Singapore is known for many things among outsiders – being a “fine” and acronym-loving city, her post-independence economic miracle, a diverse and rich multicultural heritage, and so much more. However, the deepest personal impression left on visitors who come and go from this sunny island is food, simply food. Food is the one defining national obsession of this culinary paradise, uniting strangers in a city where people live to eat, and food is always on the tip of their tongues (yes, pun intended). Locals (and perhaps foreigners too) would travel across the land to makan (“eat” in Malay) at an up-and-coming eatery, queue up happily for half-an-hour just to have a taste of a popular dish, and are always enthusiastic about recommending their favourite hawker stall.
Singapore is a cultural destination for its food as much as for its festivals or architecture, with a diversity of cuisines that few other places can compare with. There is a selection of unique ethnic and national dishes, and a vast range of international cuisines. Hence, this multicultural city is known for being packed with culinary highlights that cater to every taste and budget, from simple but much-loved hawker centres to fine dining at some of the classiest restaurants in the world.
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This is the foodie's dream, an epicurean journey through a food-lover's paradise. There are countless paths that can be taken through Singapore's many hotspots of gastronomy. Nonetheless, this particular food trail will take you through the island's cultural and ethnic districts – these are feasts for your senses, and are ideal spots to sample Singapore's rich heritage in the best way - culinary art. Each stop will have a few recommendations to choose from, at your own pace. However, if you are able to stomach it, try something at each eatery; it'll be worth the calories. After all, you are in one of the great food capitals of the world. Take a stroll at each point with trails that will take you through the sights and sounds of each district, crafted specially by our writers!
Go ahead, indulge yourself - it's time to makan!
$ - two course meal for one person below S$15
$$ - two course meal for one person above S$15
Morning in Katong
The nearest MRT stations are Paya Lebar [EW8/CC9] and Eunos [EW7].
Bus nos. 15, 16, 33, 155 take you to Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place;
Bus nos. 10, 12, 14, 32, 40 and 155 serve East Coast Road.
Traditionally associated with the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) and Eurasian communities, Katong is one of Singapore's most treasured and beloved food stops and cultural enclaves. A melting pot of cultures, Katong is a treasure trove rich in history and picture-perfect architecture of shophouses and villas, and continues to exude the charm and beauty of Singapore's yesteryears. Any trip to Katong is first and foremost a food trail, which takes you through a delightful range of cuisines, in traditional kopitiams (coffeeshops), Peranakan institutions, and multi-ethnic eateries. The magical charm of Katong is best captured in the morning, with the wafting aroma of freshly-baked bread.
Chin Mee Chin Confectionery $
This nostalgic coffee shop is a Katong institution that encompasses an old-style bakery where hot kaya (a traditional jam made from eggs, sugar and coconut juice) buns and delightful sugar rolls are sold freshly baked. One of the last remaining Hainanese coffee shops of old, Chin Mee Chin remains popular and still retains an authentic 1950s ambience. The rich strong coffee is the perfect accompaniment to the atmosphere and taste of a piping hot traditional breakfast here.
(204 East Coast Road. +65 6345 0419. Daily 7.30am-4.30pm, except Monday closed.)
Nonya Laksa Stalls $
A trip to Katong would not be complete without tasting the famous Katong laksa, a tangy, spicy dish! Noodles are served in a savoury coconut-milk curry-like gravy with fried tofu, beansprouts, and fresh cockles. Several stalls along this stretch of East Coast Road have been engaged in Singapore’s infamous ‘Laksa Wars’ for years, where the point of contention is the source of the original, authentic Katong laksa. However, the laksa at 328 Katong Laksa is good enough to have been ranked number one on Lonely Planet's list of things to do in Singapore and second in Asia!
(216 East Coast Road. +65 9732 8163. Daily 8am – 10pm.)
Glory Catering $$
Glory is yet another longstanding restaurant in Katong, a family-run eatery with a cosy ambience, which serves a popular and unique Nonya-style popiah (fresh spring roll), as well as Nasi Padang (Indonesian meal of rice served with a variety of dishes) with a range of Peranakan-inspired dishes. Try the beef rendang (curried meat in coconut marinade) and sayur lodeh (vegetables in coconut milk soup). Takeaway items include spicy condiments, kaya jams, snacks and kuehs (colourful steamed pastries made from glutinous rice, often flavoured with coconut and palm sugar).
(139 East Coast Road. +65 6344 1749. Daily 8.30am – 8.30pm, except Monday closed.)
The Katong and Joo Chiat Trail takes you through an eclectic range of sites of interest in the surrounding area, from old parish churches and beautifully conserved shophouses to modern heritage interpretation centres and intricate places of worship.
Board bus 12 at “Roxy Sq” and alight at “Chinatown Pt”. The bus ride takes around half an hour.
Afternoon in Chinatown
Chinatown is one of Singapore's oldest ethnic districts, and stands as a juxtaposition between old and new, which still bustles with life much as it did years ago. This enclave continues to be a hot spot for cultural tourism and a treasure trove of insights into traditional Chinese life. However, beyond the street markets, antique shops, and intricate temples, Chinatown offers a culinary tour that through the varied cuisines of China’s provinces – including eats such as dim sum, frog leg porridge, and Asian desserts, as well as restaurants serving roast duck and other speciality Chinese dishes. This is the place to get down and local with your food, and a wonderful spot for lunch.
This iconic hawker centre is an authentic Singaporean dining experience, set amidst the cacophony of noise and chaos of over 100 stalls. Especially popular with the lunchtime crowd, the large variety of local food offered here ensures that you will be spoilt for choice. Must-try dishes here include the famous Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice (roasted or steamed chicken, served with rice cooked in chicken stock and a chilli-ginger dip), steaming traditional congee (a thick rice porridge) with pork and century egg from Zhen Zhen Porridge, and an ever-popular char kway teow (broad noodles, cockles and eggs stir-fried in a dark sauce) from Marina South Delicious Food.
(1 Kadayanallur Street. Daily 8am – 10pm.)
Tiong Shian Porridge Centre $$
For those who want to try something different, this always-packed eatery specialises in congee and claypot dishes, and serves a famous frog leg claypot. Frog legs are served in a sauce bursting with flavours – spicy, salty and slightly sweet all at once. There is a range of traditional comfort foods, including sliced raw fish porridge, pork liver porridge, and other ala carte seafood and side dishes.
(265 New Bridge Road. +65 6221 1596. Daily 8am – 4am.)
Tong Heng Confectionery $
This century-old Chinese bakery is justly famous for its freshly-baked egg tarts (flaky pastry crust filled with egg custard). The egg tarts are served warm, fragrant and lightly sweetened, and are the perfect snack at any time of the day. Regulars typically walk away with boxes of egg tarts and other traditional Chinese pastries, including egg cake with red bean paste, and lao po bing (lit. wife cake, a flaky pastry made with winter melon, almond paste, and sesame, spiced with five spice powder).
(285 South Bridge Road. +65 6223 0398. Daily 9am – 10pm.)
The Chinatown Cultural Trail is a tour through the characterful district, with stops at iconic and important temples, mosques, and churches which have stood here since the 19th century. Take time to appreciate the intricate decoration and distinctive architectural features of these buildings.
Head to Chinatown MRT Station [NE4], board the train towards Punggol and alight at Little India [NE7/DT12]. You should reach in just 6 minutes.
Evening in Little India
Little India is the island’s most authentic neighbourhood, the colourfully vibrant home of the local Indian community. This enclave is a true feast for the senses – beautiful jasmine garlands, bright saris and eateries serving delicious Indian fare are all immersed, amidst the cacophony of Indian music, in the fragrance of spices and the aroma of incense and perfumes. While food in Little India is still dominated by Southern Indian fare, there is a rise in the number of Northern eateries. With a myriad of cuisines to choose from in Little India, dinnertime calls you to make your choice.
Yet another renowned hawker centre, Tekka Centre is a bustling market at the heart of Little India, currently operating at its temporary location whilst the original market undergoes renovations. This landmark houses numerous stalls selling inexpensive Indian, Indonesian and Thai garments in brilliant colours and patterns, a wet market selling fresh produce (indeed, a sight and smell to behold), and of course, the hawker centre. It is said that, amidst the noise and smells of the grimy surroundings, some of the best Indian hawker food in Singapore is offered here, from dosai (savoury lentil and rice crepe served with various fillings) to putu mayam (steamed string hoppers).
(665 Buffalo Rd. Daily 6.30am – 9pm.)
Komala Vilas $
This established South Indian institution serves vegetarian dishes on fresh banana leaves. The large variety of dosai is popular with crowds, as well as chapatti (unleavened wheat flat bread), idli (steamed rice cake) and vadai (savoury lentil & onion dougnuts), served with various chutneys. The all-you-can-eat biryani (saffron rice flavoured with spices) set meals are great too. In addition to South Indian dishes, Komala Vilas serves a splendid selection of dishes from the North. When the mains have come and gone, there’s still an array of intensely sweet Indian desserts to choose from.
(76/78 Serangoon Road. +65 6293 6980. Lunch 11am – 3.30pm, Dinner 6pm – 10.30pm.)
Fish Head Curry $$
Along Race Course Road, two restaurants are legendary for serving signature fish head curry dishes, one of Singapore's national dishes – the Banana Leaf Apolo and Muthu’s Curry. While the Banana Leaf Apolo is a popular stop on the tourist trail and the intensely spicy fish head curry draws fans from all around, Muthu’s Curry is considered by most to be the founder of the dish. The milder curry will please first-timers. A wide range of South Indian dishes is complemented by North Indian fare, including naan (leavened flatbread baked in a clay oven), tandoori chicken (chicken baked in yogurt and spices), and chicken tikka (skewered chicken baked in yogurt and spices).
(138 Race Course Road. +65 6392 1722. Daily 10am to 10pm.)
The Little India Trail is a walk through the vibrant culture that is set in the heart of Singapore's most authentic ethnic district. Places of worship such as temples, mosques and churches are set against a backdrop of shops selling traditional handicrafts, artworks, fashion, antiques, and fabrics.
Board bus 48 at “Little India Stn” and alight at “Near Bali Lane”. Alternatively, talk an evening stroll.
Night in Kampong Glam
Kampong Glam, known by some as the Arab Quarter, is an ethnic district with a modern twist. Once an area where migrant Malays settled down and built a life for themselves, it is now an area thriving in unique fashion trends as well as traditional goods, such as exotic fabrics, authentic ethnic clothing and dried foods from around the world. The hustle and bustle of street bazaars are accompanied by the fragrant smoke of shisha (flavoured tobacco) and dimly lit streets, giving this quarter a uniquely laid-back ambience and exotic character of its own.
Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant $
Zam Zam is one of Singapore’s best-known Muslim restaurants, an institution that has stood for more than a century. This legendary eatery specialises in authentic Indian-Muslim dishes, which are hugely popular with the supper crowd. The murtabak (a prata stuffed with eggs, onion, and meat) is considered by many to be the best in Singapore – try it with mutton or chicken.
(697-699 North Bridge Road. +65 6298 6320. Daily 8am – 11pm.)
Teh Tarik $
Standing on the corner of Bussorah Street and Baghdad Street is a nondescript (look for the blank sign), hole in-the-wall sarabat stall that reputedly offers Singapore’s best teh tarik, a sweet tea with evaporated milk and sugar. This classic and delicious drink is served with a thick, bubbly froth created by pouring the piping hot tea from a mug into a serving glass with outstretched hands. It is believed that stretching the tea helps it to mix well with the evaporated milk to bring out the strong aroma and subtle taste of the tea and allows the drink to cool faster.
(21 Bussorah Street.)
If you are seeking something more exotic, try the best Middle Eastern food in the area at Café Le Caire, housed in a row of shophouses. Opened by a former accountant who embarked on a quest to revive Arab culture in the city, this vaguely Egyptian café serves a range of dips, breads, kebabs and other Middle Eastern fare. It also offers waterpipes with shisha in a variety of flavours, as you rest on rugs or at tables spread along the street. For a different experience, head upstairs to a room decorated with carpets from Arabia. The ambience here is distinctively exotic.
(39 Arab Street. +65 6292 0979. Sun - Thu 10am – 3.30am; Fri – Sat 10am – 5.30am.)
The Kampong Glam Trail will take you through this colourful and vibrant district, where traditional trades and long-enduring traditions continue to weave a tapestry, accompanied by up-and-coming trends and quirky new shops. This juxtaposition of old and new never fails to enchant visitors.
(Nearest MRT Station: Bugis [EW12].)