WHAT IT IS: A whole crab is cooked in a sweet, spicy, tomato-y sauce, often finished with coddled eggs for added texture. It’s super messy, but any reputable restaurant will bring a bowl of warm water with a lemon slice along with your chili crab, because napkins alone won’t be enough to clean your hands afterward.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: The meat gets really tender and takes on the sweet chili/tomato flavor completely. Fried mantou (a slightly sweet, white bread) is usually served alongside the dish to mop up every last bit of sauce.
WHAT IT IS: A Cantonese pork bun that’s available at hawker centers — open-air food courts that are everywhere in Singapore — and dim sum restaurants. Subtley sweet, fluffy bread is filled with pulled roast pork in a sweet barbecue sauce, then steamed.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: The bun is impossibly soft, the pork is perfectly tender, and the meat-to-sauce ratio is completely perfect.
WHAT IT IS: A typical hawker dessert, ais kacang is a Singaporean sno-cone. A layer of of sweet red beans sits beneath a mound of shaved ice, with colorful sugar syrup and condensed or evaporated milk poured over top. Other toppings vary, but popular ones are sweet canned corn, mango, basil seeds, soursop (a tangy tropical fruit), or aloe vera jelly.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: Ais kacang is super-sweet, but it’s a refreshing way to end a meal. And trust me, the sweet red beans have an unusually excellent flavor that brings the whole thing together.
WHAT THEY ARE: Essentially a vanilla flavored Tootsie Roll, the Chinese candies are wrapped in a thin layer of edible sticky-rice paper.
WHY THEY’RE DELICIOUS: The candy itself tastes like sweet milk, though not too sweet to eat a whole handful at once. What really sets these apart, though, is the rice paper that melts in your mouth as you chew.
WHAT THEY ARE: The country’s most popular street food, curry puffs are to Singapore what hot dogs and jumbo pretzels are to New York City. The traditional curry puff is a chicken and potato mixture coated in a mild, tumeric-based curry paste, wrapped in a thick, savory pastry crust, then baked or fried. The most popular vendor is the Old Change Kee snack chain, but the snacks are served at countless food stalls and restaurants.
WHY THEY’RE DELICIOUS: Similar to an Indian samosa, the sturdy crust is nice and savory, but plain enough not to distract from the strongly spiced chicken/potato filling. Also, they’re small enough that you can eat lots of them (always a plus).
WHAT IT IS: Sambal stingray is prepared by smothering a stingray wing with spicy-sweet sambal chili paste, wrapping it in a banana leaf, and grilling it. It’s served right on the leaf, and is easy to pull apart with chopsticks or a fork.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: Never eaten stingray before? It’s similar to skate wing (though stingrays are bigger), with super tender, almost sweet flesh that comes in a large, flat filet. The sauce is spicy-sweet, and the fish also takes on some flavor from the grill and the banana leaf.
WHAT IT IS: A golden lager, brewed in Singapore and sold everywhere on the island.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: Make no mistake, Tiger is a simple, mass-produced lager. Still, it’s balanced and refreshing in tropical weather. The lager is now widely available in the US. But only in Singapore can you go on the Tiger Brewery Tour, which ends with 45 minutes of all-you-can drink Tiger beer, for just S$16 (US$12.75).
WHAT IT IS: Cubed beef braised in a sauce of ground aromatics (i.e. lemongrass, garlic, shallots), chilies, spices, tamarind, kaffir lime, and coconut milk for hours, so that almost all of the liquid evaporates.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: As the sauce dries out, the beef absorbs the flavors, gets extremely tender, and begins to caramelize, resulting in falling-apart beef coated in super-concentrated sauce.
WHAT IT IS: Putting the Frappucino to shame, iced coffee at hawker stalls or traditional coffee shops in Singapore is brewed strong in a metal pot with a long spout, then mixed with sweetened condensed milk, poured over ice, and served in a small drawstring bag with a straw (pictured above).
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: Between the strong brew and the super sweet milk, it’s like drinking a thin milkshake with a serious caffeine kick.
WHAT IT IS: A mixture of vermicelli (rice) and yellow (egg) noodles are cooked in shellfish stock with squid and prawns, then wok-fried in lard with scrambled eggs and fish sauce.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: The slippery, fishy-noodle has a strong pork fat flavor that’s hard to forget. To make things even better, it’s served with sambal chili sauce (for spice) and fresh lime that brightens things up.
WHAT IT IS: A stir-fried noodle dish that puts Pad Thai to shame. Thick, chewy flat rice noodles are stir fried in pork fat with shrimp (or sometimes other meat), Chinese chives, bean sprouts, and egg, then coated in a thick, dark sweet soy sauce.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: Like many great things, it is unbelievably high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. But in a great way: the chewy noodles and crunchy bean sprouts play well off each other, and chives make the dish seem lighter than it actually is.
WHAT IT IS: Literally translating to “fried rice,” it’s just that. But Singapore does it best: Day-old rice is stir fried with shallots, garlic, ginger, red chilies, and various vegetables or proteins, then coated in a sweet soy sauce and (this is the most important part) topped with a fried sunny side up egg, runny on top and golden brown on the bottom.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: The egg is perfectly fried every time, and there are so many flavors that it’s always satisfying, no matter what kind of mood you’re in.
WHAT IT IS: Completely unrelated to the sweet, cream-cheese frosted spice cake that shares its name, Singaporean carrot cake is a savory dish, and it’s actually made with daikon radish, not carrot — in Chinese, the word for “carrot” is the same as the word for “daikon,” thus the name. Steamed daikon radish cake (a chewy starch made of rice flour, shredded daikon, and water) is cut up and stir fried with egg, preserved radish, and other seasonings.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: It’s just a little bit funky, and essentially a perfectly greasy, salty omelet.
WHAT THEY ARE: In the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, mountains of red-lidded plastic cookie jars appear in markets throughout Singapore. They’re filled with various Chinese confectionary, the best of which is the “pineapple tart,” a ball of sweet, very dense pineapple filling baked into a buttery pastry shell.
WHY THEY’RE DELICIOUS: The shape varies — sometimes the cookies are balls, other times they are more like actual tarts, with pastry on the bottom and a dollop of filling on top — but the sticky pineapple filling and crumbly pastry are consistently excellent. Extra point for how extravagantly dense they are.
WHAT IT IS: A thin, rolled wheat crepe, filled with a cooked mixture of seasoned carrots, chinese turnips, and dried shirimp, plus sweet Chinese sausage, sliced egg, lettuce, peanuts, and bean sprouts.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: It’s got an intense savory flavor, but the huge variety of textures in every bite is what makes popiah truly excellent.
WHAT THEY ARE: Ramen noodles that have been baked into a salty, crispy brick, and they’re meant to be eaten as is (so, truly instant ramen). The noodle snacks are available in a variety of flavors — chicken is the best, but barbecue is pretty stellar, too.
WHY THEY’RE DELICIOUS: What they absolutely lack in nutritional value, they make up for in addictive umami-ness.
WHAT IT IS: A spicy noodle soup. The broth is made by frying a curry paste (common ingredients are shallots, garlic, ginger, red chiles, coriander, tumeric, and dried shrimp), then adding chicken stock, coconut milk, lemongrass, sugar, and lots of fish sauce. It’s served with rice noodles, shrimp, and hard boiled egg.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: The combination of intense broth with soft noodles will make your tastebuds weep. Mostly tears of joy, but also a few tears of extreme spiciness.
WHAT IT IS: Traditionally a breakfast dish, long grain rice is cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in a pandan leaf, then served with cucumber slices, roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg, and fried anchovies in sambal (spicy chili) sauce.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: All the different textures work perfectly together, and the whole dish is subtly brought together by the flavors of pandan and coconut, with the fried anchovies adding a kick of salt.
WHAT IT IS: A dish of skewered meat that’s been marinated in a sweet, salty, tumeric glaze, then grilled over an open flame. Chicken and beef versions are also popular, but mutton — the meat of a mature sheep (as opposed to lamb, which is typically from a sheep one year or younger) — is best.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: The super flavorful, slightly gamey meat gets charred and caramelized over the fire, but stays really tender. It pairs perfectly with the soy-peanut dipping sauce it’s often served with.
WHAT IT IS: A flatbread made of buttery (actually, it’s usually margarine) yeasted dough folded over itself many times, creating perfectly greasy, airy layers when pan fried in a generous amount of oil.
WHY IT’S DELICIOUS: Possibly the most addicting food on the planet, It’s often served with a curry dipping sauce, or stuffed with eggs or onions. Even plain, the ‘chewy on the inside, flaky on the outside’ texture in unparalleled.