10 famous foods you should try in Singapore
If you manage to leave Singapore without having to loosen your belt a couple of notches, you've done it wrong.
Eating is a national obsession in this city state, and its 5.5 million inhabitants pride themselves on their voracious appetites.
Thankfully, you don't have to be a hoity-toity food critic to dip into Singapore's melting pot of cuisines. It's a place where you can feast like a king and still have change from $10.
You can't really go wrong, whether you're grabbing a quick satay skewer from a roadside stall, or settling in for a plate of noodles and a Tiger beer at a hawker centre.
The question is not so much where should you eat - but what should you eat? Here is a guide to some of Singapore's most famous foods.
This spiky fruit has such a pungent aroma that there are signs posted around Singapore's MRT system banning commuters from bringing it onto the train. For this reason, you'll find special outdoor durian stalls with chairs and tables so you can sit down and eat it then and there, without repulsing anybody (or breaking the law). Sampling the dastardly durian is practically a gustatory rite of passage, and I was determined to give it it a go.
For the record, the taste wasn't overly offensive, but the smell - it's like a rotting carcass with an upset stomach. It will continue to haunt you for hours, even days.
To the western palate, there is something icky about the thought of eating frog. It feels even more uncomfortable when you see pictures of Kermit grinning down at you, advertising how delicious he tastes. Singapore's Geylang district is famous for this amphibian dish, and you'll see signs for "frog porridge" everywhere (my favourite was a particularly grand-sounding shop called "Eminent Frog Porridge").
The frog legs come smothered in a thick gravy, and are surprisingly tender - kind of like nibbling on teeny, tiny chicken drumsticks. Weird, but strangely satisfying.
Singapore's staple breakfast is kaya toast, which comes slathered with a sweet spread made from coconut, eggs and sugar. It's meant to be the Hainanese equivalent of British-style jam on toast, but for a savoury twist, you can try dipping the toast in soft-boiled eggs with a splash of soy sauce.
One of the most tourist-friendly places that sells this snack is Ya Kun Kaya Toast, an old-school cafe chain found all over Singapore. Make sure to pair it with a cup of kopi, a rich, syrupy coffee made with condensed milk.
The first thing to know is that this is nothing like the icing-covered treat the words "carrot cake" bring to mind. No, Singaporean carrot cake is a totally savoury beast, made from daikon radish (in Chinese, the words for carrot and radish are the same, which is how the misnomer occurred). Once you've accepted it for what it is, you'll be able to enjoy a scrummy local delicacy which is actually more of an omelette than a cake.
It comes in two forms, white, or black (with dark soy sauce added).
This is a dish that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Think succulent pieces of chicken, glistening with jewels of fat, sitting on a bed of glossy, aromatic rice. It's one of Singapore's national dishes, and can be found absolutely everywhere.
This year, a hawker stall in the Chinatown Food Complex - Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle - was awarded a Michelin star for its version of the dish. It costs TWO DOLLARS. Now, that's my kind of fine dining.
Singapore is an island nation, so there's plenty of good seafood grub to be found. Chilli crab is another one of these famed "national dishes", and typically consists of mud crabs coated in a tangy sauce made of tomatoes and chilli paste.
This finger-lickin' meal is best eaten with your hands, but you are also given steamed mantou buns to help sop up the delectable dregs.
Sometimes you just need a big old plate of noodles to get you through a busy day of sightseeing, shopping, and... well, eating. But hokkien mee is a hawker stall favourite, and no matter how full you already are, you can always find room for it (the noodles just slip into the gaps, I swear).
These saucy noodles are plump and flavoursome, cooked in a rich prawn stock and studded with morsels of prawn, squid, egg and pork belly. It's a humble dish, but a delicious one.
CHAR KWAY TEOW
When I looked down at my plate, my first thought was, what is this mess? Char kway teow is a mash-up of all sorts of tasty bits, including flat rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, cockles, Chinese pork sausages and prawns, all bound together with a sweet dark sauce.
Beware, this monstrous dish has more calories than a KFC Double Down… which is probably why it tastes so shiok (delicious).
Every cuisine needs its own comfort food, and Singapore's laksa is everything you could want in a noodle soup. The local variant is called Katong Laksa, and is a bright orange brew flavoured with coconut milk and dried shrimp, topped with cockles, prawns and fish cakes.
The noodles are cut into short pieces, which means you can easily slurp them up with a spoon - no slippery chopsticks required.
ICE CREAM SANDWICH
In Singapore, you might find yourself needing something cold to combat the heat. Look no further than Orchard Road, where you'll find vendors selling ice cream sandwiches. This popular street snack, also known as potong ice cream, sees a big slice of ice cream sandwiched between a fluffy slice of rainbow-coloured pandan bread.
This sweet treat will give you all the energy you need for hitting the shopping malls on Singapore's most famous shopping street.
The writer travelled courtesy of Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Tourism Board.
MORE INFORMATION: yoursingapore.com
Singapore Airlines flies direct from Auckland and Christchurch. From September 21, the airline will fly from Wellington to Canberra to Singapore. Visit singaporeair.com.
The Grand Park Orchard puts you right in the centre of the Orchard Road shopping district. Visit parkhotelgroup.com/orchard.
Singapore has more than 100 open-air hawker centres, which are closely monitored by government authorities to ensure they are clean and safe. Stalls have an A, B or C rating - some foodies say you should avoid the Cs, while others insist these stalls have the best food because the cooks are simply too busy to clean!
Make sure to bring a some wet wipes with you - not only will you be wanting to clean your fingers after devouring that chilli crab, but placing down a tissue packet is also a common way of reserving your seat. Don't worry if you forget - there will always be hawkers wandering around selling these for less than a dollar.
Every table has a number. Make note of this, and give it to the stall owner when you order your food. Unless the stall specifies it is self service, they will deliver the food direct to your table.