Singapore Food and Culture
What is Singapore like?
(“Hello” in Malay)
Singapore is a small country situated in the south of Malaysia. It is a bit bigger than 23 Tokyo districts, and there are around 5 600 000 people living there. It is a multi-ethic country with Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian people all living together. There is no united ethnicity or religion – people co-exist respecting each other. English is often used in public places such as various companies while you can hear Malay, Chinese, and Tamil languages at schools and home. Religions include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and more.
Singaporean staple food is considered to be rice and noodles. People often eat Thai rice known for its long and thin rice grains’ form. You can also see it boiled in coconut milk or chicken soup. When it comes to noodles, there is a countless number of types. All of them have different names depending on the ingredients used and noodles’ thickness. For example, think noodles made using rice are called Quatiao and served together with flavourful dishes. It is used particularly often in a dish called Char Kuitio which is similar to Japanese Yakisoba. Think noodles made using wheat base with eggs are called Mequia. This dish is similar to Japanese ramen, it is even popular among locals to eat it in a form of Wonton noodles.
most of the time! Singaporean food stall culture
People in Singapore often spend their meal time at food stalls or food courts, and around 60% of their food bills come from eating outside. Singaporean government manages hygiene of the street stalls (“Hawkers”) and assigns them different ranks based on their cleanliness. They give out cards from “A” to “C”, where “A” means “the cleanest” one. You can also order food just by pointing at a picture on the menu, so you do not need to worry about the language barrier. As it was mentioned before, Singapore is a multi-ethnical country, so these kinds of food stalls where you can eat your favorite food are essential for the local people. The only disadvantage of eating at a food stall is not getting enough vegetables. That’s why, in order to eliminate vegetable deficiency, you have to either go to a vegetarian restaurant or get a salad at a shop where a “salad bar” is included in the main menu.
People order breakfast at Hawkers and bring it to school or work. A classic breakfast dish in Singapore is Kaya Toast. It is simply made as all you have to do is put Kaya jam on a toast. Then, you eat it with Kopi (a type of coffee) and Onsen Tamago (a low temperature egg slow cooked in hot water). Kaya jam is made of coconut milk and eggs. It taste different in every shop depending on how much sugar you add and whether you use a herb called Pandan Leaf. Another popular breakfast dish except for Kaya Toast is Nasi Lema. For this one, you put spicy sambal sauce or other side dishes on the side and eat them mixing with rice cooked in coconut milk.
There are a lot of couple in Singapore where both people have a full-time job, so this is thought to be the reason why food stall culture has developed so much. Moreover, the country has high temperature and humidity levels being right below the equator. This leaves very little land suitable for cultivation, so various food ingredients have to be imported. One radish or broccoli sometimes costs over 6-7$, so even if you want to cook at home, it is actually quite expensive. A lot of kitchens do not have air-conditioning/ventilation, so you have to be careful when cooking during hot days and storing food. In this case, eating at a food stall outside would only cost 3-4$, so this option seems more rational, doesn’t it?
Try all of the famous dishes of Singapore!
The most representative Singaporean dish is Chicken and Rice. However, it does not have the orange color you often see in Japan. Chicken and Rice in Singapore is boiled chicken served together with rice cooked in chicken broth. It is called Hainanese Chicken Rise, and as the name suggests, it is a dosh originally from Hainan island in China. It looks completely white, but its feature lies in adding chili sauce, sweet say sauce, or ginger sauce and enjoying the mixed taste.
Now, it is normal to have dishes that use whole fish or other seafood. One of the most famous dishes of Singapore is called Chilli Crab which is served by putting a whole crab on the plate. The spicy chilli sauce mixed with the tender crab meat, and the taste might be different depending on which type of crab is used. Maybe it is easier to imagine it if you think of scrimps used in Shrimp Chilli dish that were replaced with a crab. The best way to enjoy it is to crack open the shell and bite into it. You can also enjoy this delicious crab sauce by trying a meat bun called Manto.
There are so many people of Indian origin living in Singapore that there is even an area called Little India. A lot of Indian restaurants and shops are gathered there, and it indeed does look like small India inside Singapore. When we think about India, the first thing that comes to our minds is curry, of course! Fish Head Curry you can try in Singapore has a quite shocking appearance. Just as the name implies, it uses a whole fish head. The curry itself has a sweet-sour spice called Tamarind used in it. It is served with rice more often than with Naan. Fish cheeks, eyeballs, and meat on the bones is removed and served over rice as a side dish for the curry. If you eat it that way, you will not be able to stop! Both Chilli Crab and Fish Head Curry are quire filling served in big portions, so you can enjoy it even more by sharing with others.
Now, since you have finally managed to travel abroad, you surely want to try local alcohol too, right? The most representative Singaporean alcohol is said to be Singapore Sling. In the old times, women could not freely drink alcohol. There was a bartender who wanted women to enjoy alcohol as well, so he/she introduced this drink. That person used Singaporean sunset as an inspiration for the drink, added lemon and cherries to make a sweet and mild taste. It is so popular that you can find anywhere in Singapore, but the origin of it is the Raffles Hotel Bar. If you visit there, you can drink Singapore Sling made using the first original recipe.
Sashimi salad and oranges for Chinese New Year’s celebration?
The streets in Singapore bustle with people the most during The Chinese New Year, which is usually celebrated either at the end of January or on February. Yisheng is an essential dish during that period. It is a salad made using radish and carrots with salmon or white fish sashimi served on top. Various nuts, oil, lime can be used as toppings for this dish. It is similar to Japanese Osechi Ryori as every ingredient used has its own special meaning. It is generally considered to be a salad that uses ingredients that bring good luck.
- Oil – for money and happiness to come around
- Plum sauce – to not have money issues
- Sashimi – to be wealthy
- Sesame – for one’s business to flourish
Before eating Yisheng, everyone stands up and says “Lohay, Lohay” while raising the ingredients up high with their chopstick, then they drop and mix them. These words originally mean “to lift/raise (something) up”. By saying that, people “wish for the current happiness and wealth to get even stronger”. It is said that it is good to wish for something related to money during this time. Then, people raise the ingredients up even higher because it believed to be better to mix them vigorously. This is often the reason why there are salad and sashimi leftovers all over the table after eating Yisheng.
If you get invited to someone’s house for the Chinese New Year, you have to bring two mandarin oranges with you. Then, you exchange them for a red package called An Pao with the householder. An Pao is something similar to New Year’s gift. Married people give them to those who are single, companies give them to their employees. Most people put either 2 or 10 Singaporean dollars inside (equivalent to 1.5 and 7.5 dollars respectively). This is because of the color of those banknotes. Singaporean banknotes are very colorful, a banknote for 2 Singaporean dollars is violet, the 5 dollar one is green, the 10 dollar one is red, and the 50 dollar one is blue. Red is considered to be a lucky color, so people put either red or violet banknotes to put inside An Pao. No on ever puts green or blue banknotes inside.
Traditional food with funny looks! Nyonya cuisine
Singapore has a lot of immigrants, so there are some dishes that appeared as a result of interactions between different ethnicities. Nyonya cuisine (also called Planakan cuisine) is representative in this case. People who made it were a man (baba) of a Chinese origin who migrated to Singapore in the 15th century and a local woman (nyonya). They got married and gave birth to this cuisine. They used Chinese food ingredients and ethnic seasoning, making a sort of hybrid food. One of the most representative dishes of this cuisine is Ayam Bua Krua. It is a stewed chicken, but with a tad of surprise. Bua Krua means “black nuts”. These nuts are poisonous, so you have to get rid of the poison inside them first. The method for this is to bury them under ashes, banana leaves, and soiled piled on top for 40 days. Then, you take out the inside from the shell of a Bua Krua that is not poisonous anymore, grind it together with other spices, put it back into the shell and stew it with chicken meat. Spending so much time to cook Nyonya dishes is one of its features. Other dishes of Nyonya cuisine include Kue Paiti and Popiah. Kue Paiti is served in a small cup. The ingredients put in the cup are radish, small shrimps, Pak Choy, etc. The cup looks like a Silk Hat turned upside down, and it is made of fried rice and flour. This means you can eat everything, including the cup! Popiah is fresh spring rolls cooked in Nyonya manner. Additionally, Raxa is another type of Nyonya food that is essentially noodles in coconut milk soup and with spicy chili sauce. You can easily find it in Hawkers and other similar food stalls.