Food cultures and cuisines of the major ethnic groups in Singapore, which include ingredients, recipes and preparatory methods that reflect their cultures and identities.
The Chinese cuisines enjoyed today were originally brought to Singapore by immigrants from the major dialect groups (Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese, amongst others).
In Singapore, Malay cuisine is made and consumed by the Malay community as well as the larger Singaporean society.
Indian cuisine in Singapore comprise of diverse and rich culinary traditions from the Indian sub-continent, many of which have been adapted and influenced by culinary traditions of local communities.
Peranakan cuisine can be described as a hybrid of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai and Western colonial influences.
Eurasian cuisine features a myriad of European and Asian influences, with Portuguese and Malay influences figuring most strongly, owning to the ancestral heritage of the local Eurasian community.
Hawker culture in Singapore can be traced back to street hawkers and the hawker centres which were first built to resettle street hawkers in the 1970s.
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Hainanese Curry Rice
Hainanese curry rice is believed to have been created by Hainanese chefs in Singapore, many of whom were employed by the British and wealthy Peranakans, and who subsequently incorporated culinary techniques from the British and Peranakan cuisine. It is typically eaten with curry chicken, pork chop, braised cabbage and braised pork.
Fish Head Curry
Fish head curry is a spicy curry dish found in Singapore. The dish can be regarded as a fusion of cultures, as fish head is a delicacy among the Chinese while curry is typical of South Indian fish curry dishes. Different variants of the dish can also be found in Indian, Chinese and Peranakan restaurants.
Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow (炒粿条) comprises a mixture of rice noodles and wheat noodles fried with other ingredients such as garlic, eggs, pork lard, Chinese waxed sausage, fishcake, beansprouts and cockles. The dish is of Teochew origin and is commonly found in hawker centres and food courts.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice was introduced by immigrants from Hainan Province in China. The dish is believed to have been adapted from a Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken (文昌鸡). It is commonly found in hawker centres, coffee shops, restaurants and even hotels. It is served with fragrant rice, spicy chili and ginger paste.
Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh (肉骨茶), or pork ribs soup, is a popular Chinese dish in Singapore. The dish is made of pork ribs, stewed in a soup made from herbs and spices. Variants of the dish exist according to the three dialect groups of Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. Bak kut teh is commonly eaten with rice, dough fritters (you tiao, 油条) and preserved vegetables, and served with Chinese tea.
Making of Sambal, Belacan and Prawn Paste
Sauces such as sambal, belacan and prawn paste are important ingredients in Malay and Peranakan cuisine, and they are used in Chinese and Eurasian cuisine as well. Sambal is a hot sauce that is made from chilies, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic and various other ingredients, and used as a chili condiment to accompany meals or for cooking. Belacan is a paste made from fermented shrimp commonly found in Southeast Asia, and prawn paste is similar to belacan in that it is also made from fermented shrimp, but varies in terms of texture, smell and taste.
Making of Tempeh
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and shaped into a firm patty. It is a staple food that originated in Indonesia, and is believed to have been brought to Singapore by migrants of Javanese ancestry. Tempeh is used in Malay cuisine, and is also becoming increasingly popular as an ingredient for modern organic, vegetarian and vegan meals.
Nasi lemak comprises rice made with coconut cream and pandan leaves. It is typically accompanied by fried anchovies, sliced cucumbers, fried fish, fried chicken wings and chili sauce. Today, many variations of the dish can be found, with a wide variety of side dishes. The dish has also inspired various culinary innovations, such as burgers and cookies using the ingredients of nasi lemak.
Roti prata, a flatbread that is often eaten with curries, was introduced to Singapore by Indian immigrants. It is sold mostly by Indian stallholders at coffee shops and hawker centres. Popular forms of roti prata include plain prata and egg prata, although many innovative versions have been introduced over the years, including cheese prata, mushroom prata, chocolate prata and more.
Nyonya or Peranakan kuehs are colourful cakes or sweets which have evolved from a fusion of different culinary influences from Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and Western cuisines. These kuehs are usually served during festive events, family gatherings and weddings.
Traditional Breakfast of Kopi and Kaya Toast
The traditional breakfast that is popular in Singapore comprises coffee, kaya toast, and soft boiled eggs. Traditional coffee is roasted with butter or margarine and brewed using the traditional strainers. The unique lingo of ordering local coffee (“kopi O”, “kopi C”, etc) can be heard in hawker centres, coffee shops and local coffee chains.
Chili crab is one of the most popular local dishes in Singapore and comprises crab coated with a sweet and savoury sauce made from a blend of tomatoes, chili paste, spices and eggs. It is commonly served with fried Chinese buns (man tou, 馒头).
Kueh Tutu (Putu Piring)
Kueh tutu, also known as putu piring, are small steamed cakes made using a flower-shaped mould. It is made with rice flour and either ground peanut or coconut fillings. There are many variations of the snack among different communities, including the Malay, Indian, Chinese and Peranakans, each with their own flavours and names for the dish.
Traditional Local Desserts
Traditional local desserts are commonly found in hawker centres and coffee shops, and popular desserts include ice kacang, cendol, cheng tng and bubur chacha. Each dessert has its distinctive flavours and cultural influences. For example, cendol is often associated with Malay or Peranakan cuisine, whereas cheng tng is a Chinese dessert made with ingredients that are believed to have a “cooling” effect on the body.
Rojak is a salad dish of mixed vegetables, fruits, dough fritters (you tiao, 油条) and sometimes beancurd. It is served with a sweet and sour sticky black sauce, and garnished with chopped peanuts. The dish incorporates ingredients from the region and different ethnic groups, and reflects the cultural diversity of Singapore. It can be found in hawker centres, food courts and coffee shops. There are also different varieties of rojak, such as Indian rojak, which is a mix of fried fritters, sweet potatoes, prawns, eggs and chili paste.
Laksa comprises thick vermicelli noodles in a spicy stock, served with fishcake, cockles and prawns. It is commonly found in hawker centres, food courts and restaurants and various versions of laksa can be found in Singapore and the region. A popular variant of laksa is the Katong Laksa, inspired by the Peranakans who lived in the Katong area.
The inventory will be a growing inventory where we will continue to add more intangible cultural heritage elements as well as more research and documentation materials over time.
As at April 2018, the inventory consists of research on 50 elements and more will be added progressively.