Traveling and exploring new cities is fun and helps me to escape from the daily stress of routine mundane life. When visiting new countries for the first time I also try to learn about their culture and their tradition and if given an opportunity I love to savor their local cuisines. For a foodie like me, visiting a place where devouring delicacies is a national pastime and food is a national obsession is like attaining Nirvana. Yes, I’m talking about Singapore, the land of Fast East where food is used to promote diversity and global cultural interaction.
Singapore is an ethnic potpourri of the neighboring places that includes India, Malaysia, Chinese and it has reinvented itself as one of SouthEast Asia’s bustling and dynamic cities. While Singapore boasts of 5 star restaurants that dish out multi-cuisine delicacies, the local authentic food can be relished at open air hawker centers that are business areas for street stalls. Amidst these street stalls one can drool over spicy, aromatic food that is influenced from variety of cuisines ranging from Malay, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese.
|A hawker center in Lavender, Singapore|
Although Singapore is widely known for its sea food delicacies, I, being a staunch vegetarian (Ok, I am known to saunter around stalls serving boiled eggs, so staunch is not an appropriate word for me), started searching for local Singaporean vegetarian dishes. And the first dish that I loved is Nasi lemak which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and typically eaten for breakfast. Nasi lemak in Malay means oily or fatty rice but it also means rich or creamy in texture because the rice is soaked in coconut cream and then steamed to perfection. The steamed rice is then served on a banana leaf along with various side dishes like boiled egg, hot spicy sauce, cucumber slices, anchovies and peanuts.
In another variation, the rice dish is also served along with fish cake and because of its versatility Nasi lemak can be eaten at any time of the day and not just for breakfast.
|Nasi lemak is traditionally sold wrapped in banana leaves|
|Nasi lemak, served with fish cake, ikan bilis, egg, and buah keluak chicke|
Another dish that caught my attention was Rojak which is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad and if you are thinking that a salad is boring, then think again! Because Rojak is an eclectic mix of fritters, boiled vegetables, cucumber, bean sprouts all stirred in a spicy, sweet peanut sauce. Now that’s a perfect combination of heath and taste, isn’t it?
|Indian rojak in Singapore|
In some SouthEast Asia cultures, Rojak forms an important part of traditional prenatal care and ceremony where a special fruit Rojak, consisting of cucumbers, pineapple, deep fried tofu and bean sprouts are mixed with a dressing of sugar, chili, lime juice and shrimp paste. Another variation of Rojak that interested me was the Rojak Juhi, which contains fried tofu, fried boiled potatoes, cucumber, noodles, lettuce and cabbages with a dressing of peanut sauce, vinegar, chili and fried garlic. Isn’t the description itself mouthwatering?
|Fruit Rojak in Singapore.|
Now even though I’m a vegetarian there was this dish that I came across which almost made me want to jump over the fence and join my meat eating friends. And that dish was Bak-kut-teh. The name itself is fascinating. Bak-kut-teh is a Chinese soup that literally means “meat bone tea”. The soup is made of pork ribs simmered for hours in a broth of herbs and spices like anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds and garlic. The soup is also made more delicious by adding other ingredients like mushrooms, fried tofu and finally it’s garnished with chopped coriander leaves and green onions. The interesting fact about the name of this dish is even though Bak-kut-teh has tea in its title, there is no ingredient of tea mixed during its preparation. The reference to tea is because men used to sip on a strong Chinese tea alongside this soup in order to dissolve the generous amount of fat in the pork consumed. Hmmm... Tea with soup? A strange combination!
|Bak kut teh|
For a non-vegetarian foodie, Singapore can be a Mecca of sorts because there are so many lip smacking dishes to relish and enjoy. A few of the dishes I’d have tried out had I been a meat-eater are
Hokkien mee which is a dish consisting of egg noodles or rice noodles stir fried with egg, slices of pork, prawns and squid.
Mee soto which is a spicy noodle/soup dish made of noodles along with slices of tomato, boiled egg, bean sprouts, peanuts, cabbages and beef or chicken meat. Broth is then poured over this combination to give it more soupy texture.
Nasi goreng which literally means fried rice and is made by mixing stir fried rice with shallot, garlic, tamarind and chili and it’s usually accompanied with egg, chicken or prawns.
|Fried Rice in Singapore|
I also liked this sweet dish called Cendol, which is a traditional dessert made with ingredients like Coconut milk, jelly noodles made from rice flour, shaved ice and palm sugar. Cendol is also served with Vanilla ice-cream topping which makes the dish more mouth-watering.
The amalgamation of Singaporean culture and Western influences has brought out different twists to traditional dishes resulting in new and experimental cuisines with a lingering authentic taste.
Singaporean cuisine is a blend of spicy, saucy, sweet and aromatic flavors and it is guaranteed to titillate all taste buds. No wonder Singapore is heralded as the “food paradise” and Singaporean government even celebrates a day in July as “Singapore Food Festival”. Sigh! Well, we need all 365 days of a year to appreciate the delightful Singaporean cuisine.
|Meme created by me|
P.S- I've never been to Singapore but all the necessary information were referenced from Wikipedia
All images have been sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singaporean_cuisine