Singapore's best street food

As the culinary meeting point of China, India and Malaysia, Singapore offers a wide-ranging food scene that is one of the most vibrant in Southeast Asia. Here is our guide to Singapore street food – why not try cooking some yourself at home?
Enjoy char kway teow – a favorite Singapore street food dish with stir-fried rice noodles, seafood, and beansprouts, on a trip to the vibrant island city state. Photo: Ariyani Tedjo/Shutterstock
Enjoy char kway teow – a favorite Singapore street food dish with stir-fried rice noodles, seafood, and beansprouts. Photo: Ariyani Tedjo/Shutterstock

Hawker centers, markets, and street-side shacks are scattered all over Singapore. Scores of Malay, Chinese and Indian stalls offer a wide range of traditional fare at affordable prices. And while travel to Asia might seem a distant dream in the wake of coronavirus, the good news is that there are some great recipes out there so you can recreate these delicacies in the comfort of your own home. So pop that apron on and get cookin'. 

Singapore signature dishes

Singapore's mouthwatering signature dishes are obviously best tried in the mother country – the tastiest versions in the hawker centers – but recreating them in your kitchen makes for a fantastically fun evening. If you've been to Singapore and tasted the real deal, this is a great way to reminisce and savor the tastes of Asia. 

1. Chili crabs

Singaporeans will tell you this dish is best made with meaty Sri Lankan crabs. The thick, tangy and spicy sauce is mopped up with fried or steamed buns. Despite it's name, this isn't a spicy dish, so is a winner for delicate palates. 

Do it yourself:

Singapore chili mud crab. Photo: hin255/ShutterstockSingapore chili crab – often prepared with crabs from Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

2. Fish-head curry

This speciality is mostly favored by the Singaporean Indian community, although many Chinese eateries are also drawing crowds for their versions. Large heads of fish are stewed in a spicy sauce with vegetables such as aubergines and okra.

Do it yourself:

Fish head curry. Photo: bonhan/ShutterstockFish head curry, a favorite dish of the Singaporean Indian community. Photo: Bonham/ Shutterstock

3. Hainanese chicken rice

Chicken is poached in hot stock and then blanched in cold water to render it succulent and juicy. The chicken pieces are then served with rice that has been steamed with ginger, garlic and chicken stock, and vinegary chili sauce. We've gone with an Ottolenghi recipe; it might just become your go-to comfort food.

Do it yourself:

Hainanese chicken rice. Photo: Piyato/ShutterstockHainanese chicken and rice. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Laksa

Rice noodles are bathed in coconut curry sauce that is spiced with herbs and laced with fish cake, cockles, prawns and bean sprouts. The much-loved Katong laksa can now be found at street food outlets all over Singapore, but there are plenty of recipes that make creating your own version a breeze. 

Do it yourself:

Singapore curry laksa noodle. Photo: wong yu liang/ShutterstockSingapore laksa noodle. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Sambal stingray

Thin slabs of stingray (skate) are grilled and served on a banana leaf with a rich layer of chili jam (sambal) prepared with fresh chilies and garlic. As several species of ray and skate are critically endangered, try swapping it out in your recipe for dab, sole or pouting.

Do it yourself:

Sambal stingray. Photo: JPL Designs/ShutterstockSambal stingray. Photo: JPL Designs/ Shutterstock

6. Drinks and Desserts  

Teh halia (or ginger tea) is a staple of Indian drink vendors and a preferred choice over the standard lattes from Starbucks. Kopi tarik and teh tarik ('pulled coffee' and 'pulled tea'), which are poured from cup to pitcher and back again to ensure the ingredients are well mixed, are also hugely popular. 

Do it yourself:

In hawker centers and food courts, there's usually freshly squeezed fruit juice, cold soya bean milk or sugar-cane juice served with a wedge of lemon. Singapore's local beer is Tiger, a refreshing pilsner-style brew. You'll also find Tiger beer at Asian restaurants over the world.

Local desserts to try include cendol, which is shaved ice and green jelly strips in coconut milk, and ice kacang (or ais kacang), shaved ice with red beans, jelly cubes, evaporated milk and colored syrups.

Do it yourself:

Cendol. Photo: MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/ShutterstockCendol, a popular dessert in Singapore. Photo: Mahathir Mohd Yasin/ Shutterstock

Singapore hawker centers

When travel to Singapore is safe and back on the cards, be sure to visit a hawker center, which offers multi-ethnic Singaporean food at its best. Whether you choose a simple noodle dish or a three-course meal of barbecued fish, chili prawns and stir-fried vegetables with rice, the cost is a fraction of what you would pay for a similar meal in a restaurant. Low prices aside, the experience is unique, and an integral part of the way of life in this food-crazy city.  

To order food at a hawker center, if there’s a group of you, have one of your party sit at a table to reserve the seats. The others, having noted the table number, should order their food and tell the vendors where they are going to be sitting, unless the hawker stall is a self-service operation. If you are on your own or in a couple, you may well have to share a table with strangers if the hawker center is crowded, but that is all part of the experience. 

Savor Singapore street food favorites at hawker centers on your day of leisure on Insight Guides' Indulgent Singapore trip

 Street foods in Singapore. Photo: T.Dallas/ShutterstockSingapore street food dishes. Photo: Shutterstock

Want to experience the culinary delights of Singapore street food?

Insight Guides can help organize and book fantastic tailor-made trips in Singapore for you – when it is safe to travel there, of course. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. Local travel experts will then create a personalized itinerary especially, which you can amend until you are happy with every detail before booking. Browse our existing Singapore itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that they can all be tailored to meet your needs and interests. Our local experts also have all the latest coronavirus information and advice on their destination.