How food and drink shaped a nation
Exploring a country or culture’s cuisine is one of the better ways to immerse yourself in the lifestyle of your current destination. But do you ever wonder how or why their staple dishes and drinks came about? Enter Singapore—a melting pot of flavor from surrounding countries that have helped shape the island into the nation it is today.
Influences from Singapore’s neighbors led to an evolution of taste and tradition coming from China, Malaya, India, Indonesia, and more in the early 1800s, which can still be seen and enjoyed today. With a myriad of cultural influences from Asia and neighboring islands, you’ll find a mix of culture through cuisine, which can be easily devoured in Singapore’s hawker centers—food halls with a plethora of vendors offering local and worldly flavors from Singapore’s influential neighbors.
With over 100 hawker centers in Singapore, these food halls are mainstays in local everyday lives. With such a selection of cuisine, you’ll see Singaporeans eating at hawker centers every day if not multiple times a day. Being such a staple of the island’s day-to-day culture, they have recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, implementing the preservation of this culture for the future. Must-go is an understatement.
A dish you shouldn’t skip is Singapore’s Hainanese chicken rice. Originally inspired by the Hainan dish that was introduced in the 19th century, it evolved to be Singapore’s national dish. Meshed with local and Cantonese flavors, the dish includes tangy red chili sauce, rice and tender chicken. Something you’ll see being eaten everywhere. It seems simple, but this Singapore staple packs a punch of flavor. And good news is, some of the best spots to find this dish are in hawker centers throughout the island.
And don’t forget something to wash it down. The cocktail scene is on the upswing, with rising notoriety surrounding bars and restaurants serving alcohol. Not only Asia’s best, but Singapore is also home to a number of bars that are among the top-ranked in the world. Not too shabby for anyone who likes a fresh libation on vacation. The Singapore Sling would be our suggestion for those who enjoy an adult beverage. Again coming from Hainanese influence, this drink is fruity and tropical—ideal for a vacation to this Pacific Island. Consisting of gin, curaçao, cherry liqueur, pineapple and lime juice, Bénédictine and grenadine syrup, the taste is refreshing but complex. And it all came from secretively accommodating women in the early 1900s. During the colonial era, it was frowned upon for ladies to consume alcohol in public, so they usually resorted to teas and fruit juices. Seeing and seizing this opportunity, Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon threw together what is now the Singapore Sling to disguise the alcoholic drink as something socially acceptable the women could be seen sipping on, and thus, the national cocktail was born. Pink and fruity with a couple sly ingredients.
As populations from different cultures continued to migrate and settle in Singapore, the cuisine continuously evolved helping to shape Singapore into the food and beverage Mecca it is today. And not only does Singapore offer extensive options to this internationally influenced local fare, there are also more intimate ways to eat, drink and indulge your way through Singapore. Especially now with SingapoRewards. A fancy little something our friends across the globe put together to encourage travelers to not only make their way to Singapore but to fully dive into the culture. If you book a trip, Visit Singapore will offer you a complimentary immersive experience to explore the hidden gems throughout the island that you otherwise may not have seen. So here are a couple good options to wine, dine and explore your way through Singapore. Gotta love rewards.
SingapoRewards Curated Tours:
Local Farm-to-Table Workshop
Time: 3 Hours
Supporting local farmers, while eating fresh and minimizing the footprint. Seems ideal. To optimize the minimal farmland, Singapore has turned to hydroponic farming, which is part of Singapore’s commitment to sustainability, with hopes to build up the industry to be able to produce 30% of the country’s needs locally and responsibly by 2030. Good for fresh ingredients and better for the planet.
On this tour, you’ll be able to dive right into this lifestyle with a hands-on experience in a hydroponic greenhouse at a local farm.
Learn the process behind this sustainable farming practice with an up close and personal look, smell and touch of Singapore produce and end the day by harvesting your own and learning how to cook with these fresh ingredients. You’ll be feeling like a local in no time.
Brass Lion Gin Distillery Tour
Time: 1 Hour
Sip and taste your way through the history of Asian-inspired Gin flavors at The Brass Lion Distillery with a tour and tasting. And like anywhere, you have to be of legal drinking age to partake—18 years old.
Start off with a welcome cocktail, followed by an immersive tour taking you through the steps of the distillation process, showcasing the botanicals that give Singapore Dry Gin its taste.
End the tour by sipping on The Brass Lion’s full range of flavors with a Gin flight of their finest and a nice light snack pairing to go with. Can never go wrong with Gin and snacks.
Singapore Early Migrants — Stories and Snacks Walking Tour
Time: 2 Hours
Like we said earlier—lots of flavors and influences have shaped the food and beverage scene, so why not take a tour to experience the staples of Singapore?
Walk the roads and neighborhoods the Hainanese migrants established themselves on and experience their culinary expertise with the country’s national dish. Stopping at must-sees along the way, you’ll find yourself at Raffles Hotel where you can get the signature Singapore Sling. A good day of Singaporean history and staples.
Not into tea, farms or snacks and stories? Check out other tours here.
Best Spots for Chicken Rice:
Boon Tong Kee on Balestier Road
The perfect place to get your fix of chicken rice not just for lunch and dinner, but also for that late-night craving. Especially if you’ve been slinging Slings.
Tian Tian at Maxwell Food Centre
Only $5 per plate and far tastier than a Subway Foot-long, this is a steal for the quality and taste. Definitely a fan favorite.
Although this isn’t Hainanese chicken rice, this stall serves up another popular version of chicken rice. And not only is it affordable, but it also found itself on the one-Michelin star list for five years. Cheapest one-star in the world
Must-Try Hawker Centres:
Maxwell Food Centre
Home to one of the best chicken rice, and also considering this place is held in high regard by Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain, you probably want to check this one out.
Best for: Chicken rice, prawn fritters, local sausage, raw fish
Pro tip: Try to get there before noon to beat the lines
Amoy Street Food Centre
A solid mix of heritage and flavor with a number of Michelin Bib Gourmand awardees scattered amongst the stalls you can fill up on all your Singapore favorites in one spot.
Best for: Rice dumplings, Singapore-style ramen with fishballs, fried Indian snacks (vadai)
Pro tip: Avoid lunchtime as it’s a big lunch break spot for surrounding offices
Tiong Bahru Food Centre
One of the larger hawker centers, this has a great variety of options including more than just food, but fresh flowers, little shops, and more. This spot is a must for breakfast and lunch, and with so much variety, you could eat both meals here and experience entirely different cuisines. One-stop shop.
Best for: Roasted duck rice, prawn noodles, pig organ soup
Pro tip: Be sure to check out the wet market downstairs for fresh produce
Best Spots for a Singapore Sling:
Raffles Long Bar at Raffles Hotel
You can’t not try the drink where the drink originated. Gets pretty busy at night, so use the ol’ “5 o’clock somewhere” line to validate beating the crowd.
Nutmeg & Clove
Offering not only the original version of the Singapore Sling, but another called the Slinging Lion, which they age in charred oak barrels for two weeks. Fancy shmancy.
The name says it all. Sip your Sling with a view of Singapore’s skyline. Not to mention their version of the national cocktail is also barrel-aged with a couple of other tweaks granting it the name Solera Sling.