Singapore is a frugal foodie’s paradise with expertly cooked, astoundingly flavorful dishes for well under $6 SGD ($4.45 USD). Street food markets, known as Hawkers, are in every neighborhood, and whether you are queuing up for a Michelin Star stall or ordering from a stumble upon where you are the only tourist, it will most likely be delicious.
If you are new to Asia, the food looks intimidating. All sorts of dead animal carcasses are haphazardly hanging around, you might catch a whiff of something rank, the signs look like pictures book, and everyone is energetically yelling while eating foods you’ve never seen before.
Balls of chewy, stinky, unknown substances, creatures looking back at you, and mounds of chopped food that could be intestines or cabbage for all you know are intimidating to try. It’s understandable to be wary of frog porridge, but don’t let those stalls dissuade you from diving into the Singapore Hawker scene!
Food and culture go hand and hand, and you can still learn about Singapore through classic dishes that are less scary. Here are three authentic “gateway street food” dishes to try that give you a taste of authentic Singapore to ease your way in to the bustling foodie scene.
Kaya Toast: Under $3 SGD ($2.23 USD)
Kaya toast with soft boiled eggs is a popular breakfast dish in Singapore that isn’t too different from something you’d eat in Western culture. It consists of two pieces of toasted bread with a pad of butter and spread of kaya, which is essentially coconut jam made from sugar, coconut milk, and eggs. Dipping the toast in soft boiled eggs makes for an amazing flavor combination that has a perfect touch of sweetness while still being a satisfying breakfast.
TIP: Be careful that the eggs aren’t too raw. They should be soft boiled with a runny yolk and slightly underdone white.
My first Kaya toast experience was in a mall basement food court. I cracked two nearly raw eggs into a dish and happily ate them with my toast assuming that was how it was supposed to be. I’ve eaten some pretty strange things, and raw egg seemed harmless compared to scorpion. I found out how the eggs are actually supposed to look in my later kaya toast experiences. Oh well… there are worse things for you than raw egg.
Carrot Cake: $4 SGD ($2.79 USD)
When I say, “carrot cake”, you are probably imagining a decadent, large slice of dark, spiced-filled carrot cake with fluffy cream cheese icing between each layer . Well, think again. Carrot cake in Singapore is a savory dish that, despite the English translation of the name, doesn’t even have carrots. The actual carrot cake portion is nothing more than rice flour and radish mixed together, cut into cubes and marinated with fish and soy sauce. This mixture is then stir fried up with egg, garlic, and preserved making for a delicious, omelet-like hash. I recon it would make a killing in roadside diners!
Stalls specializing in this dish that have a big “CARROT CAKE” sign are looking to bring in people intrigued by the novelty of it. This is good for you because it means they are targeting tourists and will be happy to help you blunder your way through the order.
For my first carrot cake experience, the short woman smiled at me with a “you want carrot cake?” as soon as I peered over at the wok. She asked me which type I wanted. I shrugged, and she offered, “I give you mix of both!” Turns out the only different between white and black carrot cake is that black carrot cake is served with dark soya sauce.
While you should give Singapore carrot cake a try, pop over to the Fabulous Baker Boy if you want a slice of western style carrot cake!
Hainanese Chicken Rice $3.50 SGD ($2.60 USD)
This classic dish is simple: poached chicken and seasoned rice topped with chili sauce. I tried out the world-famous Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall at the Maxwell Hawker known for it’s praises from Anthony Bourdain and Gordan Ramsey. Let me tell you, it lived up to the hype. The chicken was beautifully tender with a pure flavor untarnished by additives and unnecessary seasonings. It was placed on a bed of rice that had a touch of soy sauce to give the dish some salt, and it all tied together in perfect harmony with the spicy, slightly sweet, chili sauce on the side.
Don’t let the rows of hanging, dead chicken turn you off from giving Hainanese Chicken Rice a go. I’d put money on you going back for more….
While the dishes themselves give you an insight into the country’s culture, the process is the important part. Walking through a busy Hawker, ordering your food with a language barrier, and eating next to the locals is where the true experience lies. Opting for a sit down spot that is safe and easy will be five times more expensive, probably not as delicious, and much less fun!
Go ahead and get eating!
Need help in knowing how to order? I’ve got you covered! Click HERE!