10 Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Singapore Food

Singapore has made its name as a top gastronomy destination worldwide. And the diversity of Singapore food is unrivaled.

On our quest to discover the local and authentic flavors, a stop for Singapore food could not be missed.

Also known as the Lion City or Garden City, Singapore is a city-state and only one of three city-states in the world. The other two city-states are Monaco and the Vatican City.

The Economist refers to Singapore as “the world’s only fully functioning city-state.”

Unlike other countries in Asia, Singapore is very clean, very organized, safe and easy to get around. Regardless of the time of day, we always felt safe, even late at night. Singapore is considered by many as “Asia for beginners.”

You find Singapore food everywhere in unique and surprising ways. For your travels to Singapore, here are the 10 surprising facts to know about Singapore food.

Singapore Map Situation Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestSingapore, an island and City-State in the middle of Southeast Asia
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#1- Hawker Centers: the Heart and Soul of Singapore Food

Hawker centers are a unique aspect of Singapore culture and lifestyle. These food centers are the heart and soul of the local food scene. You’ll can find cheap food and locals eating and mingling together.

Typically, hawker centers are open air complexes with many stalls selling a wide variety of dishes. They are conveniently located near large housing complexes, where locals live.

In Singapore, hawker centers are the best places to eat local Singapore food. The centers are spread throughout the different neighborhoods, with some offering more food stalls than others.

Maxwell Food Center Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestInside Maxwell Hawker Center in Singapore

Authentic Food Quest Tip: Explore the food in Singapore with a local guide and taste the local specialties while learning about the city’s history. Book a Singapore food tour and go deeper in one of the world’s best food cities.

#2- Spotless Hawker Centers

Singapore hawker centers are very clean as compared to hawker centers and street food in the neighboring countries.

You will find wash station to wash your hand before and after your meals. And restrooms that are easily accessible.

To control the hygiene level, Singapore government rates the stalls from “A” which corresponds to “super clean” to “D” which corresponds to “hygiene level not acceptable”.

There is a saying amongst the local Singaporeans that the cleaner a food stall, the less interesting the food! And the meaning of the ratings are translated to: “A” means “Avoid” and “D” means “Delicious”!

Wash Stations Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestIn Hawker Centers, you're never too far from a wash station

#3- Singapore Food Specialities Within Hawker Centers

In the hawker centers, you find each stall selling its own specialty. A vendor will focus on only one dish emblematic of Singapore food.

This is true also for the beverages. Drinks are sold separately by different vendors. Once you order your food, a separate vendor will come and take your order for either fruit juice, soda, beer or coffee.

And finally, if you are a dessert lover, you will also have your choice of desserts to choose from the several dessert stalls.

Eating at hawker centers is a great way to taste the different local specialties available. You get to see right away what Singapore food you should taste to sample the local flavors.

RELATED: Read about the food in our article: Top # 12 authentic foods in Singapore you want to try

Dessert Menu Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestFood stall specializing in bean curd

#4- Singapore Food is Multicultural, Multi Ethnic & Multi Religion

Singapore is a racially diverse country. You find a Chinese majority (74%), a substantial minority of Malays (13%), Indians (9%) and 4% of other.

According to Pew Research, Singapore is also the most religiously diverse nation in the world. About a third of Singapore’s population is Buddhist, followed by sizable percentages of Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

Temple Little India Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestSri Mariamman Temple located in Chinatown is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore

This blending of cultures and religious beliefs is reflected in Singapore food. You find traditional dishes from each of the different ethnic groups. And in addition, a blend of flavors in dishes such as Peranakan food, which is a marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisines.

In 2016, the first official visit by a Singaporean Prime Minister to the United States in over 30 years, President Obama made the following introductory remarks.

“In the United States, we call ourselves a ‘melting pot’ of different races, religions and creeds. In Singapore, it is rojak—different parts united in a harmonious whole,” Obama said. “We’re bound by the belief that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it.” (Rojak is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad dish named after a Malay term for mixture.)

Muslim food stall Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestMuslim food stall in a local hawker center

#5 – English Language Menus

Navigating your way around Singapore is fairly easy as the official language of Singapore is English. This means that you’ll be able to easily read the menus and order your dishes.

Coming from Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, where we struggled to order food, we appreciated being able to understand the menus.

Menu Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestMenu is both in Chinese and English

With English, we also discovered Singlish (short for Singaporean English). This is a delightful slang spoken by locals consisting of, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Tamil words mixed with English. It is spoken in casual situations, including around food.

For your food travels to Singapore, here are some basic words and phrases you might want to try out as you explore Singapore:

English

Eat

Oh my gosh!                                         

Reserved

Delightful! (usually used to describe dishes)

Coffee +condensed milk

Coffee +evaporated milk +sugar

Singlish

Makan

Walao!

Chope!

Shiok!

Kopi

Kopi Si (Kopi-C)

For more Singlish phrases, download the apps below for phrases with audio and definitions to help you speak better Singlish!

Hosay! – Download App Store

Singlish! – Download Android

Order Kopi Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestHow to order Kopi in Singapore!

#6 – Must Abide By the Rules

Walking around the streets of Singapore, you will can’t help but notice surveillance cameras everywhere. Big Brother is constantly watching.

In addition to the cameras, there are huge billboards screaming “Crime Alert” in many popular pedestrian routes. These point out the specific crime that has occurred in that area, for example bicycle theft, which then puts you on high alert.

Crime Alert Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestCrime alert billboard in Singapore

The consumption of liquor is not allowed in public places from 10:30 pm to 7:00 am.

In some areas, like Little India, alcohol cannot be consumed between 7:00am on Saturday to 7:00 am the following Monday.

Just in case you forget, large billboards will remind you of the alcohol rules. The legal drinking age is 18 years and a photo ID must be presented when purchasing alcohol.

Singapore food - Signage in Singapore on Alcohol Southeast Asian Beer Authentic Food QuestAlcohol restrictions on the streets of Singapore

To maintain it’s impeccable cleanliness, Singapore also imposes hefty fines for littering, chewing gum and spitting on the sidewalks.

On your food travels in Singapore, you want to be on the right side of the law. Singapore is also called “Fine City”, in reference to the many fines the country imposes.

#7- Singapore Food Prices

Singapore is quite expensive compared to the other Southeast Asian countries. However, Singapore food, especially at the hawker centers, remains affordable.

For price ranges at the different Singapore food venues, here is what you can expect.

At hawker centers, most dishes are typically under $10 Singaporean dollars.

Restaurants & Tze Char (local “restaurants” with different Chinese dishes), prices range from about $20 to $50 Singaporean dollars.

Fine dining restaurants range from $100+ Singaporean dollars.

At the time of writing, the Singaporean dollars was equivalent to about $0.72 USD.

Tze Char restaurant Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestMellben Seafood, Tze Char restaurant for the best Singapore crab

#8 – Singaporean Eating Habits

Generally speaking, it is easy finding food in Singapore at any time of the day. The hawker centers are constantly buzzing with activity.

At certain times of the day, some dishes may not be available or some sections of the centers may even be closed. Regardless, of the time of day, you’ll always find food, but not always the dish you want.

There were two observations about Singaporeans and food that stood out.

Chopping

Kleenex packets or tissues serve more than one function in Singapore. They are used as the “unofficial table reservation” system at hawker centers. This practice is called “chopping.”

If you find an empty table, you can leave your packet of tissue paper to reserve it. You want to take note of the table number as you will need it to place your order, so that the vendor can bring your food to you.

Interestingly, we saw people keys and even mobile phones while they were off getting their food. A true statement of how safe Singapore really is.

Bagged Drinks

Drinks to go are not carried in styrofoam cups, but are instead served in plastic bags with a straw. You see locals walking around in the mornings or afternoons carrying Kopi (coffee) or afternoon teh tarik (pulled tea with milk) sipping on straws. Surprisingly, the bags work for both hot or cold drinks.

Habits Yuen yeung Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestGetting a "bagged"drink on the go

#9-  Singapore Markets and Food Stores

Singapore markets are usually located next to hawker centers. They are also very clean and organized with a defined section for each produce or item.

Food stores are usually found inside air-conditioned malls as well as supermarkets. Convenient store such as 7-Eleven typically also carry some food items. You will also find food stores at MRT (Metro) stations.

However, one type of common market will not find in Singapore are corner stalls or small mobile markets. Due to hygiene restrictions, most of these venues are places inside specific buildings.

Nonetheless you can still find specialty stores, likes cookie stores in Chinatown or Singapore bakery style stores.

Food Market Little India Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestTekka market in Little India, the largest wet market in Singapore

#10 – High-End Restaurants and International Cuisines

With three Singapore restaurants, named amongst the top 10 restaurants in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Asia in 2017, Singapore is a top gastronomy destination.

Singapore attracts a lot of international chefs eager to make a name for themselves. As a result, beyond Singapore food, you will find international cuisines largely available.

Amongst the top gourmet restaurants, we see French cuisine with an Asian touch trending at this time. Famous French chef, Joël Robuchon, who holds the most Michelin stars in the world, has also set up restaurants on the island.

Even Michelin Guides surprised the world last year by awarding a one Michelin Star to two Singapore hawker stalls. Needless to say, Singapore is a must-stop on any food traveler.

Michelin star Hawker Chan Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestHawker Chan - New restaurant from Michelin awarded hawker vendor (Mr. Chan Hon Meng)
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In Summary

Singapore is unique in many ways. The diversity of the food is tied to the diverse cultures and communities living harmoniously together.

The hubs for local food activities take place at the hawker centers. These vibrant centers offer diverse local specialities. More than that, they are centers of connections. Where locals come and break bread together.

Adapt to the local rhythm while in Singapore and enjoy the culinary delights. Drink bagged coffee, show off your Singlish phrases and seek out unique local experience. We believe this is best achieved when you travel through the local food.

Authentic Food Quest Tip: With a local guide, explore Singapore food and learn about the city’s history. Take a Singapore food tour and explore districts rarely visited by tourists.

Have you had Singapore food before? In the comments below, share with us what has surprised you the most about Singapore food!

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21 comments

  1. I’m surprised to know that Singapore is so good with food! The diverse platter of cuisines coupled with food in places like Hawkers market makes it exciting. I would surely love to try, just hoping that I don’t run out of money 🙂

    Reply
    • The great news about the food in Singapore Reshma is the prices. The food is pretty affordable and similar to pricing in other Southeast Asian countries. You would absolutely love visiting. Besides the amazing food, there is also so much to see and do. Stay tuned for more about hawker centers. Cheers 🙂

      Reply
  2. I never knew Singapore is that big gastronomic delight. There are so many options to munch on. But out of all these the hawkers area and the choping system interested me the most. I saw drinks in plastic bags at Thailand too. Thoroughly enjoyed your post.

    Reply
    • Hi Suruchi, so glad you enjoyed our article about Singapore food. Thank you so much. Singapore is indeed a food destination and it has so much to offer.The plastic bags and “choping” system as truly unique. We’ll be writing more about the different foods to explore in Singapore. Stay tuned! Cheers.

      Reply
  3. Hi Rosemary,

    Those hawker centers look like so much fun. In some ways I have seen similar spots in Thailand, underneath Airport Plaze in Chiang Mai. Endless stalls, great food, huge area for enjoying your food amid a bunch of folks in a wide open environment. Love it. Nothing like eating with locals and tasting some world class food in the process. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan, thanks so much for stopping by. The hawker centers in Singapore are unlike the large food courts in Chiang Mai. What they do have in common is the open seating a variety of vendors and dishes to choose from. Agree, the one uniting factor is eating and connecting with locals. In our next article, we’ll dive deeper into hawker centers in Singapore. Stay tuned. Cheers!!

      Reply
  4. We ate at hawker centres in Malaysia and it was the same, where you had to order your food specialty from one store and someone else would come around to take your drink order. We were so confused at first, wondering why we couldn’t find anywhere that stocked drinks! I hadn’t heard about “chopping” before, seems like such a great and trusting system! I’d love to check out the Michelin star hawker stalls there!

    Reply
    • Hi Kim-Ling, we also ate at many hawker centers in Malaysia and were also a little confused by the drinks system at first. With that though, we discovered so many unique drinks like Barlee, which we enjoyed. Did you discover any new drinks in Malaysia? We’ll be writing about the Michelin star hawker center soon. Cheers!

      Reply
  5. Interesting post. To be honest some of the foods seems awful to me, like those bean curds on the picture (they look like Dr. Otker creams or something) but I’ve also have heard lots of great things as well. Have you tried this one? What do you think?

    Reply
    • Oh wow, we absolutely loved the bean curds and will be talking about them in a subsequent article. The diversity of foods and flavors is what we really loved about the Singapore food scene. The food should be tasted, before judged 🙂

      Reply
  6. When I first visited Singapore, I loved the hawker stands in Clarke quay, I think they may have gone now but they were super cheap with tasty food, ideal for someone on a budget

    Reply
    • Hi Anne, fortunately, the food at the hawker centers is quite affordable, as the city can be quite expensive. Not only is the food cheap, it is also quite tasty and that makes quite a difference. Are you planning on going back to visit soon? Cheers

      Reply
  7. We’ve never been to Singapore, but have already heard how great this country is, especially for food. We’re looking forward to discover it, and your post really make us want to go there soon! Thanks a lot for sharing this. We’ll remember to bring along a pack of tissues to “chope” our table! 🙂

    Reply
    • Yes, you can’t beat Singapore for its food. Such a wonderful mix of cultures and delicious dishes. No worries if you forget to bring your pack of tissues, many vendors will find you and ask you to buy 🙂 Hope you get to Singapore soon, it is worth the adventure.

      Reply
  8. I am going to singapore soon and I love trying local and authentic food. Thanks for sharing this. I bookmarked it. I love eating where locals eat.

    Reply
    • Actually Bintu, what surprised us is that the cost of food is similar to other Asian countries. Not more expensive, but similar. You’re husband is right, the food is amazing. Hope you can experience it for yourself soon. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

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