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Food culture in Singapore

Learn all about Singapore’s famous food culture

Hawker Centre Singapore
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If all Singaporeans were to unite over a common belief, it would be the central importance of food to their culture. Whether eating out or sourcing fresh vegetables for a cook-up at home, eating, preparing and going out for meals are key part of the city’s culture, and is something you should definitely look forward to if you’re planning on studying abroad in Singapore. So what is it that makes the Singaporean culinary scene so special? Read our brief overview of the city’s food culture to find out.

Eating out

Hawker Centres

In Singapore, eating is a serious business. Where in other cultures it’s common to greet each other with a polite ‘hello,’ or ‘how are you?’ in Singapore you’re most likely to hear ‘have you eaten?’ It’s hardly surprising then that the nation boasts a complete spectrum of places to eat out, ranging from the very cheap to the very expensive. Most commonly, locals will head to what is called a Hawker Center: a sort of enclosed marketplace lined with tiny food stalls. Each of these stalls is equipped with an even tinier kitchen, where you can watch your food being made fresh to order before your very eyes.

Typically a quicker, cheaper option, food from Hawker centres does not want for quality. Whilst most locals will grumble about a better wonton they’ve had elsewhere, food from here is a keen national favourite and is an absolutely essential experience for any visitor. Between a myriad of cultural influences spanning from Japan to the West and then back to the Middle East, you’re likely to come across virtually any sort of cuisine as you travel from stall to stall. Famed for creative use of basic, humble flavours and no-frills presentation, it’s here where you’ll best experience the heart of Singaporean cuisine.

Restaurants

For those looking to experience Singapore’s culinary prowess at its fullest, you can’t look past the thorough range of eateries spread throughout the city. With over 20,000 places to eat, you can find anything from a SG$3 (US$2.40) egg custard tart to a SG$195 (US$ 156) foie gras with coffee, onion and baby vegetables.

Whilst more expensive than a meal gleaned from a Hawker stall, there are a number of world-class restaurants in Singapore likely to make even the snobbiest Michelin-star worshipper smile. A number of leading chefs from around the world have recently opened up restaurants in Singapore, including Joël Robuchon, recipient of a casual 28 Michelin stars, and Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda.

Like any advancing modern city, Singaporeans are increasingly opting for organic, healthy and innovative food options. Try a sushi burrito, a new Japanese-Mexican fusion dish or a frozen smore, a crème-brulee-esque crust stuffed with cold cream. You might even visit the Secret Cooks Club, a new restaurant where diners are required to send in samples of their DNA from which their meal will be created.

Eating In

Dinner culture

Whether you’re staying with a family or living in shared accommodation, sharing meals is a key part of Singaporean culture. Plus, most locals are excellent cooks!

As an international student you’ll most likely be cooking at eating the bulk of your meals at home, so take it as an opportunity both to get to know your new housemates and immerse yourself in the nation’s dynamic cuisine. Try your hand at the famous Hainanese Chicken Rice or a warm, spicy home-made Laksa. Fortunately, food is quite cheap and readily available in Singapore, and most dishes rely on basic, simple flavour combinations that aren’t too hard to recreate. Whether noodle or rice-based, broth or bean curd, you definitely won’t regret learning to cook any delicious Singaporean delicacies.

Markets  

Whilst there are a number of supermarket and delis around for you to buy your groceries from, if you’re really serious about embracing Singaporean cuisine then you should check out a ‘wet market,’ a fresh food market so named because of the water used to clean the floors.

There are typically two sections in these markets: meat and fish (sold in the ‘wet’ area), and dry food products such as herbs, spices, dried noodles and beans (the ‘dry’ area). Markets open nice and early and close around lunchtime to ensure that food sold stays fresh. These markets can sometimes feel a bit crowded and overwhelming, but it’s a great way to source cheap, fresh, juicy Singaporean produce and experience life as locals do. Expat Living Singapore has a comprehensive guide to best tackling the wet market experience on its website.

 

Hungry to experience Singapore for yourself? Browse courses in Singapore now and get your study abroad planning process on the road!

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About Author

Hawker Centre Singapore

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.