Singapore Food Culture: 10 Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Singapore

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Singapore has made its name as a top gastronomy destination worldwide. 

The diversity of food is unrivaled at the local cuisine level with Michelin-starred hawker stalls. And, at the fine-dining restaurant level, Singapore restaurants hold many coveted awards.

While exploring authentic food specialties and Singaporean food culture, we were struck by the differences compared to other Asian countries we visited.

Singapore is exceptionally clean, organized, safe, and easy to get around. The food culture of Singapore, including the eating habits, and Singaporean cuisine delighted us.

Singapore, which many consider “Asia for beginners,” has a unique food culture.

To guide your travels to Singapore, here are 10 surprising Singapore food facts you want to know. 

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1. Hawker Centers – The Heart and Soul of Singapore Food Culture

Stall Ratings Singapore Food by Authentic Food Quest
Singapore food culture is best experience at hawker centers

Hawker centers are a unique aspect of Singapore’s food culture and lifestyle. 

These centers are the heart and soul of the food scene, where you’ll find cheap, delicious food and locals eating and mingling together.

Hawker centres are open- air complexes that house many food stalls selling a wide variety of dishes. 

They are conveniently located near large housing complexes, where locals live.

In Singapore, hawker stalls are the best places to eat local Singapore food. The food courts are spread throughout the different neighborhoods.  

Some hawker centers are home to award-winning Michelin-starred hawker stalls.

An important part of the food culture in Singapore, eat at hawker stalls and food courts for some of the best local tastes.

AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: One of the best ways to explore Singapore food culture and hawker centers is on a food tour with a local guide. We love Singapura Bites for its immersive and authentic dive into Singapore eating habits. For an in-depth review of the best tours in Singapore, see 7 Of The Best Food Tours in Singapore You Want To Try

2. Food Stall Rating For Cleanliness

Food Stall Singapore Food Culture by Authentic Food Quest
Each food stall is rated for its cleanliness

Singapore hawker centres are very clean compared to food courts and street food stalls in the neighboring countries.

You will find wash stations to wash your hands and restrooms that are easily accessible.

To control the hygiene level, Singapore’s government rates the hawker stalls. A rating of  “A” corresponds to “super clean” and “D” corresponds to “hygiene level not acceptable”.

Hygiene Singapore Food Culture by Authentic Food Quest
Find hand washing station inside the hawker centers

There is a saying amongst the local Singaporeans that the cleaner a food stall, the less interesting the food.

And locals jokingly inverse the ratings to; “A” which means “Avoid” and “D” which means “Delicious.”

RELATED: The 10 Best Hawker Centers in Singapore And What to Eat 

3. Finding The Best Singapore Food Specialities

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

Eating at hawker centers is a great way to taste the different local Singaporean cuisine. 

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

This is also true for 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.

Food Specialities Singapore Food Culture by Authentic Food Quest
Choose food vendors busy with locals

One of the ways to find the best food vendors is to join the longest lines of locals. You can also check our food guide to Singapore below that highlights the best food spots in Singapore.

READ MORE: Top 15 Authentic Food in Singapore (and 20+ Restaurants To Try Them)

4. Singapore Food is Multicultural, Multi-Ethnic & Multi-Religious

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

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

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 portions of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus.

This blending of cultures and religious beliefs is reflected in Singapore’s food culture. 

You find traditional dishes from different ethnic groups, including blended flavors in dishes such as Nyonya or Peranakan food, a marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisine.

Rojak, a delicacy in Singapore is a local food used to describe Singapore’s multiculturalism. It’s a traditional fruit and vegetable salad dish named after a Malay term for “mixture.”

The reference to Singapore’s food culture, rojak represents different parts united as a harmonious whole. 

In 2016, during an official visit by Singaporean Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong to the United States, 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.”

READ MORE: Nyonya Food in Penang: Top 10 Foods And Restaurants to Eat Them

5. English Language Menus

Menu Singapore Food Authentic Food Quest
Menus are typically translated in English

Navigating your way around Singapore is fairly easy as English is one of the official languages 

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.

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. 

Singlish is spoken casually, especially around the local cuisine and within the food culture in Singapore.

Order Kopi Singapore Food by Authentic Food Quest
How to order Kopi in Singapore

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

EnglishSinglish
EatMakan
Oh my gosh!    Walao!
ReservedChope!
Delightful! (usually used to describe dishes) Shiok!Shiok!
Coffee +condensed milk KopiKopi
Coffee +evaporated milk +sugar Kopi Si (Kopi-C)

AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you want to further explore Singaporean food, consider taking a cooking class and learn to make local specialties. See our review of The Best Cooking Classes In Singapore: 6 Top Cookery Classes 

6. Must Abide By the Rules

Crime Alert Singapore Food  facts Authentic Food Quest
Crime alert billboard in Singapore

Walking around the streets of Singapore, you 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” on 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.

Singapore food Sign age in Singapore on Alcohol Southeast Asian Beer by Authentic Food Quest
Alcohol restrictions on the streets of 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 7:00 am 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.

To maintain its 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 – What To Expect

Tze Char Singapore Food facts by Authentic Food Quest
Mellben Seafood, Tze Char restaurant for the best Singapore crab

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

Here are the price ranges you can expect at the different Singapore food venues:

Hawker Centers: Singapore street food prices are typically under $10 Singaporean dollars, with many options in the $5-7 USD range.

Restaurants and Cze Char: About $20 to $50 Singaporean dollars.

Cze char, also spelled  zi char or  tze char are unique Singapore-style of budget-friendly eateries offering Chinese cuisines with several local influences.  Eating at a Cze char is typically more expensive than at a food centre but cheaper than many restaurants. 

Our first experience with Singapore’s national dish, chili crab was at a Cze Char. We enjoyed the humble environment while savoring the most delicious chili crab we’ve ever tasted.

Fine-dining Restaurants: $100+ Singaporean dollars

At the time of writing (early 2023) the Singaporean dollar is equivalent to about $0.76 USD. 

8. Singapore Eating Habits

Habits Yuen yeung Singapore Food  by Authentic Food Quest
Getting a “bagged”drink on the go

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 Singaporean dish you want.

There were two observations about food culture in Singapore that stood out to us.

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, and cold drinks.

Choping

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 “choping.” 

If you find an empty table, you can leave your packet of tissue paper to reserve it. Other choping items include bags, umbrellas, and books. 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 leave keys and even mobile phones while they were off getting their food. A true statement of how safe Singapore really is.

AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Try making Teh Tarika at home, a beloved drink in both Singapore and Malaysia. Make it in under 10 minutes with this Teh Tarik Recipe – How To Make Delicious Frothy Malaysian Pulled Tea

9. Singapore Markets and Food Stores

Food Store Singapore Food Culture by Authentic Food Quest
Food markets and stores are tidy and well-organized

Compared to other Asian countries, Singapore markets and food stores are regulated and organized.

Unlike Thailand or Vietnam where you can easily find vendors at corner stalls selling fresh produce, that is not the case in Singapore.

Due to hygiene restrictions, most of these venues are placed inside specific buildings. We found Singapore markets usually located next to hawker centres.

Food stores are found inside air-conditioned malls and supermarkets. Convenience stores such as 7-Eleven typically also carry some food items. And, you can also find food stores within MRT or metro stations.

Generally, the markets and food stalls are very clean and organized with defined sections for different products or items.

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10. High-End Restaurants and International Cuisines

Hawker Chan Sign Singapore Michelin Star Food culture in Singapore by Authentic Food Quest
Hawker Chan, the first Michelin star hawker center in Singapore

With seven Singapore restaurants named among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Asia in 2022, 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. 

You’ll find restaurants by several celebrity Singapore and international chefs, all making their mark in this food paradise.

The celebrated Singaporean food culture is not limited to prestigious restaurants. Michelin Guides surprised the world in 2016 by awarding one Michelin Star to two Singapore hawker stalls, the first ever in the world.

Needless to say, Singapore is unmissable for any food traveler.

READ MORE: Hawker Chan: The First Hawker Michelin Star Restaurant in Singapore

In Summary

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

Hawker centers are the hubs for local food activities. More than that, they are centers of connection where locals come and break bread together.

Adapt to the local rhythm while in Singapore and enjoy all the delicious foods. Drink bagged coffee, show off your Singlish phrases, and savor the local Singapore food culture. 

Eat local and discover why Singapore is known to have some of the best food in the world.

Are you familiar with these Singapore eating habits? In the comments below, please tell us which Singapore food fact has surprised you the most.

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Pinterest Food Culture In Singapore by Authentic Food Quest

21 Comments on “Singapore Food Culture: 10 Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Singapore”

  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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