Singaporean cuisine: certainly not just noodles!

Singaporean Cuisine: A Melting Pot of Cultures and Flavors
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal / Gulf News

Dubai: A popular dish served in many Asian restaurants and street vendors is Singaporean noodles. But you won’t find such a dish in Singapore. Because it doesn’t exist. As Gulf News Food delved deep into Singaporean food culture, we uncovered the mystery behind the ubiquitous noodles.

Officially known as the Republic of Singapore, this maritime Southeast Asian island city-state is a former British colony and was once part of Malaysia. It influenced the culture, of which food is an integral part. Malay (the language of Malaysia) and Mandarin are the most widely spoken languages. A large South Indian expat population lives on this diamond-shaped island, said Sameer Purain, owner of Sedap, a Singaporean restaurant based in Dubai.

The Singaporean-Indian couple – Sameer and Mukta, moved to Dubai for work and failed to eat authentic food. They would often go out and try Singaporean dishes, especially – me goreng, which is quite popular in the UAE, but nothing quite tasted like “what we had at home,” they said. Even the chili crabs didn’t taste good, and they were quite expensive. Little by little, they launched their own Singaporean restaurant – Sedap, which means tasty in Malay and a phrase Singaporeans use quite often.

Singaporean Mee Goreng, a dish of stir-fried noodles

Singaporean Mee Goreng, a dish of stir-fried noodles
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal / Gulf News

The global popularity of Singaporean cuisine

Speaking to Gulf News Food, Purain said, “Everyone who comes to Singapore tries the street food (read the hawker culture below), talks about it and forgets about it as soon as they return.” Comparing Singaporean cuisine to that of their neighboring country, Thailand, Purain explained that people who visit Thailand eat Thai food and when they return they start looking for Thai restaurants in their home country. . Put simply, they discover the taste, remember the flavors and look for it too. “But that’s not the case with Singaporean cuisine. The food is popular, but not enough, ”Purain said.

Purain also said there is no dish called Singaporean noodles. “If you go to Singapore, people won’t know this dish because it doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s a way to catch people’s attention or to look international. I think Asian restaurants name a popular type of noodle that their customers usually order like Singaporean noodles, ”Purain said.

A melting pot of flavors and what makes cooking interesting

According to the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, the main ethnic groups on this island are Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians, and they follow the traditional cooking methods of their ancestors. Rice is their staple food, usually served with meat or vegetables. With the integration of different ethnicities, it is safe to say that Singapore cuisine is fusion.

Mukta Purain, co-owner of Sedap, said: “A typical dish like me goreng can have a mixture of Malaysian, Indian or Chinese. Probably one of the only cuisines as multiverse as its culture. Even the salted egg yolk shrimp is a very Chinese ingredient, but we also put curry leaves in it.

How the different flavors are integrated

Popular cooking methods, such as stir-frying, steaming, and slow cooking, are typically used. The culinary culture was inspired by various ethnic groups who settled on the island, among which the Chinese, Malaysians and Indians are numerous. It built the food culture and flavors.

Chinese flavors and ingredients such as soy sauce, garlic, oyster sauce, and sesame oil are used in dishes like Hainan Chicken Rice (poached chicken with fatty and tasty rice) Fried Kway Teow (rice noodles often sautéed with lard and a black sweet sauce).

Laksa - a spicy noodle soup

Laksa – a spicy noodle soup
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Malaysian ingredients such as turmeric, galangal, tamarind, chili, belacan (spicy dried shrimp paste), coconut milk, pandan leaves (screw pine) are used in dishes such as Assam Peda fish (spicy tamarind) Nasi Lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk, accompanied by meat / vegetables) Beef rendang (beef simmered in coconut milk and spices for several hours). Indian ingredients such as chilli powder, cumin, coriander, cardamom, yogurt, coconut milk and curry leaves are used in some of the popular dishes such as thosa (Dosa), chapati, Naan (Indian pancakes), fish head curry, tandoori chicken (marinated in yogurt and chili powder before baking in clay oven) Biryani (rice with meat, fish, eggs or vegetables and spices).

The integration of ethnic groups through interracial marriages between Chinese and Malaysians has led to the creation of a fusion cuisine known as “peranakan cuisine,” which uses riddling as a popular cooking method.

In a Singaporean dish, you will find reasonably balanced levels of spice. The pungent flavor is usually derived from galangal or ginger and the famous red pepper sauce or paste called sambal – the level of spice of which can be changed to suit taste. This is done keeping in mind the different ethnic groups of Singapore.

Singaporean sambal sea bass recipe

Singaporean sambal sea bass recipe
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal / Gulf News

Food, space and community – the culture of hawkers

Purain said, “The Hawker street food culture is a staple. It is generally affordable and located in a high density population and tourist areas of Singapore. Food is usually prepared for a large number of people and cooked for the masses. Eating out from a hawker in Singapore is something everyone does, regardless of the status quo or hierarchy. “You can find different breeds representing different cuisines. For example, you will find a Chinese booth, next to an Indian or Malaysian booth, so all the different cultures are represented under one roof, ”Purain said. Visually, imagine yourself sitting in a food court with several kitchen options to choose from.

Street food culture of hawkers: Eating at a hawker in Singapore is something everyone does, regardless of the status quo or hierarchy.

Street food culture of hawkers: Eating at a hawker in Singapore is something everyone does, regardless of the status quo or hierarchy.
Image Credit: Shutterstock

The working-class population prefers to eat in hawkers and spend around S $ 15 (SGD) (Dh40) for three meals. Breaking it down further, a typical breakfast would cost around SGD 3 (Dh9), while lunch and dinner would cost around SGD 5 to 6 (Dh15-18), Purain explained.

The peddlers of Singapore are such a legendary part of the culture that they have been successfully inscribed as the first element of Singapore on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the United Nations Educational Organization. , science and culture (Unesco).

Singaporean meals, culinary debates and evening dinners

“As Singaporeans we are actually very obsessed with our food, to the point where there are intense debates taking place as to who serves the best. me goreng (also known as bakmi goreng, is a dish of stir-fried noodles. It is made of thin yellow noodles sautéed in cooking oil with garlic, onion or shallots, fried shrimp, chicken, beef or sliced. bakso, chili, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, egg and other vegetables or chicken rice). You will hear such arguments with friends and families, ”Mukta said.

It’s safe to say Singaporeans take their food very seriously. A Singaporean will always talk about the food served to them, the ingredients and the flavors and make a comment or even criticize it. They won’t accept it as tasty, without going into the details, Purain explained.

A typical day in a Singaporean home begins with Kaya toast – toast with Kaya, which looks like pandan (screw pine) coconut jam with soft-boiled eggs and a hot drink – which can be coffee or tea. Singaporean-style coffee, or Kopi as it is called, is roasted in butter. Tea and coffee are equally popular. Still, people generally prefer coffee in the morning and a milk-based tea similar to chai called the tarik (the drawing method which makes it sparkling), in the evening around 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Teh Tarik - a milk-based tea similar to chai, is based on the draft method, which makes it frothy

Teh Tarik – a milk-based tea similar to chai, is based on the draft method, which makes it frothy
Image Credit: Shutterstock

If you want to order coffee or tea without milk, just ask Kopi O Where Teh O, where the letter “O” means without milk.

In Singapore, a meal is a concept of sharing, just like many Asian cuisines. If you are going out with a group of friends or family, you order a main course or two and share them with rice or noodles. Whether alone or with co-workers, people usually stick to individual dishes to keep them clean and simple. Some popular simple dishes are chicken rice, me goreng, char kuay teow (Chinese-inspired stir-fried rice noodle dish), and laksa (a spicy noodle soup from Malaysia). While the famous dishes that people generally share are chili crabs, whole fish with sambal, ginger or spring onion, Purain explains.

Here is a step-by-step video guide to making the iconic Chili Mud Crab.

Cultural supper

While Singaporeans eat three meals a day, the supper culture is just as important. The majority of the population, which constitutes the Chinese, traditionally dine early around 6.30 p.m. And as the night progresses, a supper is essential. Over time, this has become a key part of Singaporean food culture. The country’s cuisine is a mixture of flavors and ingredients brought by immigrants to the island.

Here are two popular Singaporean recipes for mee goreng and sambal bar.

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