegetarian joint. Indulge in the legendary dumplings and classic Chinese fare at Din Tai Fung or the sought-after baked buns with barbecue pork at Tim Ho Wan – the rags-to-riches restaurant that started as a humble hole-in-the-wall and is now the recipient of a Michelin star. For a true sensory experience, try dining in the dark at NOX, where visually-impaired waiters guide you to your seat and the textures, flavors and fragrances of your feast are heightened in the pitch black.
Ranked as the Best Street Food City in 2013, some of Singapore’s most exciting culinary discoveries are to be made outside its restaurants. The hotchpotch of what is considered Singaporean cuisine is a reflection of its ethnic diversity. Famous “Singaporean” dishes blend influences from Malaysia, China, Indonesia and India; while most of the dishes are available in restaurants, it is on the street that you will find local food at it best.
Start with Chicken Rice – a humble but enduringly popular combination of juicy boiled and braised chicken with rice that is cooked in stock and infused with ginger, drizzled with a Hainanese sticky sauce of chilli paste. It is easy to find – just look out for the vendors with chickens hanging at the front of their stall.
Hokkien Prawn Mee is a tasty dish of stir fried yellow egg noodles, which are soaked in stock made from pork bones and prawn heads. It is served with chicken or pork and seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar and chili, and often a lime wedge to brighten the flavor.
While Laksa in general comes from Singapore’s Malaysian neighbors, Katong Laksa is a homegrown and well-loved iteration. The spicy soup is flavoured with coconut milk and dried shrimp and sprinkled with cockles, prawns and fish cakes, but most important are the short chunks of thick vermicelli noodles that fill the broth. Among the most famous of the many hawkers who claim to be the originators of Katong Laksa is the man known as ‘janggut’. His stall, now helmed by his family, operates from Queensway Shopping Centre.
Roti Prata hails from south India, and this delicious, buttery pancake bread is traditionally served with egg, but nowadays it is widely available with cheese, chocolate and even ice-cream. On your travels, look out for the roti-men stretching and whirling the dough, before they slam it on the greased griddle to bubble and crisp.
Fish head curry, meanwhile, is truly international, combining influences from India, China and Malaysia. It is a dramatic and potent dish where vegetables and a huge fish head are cooked in a tasty curry, sometimes with the addition of tamarind juice, and served with rice or bread.
Head to Chinatown for streets packed with shophouses and hawkers cooking up mouth-watering delicacies. The eateries and watering holes here are favored by hungry expats looking for a good meal. Visit the city’s tea chapter to learn the art of preparing and serving Chinese tea and indulge in a perfect cup. Be sure to pick up a few souvenirs – there are some beautiful teapots and utensils as well as delicious teas to be had here.
Explore Little India, home to the Singapore’s Tamil community. The bustling, colorful neighborhood around Serangoon Road is populated with charming shophouses, mosques and temples. Wander the streets to browse the shops and stalls selling fresh flower garlands and gorgeous textiles, sampling the street-side bites to a Bollywood movie soundtrack.
Cook it yourself
Having tasted a little of what Singapore has to offer, gastronomes will be eager to try their hand at cooking up a storm themselves. Round off your food tour with a cooking class back at your elegant residence: in the hallowed grounds of the culinary academy, you can accompany its founder on a tour of the gardens to sample fresh, organic spices and learn the secret cooking techniques that make the cuisine here so unique.
Besides its flavorful offerings, Singapore offers countless other activities including shopping, museums, art galleries and even a night safari, which you can tie in with your mouth-watering culinary journey.