Who can resist biting into Ah Hoi’s Kitchen’s chicken satay slathered with rich peanut sauce, Baba Chew’s kueh pie tee filled with turnip, char kway teow kissed with wok hei, and deep-fried carrot cake sticks. Plus a mug of milky tea to soothe the palate.
Having been raised on a smorgasbord of affordably priced street food, Singaporeans are a spoilt lot. Yet we are fiercely proud of our signatures from slurp-worthy laksa to the quintessential chicken rice. Most of these dishes have a slew of variations and an original version that loyalists love.
Take our famous chilli crab for instance—it was Madam Cher Yam Tian who fired up her very first sambal-spiked crab recipe in the 1950s at an eatery on pre-reclamation Bedok Beach along Upper East Coast Road. Her son, Roland Lim, continues to serve this iconic speciality—a lighter, sweeter version of the original—at Roland Restaurant. Other renditions can be enjoyed today at places like Dragon Phoenix, which still turns out its original sweet, spicy and tangy chilli creation.
It goes without saying, life would be pretty monotonous without our moreish carb-filled staples. We have them for breakfast, lunch, supper, or whenever hunger pangs strike. Everyone has his or her favourite. Popular stalwarts include wok hei infused char kway teow, chicken rice (steamed or roasted), and richly flavoured Hokkien mee from Yong Huat at East Coast Road, which proudly displays a laminated sign of its founding year: 1949. And of course the wildly popular bak chor mee from the nine-decade-old Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle. It doesn’t matter if it has a coveted Michelin star or not, the modest coffeeshop stall continues to draw crowds day after day.
While avocado toast and other healthy-ish breakfast food trends are all the rage now, what’s standing the test of time is our humble yet satisfying local eats. Before we start the day, we can’t wait to unwrap our brown paper package of steamed chwee kueh topped with a delicious mess of chai poh (preserved radish) and dollops of chilli paste, or nasi lemak topped with fried fish and sambal, snugly cocooned in a banana leaf parcel. We crave for addictive deep-fried carrot cake batons of yesteryear or our favourite wok-fried carrot cake tossed with egg or lashings of sweet black sauce. To every food loving Singaporean, these are worth waking up early for.
Of course, in between meals, we have all manner of treats to fuel our stomachs. Savoury snacks include blushing pink Teochew png kueh, and Nonya pulut panggang made with glutinous rice and rempah udang wrapped with banana leaves and grilled. For sweet bites, there’s the ubiquitous steamed multi-coloured kueh lapis, ang ku kueh, bouncy ondeh ondeh and custardy pandan-infused kueh salat. For something that’s harder to come by, there’s the kueh tutu filled with coconut or peanuts, and Malay-style putu piring sweetened with gula melaka. Perfect with a cup of hot teh tarik or kopi O.
Our recommendation? Drop the diet if you’re on one, and revel in these colourful local signatures this National Day or if you must, around the clock.