10 things we love about Singaporean cuisine
Abby Lee, head chef and founder of Mambow in London, shares her favourite things about growing up in Singapore and shows us a go-to recipe from the Malay rice stalls that you can recreate at home
Want to learn more about Singaporean cuisine? Looking for Singapore dishes to try? Read our guide below then check out our guide to best places to eat and drink in Singapore, the 10 things we love about Hong Kong-style cuisine and our Chinese New Year guide.
Chef Abby Lee honed her skills growing up in her family’s bakeries in Singapore and Malaysia, before moving to Italy to cook at Michelin-starred Pashà Ristorante. She now runs her own restaurant, Mambow, previously in London’s Spitalfields and now in Peckham. Her menu places emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal and sustainable produce in recipes taken from her roots in Malaysia that reflect the diverse cultural influence of the country’s cuisine. mambow.co.uk
1. You must finish your food or everything must go
One thing is for certain, we do not waste food. Whether you’re at a family gathering or eating out, your elders will be making sure you have eaten all your food. When there are leftovers we tend to turn them in to another dish. For example, roast duck at Chinese New Year will become kiam chai ark (salted vegetable duck soup).
2. Hawker centres
These unique spaces showcase Singapore’s multicultural food options. Our way of life revolves around the hawker centre – there’s loads of them dotted around the city (my favourite probably being Old Airport Road Food Centre). Besides being a place to eat, they often have wet markets on site where we get our fresh produce early in the morning. A must-visit is Tekka Centre. Thousands of people visit it each day and meet friends and family, and it is also great after a night out to get bak chor mee (minced pork noodles).
Singaporeans love a range of snacks that are sweet, salty, sour, crispy and chewy. These are normally based around seafood flavours. When visiting friends and family you’ll be greeted with plastic tubs or biscuit tins filled with favourites such as salted egg fish skin, shellfish-flavoured crisps and spicy prawn rolls.
4. Monsoon season
The rain is relentless! December to March are especially humid and wet but to experience Chinese New Year in either January or February is worth it. Rain of course doesn’t stop the eating or drinking.
This is entirely different to how Western culture perceives breakfast. When I touch down in Singapore, I get carrot cake (radish cake, wok-fried with eggs, garlic and preserved radish), congee (Chinese rice porridge), roti prata paired with my favourite fish curry and, of course, nasi lemak. I would be ordering all of the above at once, paired with some kopi (local coffee).
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6. Late-night eating
One thing that we do not have in UK food culture is a great late-night eating scene. From 24-hour dim sum spots and Korean BBQ that runs until 6am, to dessert stalls and roti prata stalls, you can find whatever you fancy eating.
7. Soft drinks
These could be considered sweet for a Western palate but I adore going for these thirst-quenching drinks: barley water, iced Milo, teh tarik (pulled milk tea), and iced calamansi juice (with a hybrid taste of lime and a tangerine) are all favourites.
To say we have a sweet tooth is an understatement – depending on your taste, there is a dessert shop for you. This is a place to hang out with friends or family, just like we would at a bar in the UK. Desserts range from kueh (cake) from the Malay and Peranakan community (ondeh ondeh, pandan glutinous rice balls filled with coconut palm sugar, covered in fresh coconut, are a favourite) to mango pomelo sago from Hong Kong-inspired cafés.
Beyond the obvious Chinese New Year, you should get involved in other ethnicities’ festivals. Deepavali (also known as Diwali, in October or November) is an especially beautiful one. Walking around Little India at night is an impressive sight, with a huge variety of snacks and sweets.
10. It’s a melting pot
Malaysia, Thailand, India, Indonesia and China. To eat all these different cuisines from different parts of the city is a great treat. My reciep for gulai nangka (jackfruit curry), originally from Padang in Indonesia, is one of my favourites when eating at the Malay rice stalls.