Local food you shouldn’t miss
Chilli crab hits all the right spots with tangy gravy that seeps into the succulent flesh of the stir-fried crab.
The crab is divine but the sauce is the star – sweet yet savoury, slightly spicy and supremely satisfying. You will get it all over your fingers as you crack open the crab shells, and it is simply impossible not to lick it all up.
And you will go back for more, dipping fried or steamed buns, called mantou, to soak up the sauce – a delightful blend of tomatoes and chilli paste, thickened with ribbons of beaten eggs.
Chilli crab is among Singapore’s greatest culinary inventions, the king of all crab dishes. It is easily available in most seafood restaurants, which typically serve it with mud crabs that have deliciously sweet and juicy flesh.
The world famous dish started from a pushcart in 1956. Run by a couple, the husband asked his wife to experiment with other methods of cooking crabs other than just steaming the seafood.
Madam Cher Yam Tian’s first attempt was stir-fried crabs with tomato sauce, but decided the dish will have more kick by adding chilli sauce. They sold their chilli crabs along Kallang River and it became so popular that they opened a restaurant, called Palm Beach.
A famous chef, who opened Dragon Phoenix restaurant later, added a slight twist to the dish – using sambal, tomato paste and eggs to cook the gravy instead of bottled chilli and tomato sauces. This has since become the version most commonly served in Singapore.
Fish Head Curry
This spicy dish is a scintillating stew of curry cooked with vegetables and of course, the whole head of a fish.
The squeamish will squirm at the sight of puffy cheeks and bulging fish eyes surrounded in a sea of red gravy. Yet, for many, it is a visually appetising feast – usually eaten with rice to soak up the fragrant curry.
Fish head curry is unique to Singapore, the epitome of a cultural melting pot. It mixes the spices of a typical South Indian curry with the fish head, a delicacy among the Chinese.
Every ethnic group here has its own version of the dish, with slight variations to the curry. Some mix in tamarind paste for a tinge of sourness, others add coconut milk for a creamier texture.
The only similarity is the head of a fleshy Red Snapper swimming in a pool of spicy gravy, along with a mix of vegetables such as okra (lady fingers) and egg plant.
A head start
Fish head curry was created in the kitchen of a small Indian restaurant in the 1960s. Fish head is not considered an Indian ingredient, but to please Chinese customers who love it. A restaurant owner from the Southern Indian state of Kerala blended Indian curry with the Chinese favourite fish head.
The result was a hit. Today, it is on the menu in Indian, Chinese, Malay and Peranakan restaurants, often served still bubbling away in a large clay pot. Fish aficionados will proclaim that the cheeks have the best flesh, and the eyes are a treat.
Fried Carrot Cake
Do not confuse this with the dessert carrot cake, a moist cake made with carrot and spices; covered with cream cheese frosting.
This savoury carrot cake has no carrot, at least not of the orange variety. Instead, the core ingredients of the cake are rice flour and white radish which some call white carrot. The mixture is steamed, then cut into cubes and fried with garlic, eggs and preserved radish called ‘chai poh‘.
Commonly referred to as ‘chai tow kway‘ in the Teochew dialect, these smooth and soft fried rice cakes can be found in almost every hawker centre. It is served black (fried with sweet dark soya sauce) or white (original).
Chinese rice cake
The simple dish has its origins in Southern China’s Chaoshan province. There, it is known as ‘chao gao guo‘ (fried starch cake) which is made mainly with rice flour. Fish sauce and black sweetened soya sauce are used to marinate the rice cake before it is cut and fried with eggs, oysters and prawns.
Brought over to Singapore by Teochew immigrants, it was known as ‘char kway‘ (fried rice cake), which was simply cubes of rice cakes fried with dark soya sauce.
Teochew hawker Ng Soik Theng claims to be the first to have called this dish ‘chai tow kway‘ in the 1960s when she added white radish to it. Another hawker, Lau Goh, is said to have popularised the white version.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Singapore’s ‘national’ dish
This delectable dish can be found at almost every dining spot, from humble hawker centres to high-end restaurants.
When you see succulent cooked chicken hanging neatly in a row at a food stall, you are looking at one of Singapore’s national dishes – Hainanese Chicken Rice.
A ubiquitous sight in hawker centres across the country, it is also on the menu in many major restaurants and even hotel cafes. All offer the same dish at varying prices: bite-sized chicken pieces – or a whole chicken if you’re eating as a big group – served with fragrant rice and a spicy chilli and ginger paste.
The recipe for the dish is adapted from early Chinese immigrants from Hainan Island, off the southern coast of China. Back in Hainan, locals call the dish “Wenchang chicken”. They use a particular fowl that is bony and fibrous, and serve the chicken with oily rice. A ground green chilli dip rounds off the dish.
Singapore-style chicken rice
The cooking method hails back to its Hainanese roots. The chicken is steeped in boiling water or blanched till it is fully cooked, before soaking it in cold water to ensure the meat remains tender. In a local twist, the chicken can also be roasted or braised in soya sauce for a different taste.
In Singapore, the dish is infused with local Cantonese influences which inspired the tangy red chilli sauce dip and the use of tender and young chicken.
It is, however, the rice and chilli sauce that can make or break the dish. The rice, cooked in chicken stock with ginger and pandan leaves, with just the right amount of oiliness. And the chilli must have the right blend of spiciness and sourness.
It’s the savoury and creamy rice that carries this dish, with spicy sambal to give it that extra zing.
Translate ‘nasi lemak‘ from Malay to English, and you will get ‘rich rice’. The ‘rich’ refers not to wealth, but the coconut cream that makes it oh-so sinfully scrumptious.
This dish is a perfect mix of flavours: aromatic rice infused with coconut milk and pandan leaves, eaten with deep-fried fish or chicken wings, ‘otah‘ (grilled fish paste), fried ‘ikan bilis‘ (local anchovies) and peanuts, eggs, cucumber slices, and ‘sambal‘ (spicy chilli paste).
It is a hearty meal that is adored by the Malays as well as non-Malays who have their own version of nasi lemak. The rice is the same, although some have a greenish hue owing to the pandan leaves, but it is the side dishes that set each other apart.
The Chinese version, for instance, can come with anything from deep fried drumstick, chicken franks and fish cake to curried vegetables and luncheon meat.
Dark and sticky, the salad may not look very appealing at first; but tuck into this culinary marvel and you’ll be amazed by the delicious mix of sweet and savoury.
Rojak means an “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay, and the dish sure lives up to its name. Its ingredients reflect the cultural diversity of Singapore, bringing together disparate items with strong flavours into a harmoniously tasty blend.
It is a local salad of mixed vegetables, fruits, and dough fritters that is covered in a sticky black sauce and garnished with chopped peanuts and finely-cut fragrant ginger flowers for a piquant taste.
The mark of a good rojak is its sauce, made up of fermented prawn paste, sugar, lime and chilli paste. It must be an appetising mix of sweet, sour and spicy.
The sauce is traditionally mixed in a large wooden bowl with a wooden spoon. Only when the sauce is complete are the ingredients added and thoroughly mixed.
These include blanched kang-kong and beansprout, crunchy raw cucumber and Chinese turnip, tangy-tasting fruits like sliced pineapple, young mangoes or unripe rose apples (jambu), fried dough fritters and toasted bean curd.
No one really knows the origins of rojak as Asia has many different types. These include the Indonesia gado-gado with rice cakes and vegetables drenched in a peanut sauce to the Indian rojak whose peanut sauce is fiery orange in colour and used as a dip for its ingredients like fried dough, potatoes and steamed squid.
Rojak is typically sold by Chinese hawkers. Until the 1980s, rojak sellers could still be found, often illegally, moving through neighbourhoods on bicycles. Today, they have found a home in most food centres in the city.
There are various types of laksa in Singapore – from the tamarind-tang of Penang Laksa to the curry-like Sarawak Laksa. But none is more famous than the home-grown Katong Laksa.
Katong Laksa is inspired by the Peranakans (Straits Chinese) who live in the Katong area. It has a spicy soup stock the colour of a flaming sunset, flavoured with coconut milk and dried shrimp, and topped with ingredients like cockles, prawns and fishcake.
Its defining characteristic is the noodles: thick vermicelli cut into shorter pieces that can be easily slurped up with a spoon. At some stalls, you only get a spoon to eat the laksa – no chopsticks needed.
The taste is so sought-after that Katong Laksa has travelled beyond the east to reach every corner in Singapore, due to franchising and enterprising laksa stalls copying the flavours.
Over the years, many are confused about its authenticity as every stall in Katong claims to be the original.
There is the more well-known ‘janggut’ version, named after the hawker who sprouts a few hairs from a mole below his chin, hence his nickname, ‘janggut’ – which means beard in Malay. This stall, helmed by his family, now operates from Queensway Shopping Centre.
There are also less hair-profile stalls along the Katong stretch, all selling the same tasting dish that has come to define the Singapore laksa. The difference is that normal laksa requires chopsticks to scoop up the uncut noodles.
This Indian specialty is pleasing to the palate and the eye. Watch the prata-maker stretch the dough by slapping and swinging it in one skilful motion.
Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, roti prata hits the spot every time. A South-Indian flat bread made by frying stretched dough flavoured with ghee (Indian clarified butter), it is usually served with fish or mutton curry.
Roti means ‘bread’, and prata or paratha means ‘flat’ in Hindi language. Some believe the dish evolved from original pancake recipes from Punjab in India, but across the causeway in Malaysia, the flat bread is called ‘roti canai’, which some say is a nod to its origins from Chennai.
No matter where it comes from, roti prata is a satisfying meal for any hour of the day. While the classic versions are plain or with egg, local menus now feature a variety of eccentric variations such as cheese, chocolate, ice-cream, and even durians – turning it from a main course to a dessert.
Between the many prata stalls in Singapore, many opening till late in the night, the texture of the dough differs – ranging from soft and chewy to super crispy, with most being somewhere in the middle of flaky and fluffy.
The most difficult part of prata-making is stretching the dough, and it is a sight to behold. Watch how the prata-man whirls and twirls the dough until it is paper thin and four or five times larger than the original piece. After folding this thin piece into a rectangle, he cooks the prata on a greased griddle.
The recommended way to eat it: dig in with your fingers!
Acknowledgement : http://www.yoursingapore.com/dining-drinks-singapore/local-dishes.html