Singapore is known around the world as a food-lovers paradise. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling there, sampling some of the local foods is an absolute must, even if you’re not the most adventurous eater. After all, you may only get to visit Singapore once in your life.
Hawker centers, sort of like strip malls in the states, are your best bet for trying many different foods when visiting Singapore.
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1. Chili Crab
Chili crab is one of the most ubiquitous street foods you’ll find in a country known for its incredible street food culture. From the moment you get off the plane, hawkers with brightly colored carts will be trying to make sure you sample their chili crab.
Prepared with a relatively spicy but not over-the-top chili sauce and fresh lime juice, chili crab is a simple dish that is usually topped with chopped green onions, and served with steamed buns for sopping up all of the liquid goodness once you’re done with the crab.
You can get chili crab nearly anywhere, but it really is street food. Pick a place that looks crowded with locals and place your order.
2. BBQ Stingray
BBQ stingray isn’t something you’re going to eat every day in the states, but it’s surprisingly tasty, especially if you consider yourself a fish lover. Locals seem to think the best BBQ stingray is in the hawker center inside East Coast Park, so make sure you save your appetite (for stingray) for a visit to the area.
For even more flavor (just like the locals enjoy it), top your BBQ stingray with a bit of fresh lemon and chili sauce.
Basically a rice paper wrapper filled with crab, stir-fried veggies and peanuts, popiah is like the Singaporean version of the spring roll. It is typically served in street booths, and it’s particularly popular among the locals late at night.
Again, crowds are your friend when trying new foods in a foreign place, so in this instance, it’s okay to follow the herd and find a crowded vendor making fresh popiah.
Laksa is a pretty innocuous-looking seafood and vegetable soup, but be forewarned: it’s really spicy, and you’re not going to find a mild version. Still, if you’re adventurous or just a little nuts, laksa is worth trying.
If your Laksa is boiling hot when you get it– and it probably will be– let it cool for a bit. At a more moderate temperature, it won’t be so mouth-searingly spicy.
You can find Laksa in nearly any hawker center.
5. Chicken Rice
Chicken rice is pretty much what it sounds like – rice cooked in chicken stock, topped with boiled or steamed chicken. It might not sound exciting, as it is quite basic compared to BBQ squid, but it’s classic Singapore, and everybody eats it.
The depth of the simple dish will surprise you. Try Wee Nan Kee for the best chicken rice – it’s got a reputation as being the best among locals and travelers alike.
6. Fish Head Curry
If you’re a fish lover, you’ve probably already eaten plenty of things made with fish heads. If not, put the idea out of your mind and be brave – fish head curry in Singapore is delicious!
Based on an Indian recipe, this dish has been prepared and revised by Singapore chefs for many years. Check out YY Kafei Dian on Beach Road, or grab some from one of those big metal stockpots in any the hawker centers.
7. Damian’s Anchovy Pasta
Part Italian–part local legend, Damian’s anchovy pasta is a spicy plate of pasta that locals rave about. On weekends, they also serve quality meats like kurabuta black pork belly and wagyu beef, both of which are worth eating even if you’ve had them before.
You can find this pasta on the menu at Big D’s Grill at the hawker center on block 46 of Holland Drive.
8. Fried Durian Ice Cream
After a meal in Singapore, you could probably go for a nice refreshing ice cream cone, right? Singapore’s got Haagen-Dazs and all your favorites, but you really need to try a Singapore specialty – fried durian ice cream.
Fried durian ice cream isn’t actually ice cream – it’s a fruit that has a creamy texture, making it somewhat similar to ice cream. The flavor might not be typical, but it’s actually quite tasty, and fried durian ice cream is very popular.
Stop by the Majestic Restaurant and the New Majestic Hotel for the best in Singapore.
If you don’t try any other foods that might be too off-the-beaten-path for you, these eight foods are the ones that you simply cannot miss. Depending on where you book your vacation rental, ask about nearby restaurants that offer these delectable dishes. Only a couple require special stops since you can find most at virtually any hawker center, and the quality is likely to be high since competition is so fierce among vendors.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and founder of Gryffin Media in Los Angeles whose writing covers various industries, including travel, technology, marketing and health. She loves traveling around the world with her family to sample new and exotic dishes.