Food, food, food

Food has always been used as a tool to define culture and identity, especially in defining characteristics of a country. This is especially true in the case of Singapore where the humble food has taken on iconic status and is rarely separated from the concept of national identity. This can be seen where praise for the high variety and versatility of food is often included in the assessment of the country itself. In this small nation of over 4 million people, food is a national passion as proven by the 20,000 eating establishments all over the county. Wherever one is, there is surely an eating place of some sort near them, showing just how pervasive dining has become.

What is Singapore food? This is food introduced by early immigrants to maintain an identity of their roots while in this foreign land. It has its origin in India, China, Malaysia and other countries in the region, leading detractors to claim that there is no such thing as Singapore food. They are only partially right because Singapore's cuisine is 'Singaporeanized', a fusion of the many cultures and races that have lived together on the island.

Being the food capital of Asia, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Western foods are all available. Indian Muslim food(so called Mamak food) is very popular, with roti prata, mee goreng, Indian rojak, nasi padang, mutton soup being some of the more popular dishes. Dishes from India, particularly northern India, are popular in Singapore, but the Tamil's (the Indian majority in Singapore) prefer the hot and spicy southern Indian cuisine, with its saffron rice.
Malay cuisine is a blend of traditional dishes from Malaysia with strong influences from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Coconut and Belacan is an essential ingredient when cooking these dishes. Malay dishes, use a variety of spices such as the kaffir, lime leaf and lemon grass, shallots and garlic, ginger and galangal to give it its characteristically piquant, spicy flavor. Some of the favorite Malay dishes among Singaporeans are Satay, Beef Rendang. and Soto Ayam. For religious reasons, pork is never used in Malay cuisine.

Roti Prata

Chinese food itself can be subdivided into those from the different dialect groups, namely Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew, Hainan and Hokien dishes. Famous dishes like Dim Sum, Cantonese porridge (sometimes called congee) and Wanton soup originate from Cantonese cooking. The Hakkas are famous for their Yong Tao Foo (stuffed tofu). Originally filled with minced pork flavoured with salted fish, the hawker version consists of a variety of boiled vegetable filled with fish paste that comes either with various sauces or as a soup. Through this dish, their values of thriftiness and diligence are reflected, showcasing part of their identity. The Teochews are famous for their fish ball noodles(especially Mee Pok - flat egg noodles), porridge and steamed dishes. Next, there is the well-known Hainanese Chicken rice, whose popularity easily earns it the status of an unofficial national dish. The Hokkiens who make up the largest Chinese ethnic group in Singapore offer dishes like Oyster omelette, Char Kway teow and Hokkien Mee.

Chicken Rice

The culture of Singapore food expresses a rich mixture of diversity as various ethnic groups continue to celebrate their own cultures while intermingling with one another. It is common to see Malay stalls selling halal food also serving halal versions of traditional Tamil food. Chinese stalls sometimes also introduce Malay ingredients, cooking techniques or entire dishes into their range of catering. Nonya cooking is a famous example of the local variation on Chinese and Malay food, mixing Chinese ingredients with local spices such as lemon grass and coconut cream. The popular spicy, coconut-based soup laksa is a classic Nonya example. Western dishes like chicken cutlet and fish and chips have also adopted an asian fusion with stalls sometimes serving it with rice rather than potatoes Seafood is another popular and social food that embraces the food culture of diversity. Chili crabs, black pepper crabs, drunken prawns, and curry fish head cooked using the famous sambal chili of the Malays, the curry of the Indians along with spices of the Chinese are enjoyed by all. Eating barbequed sting ray from a piece of banana leaf is also no longer just malay culture, it is an intricate part of Singaporean seafood culture. This continues to make the cuisine of Singapore significantly rich and a cultural attraction.


This rich diversity of food has become such an integral part of Singaporean culture that there is no longer any conscious segregation of it under different racial or dialect groups. Due to a history of interracial and inter-class mingling, most citizens have already embraced these differences under Singaporean food as a whole. Meals are planned not according to racial distinctions but according to the taste and preference of the day. It is so common for people to eat food outside of their racial or dialect group that no one even bats an eyelid. It is also not surprising if one has taken food from all the different races within a day.