The best way to understand a culture is through its food. We’ve become big fans of seeking out the best local food a destination has to offer, and recently we’ve turned to food tours as the best way to do this. Because who better to show you local food than a local? (See our other food tour experiences in Vietnam and London)
We had heard a lot about Singapore’s food scene before visiting the country. One of the first places we visited when we arrived was a hawker centre (food court) in Chinatown. It’s really easy to find great food in the popular areas of this city, but we wanted to go somewhere a little off the beaten track.
That’s where Singabites came in.
Eating Singapore with Singabites food tours
Singabites food tours, a local Singaporean company, runs tours in a number of neighbourhoods. We were interested in the tour that visited Katong, the Peranakan neighbourhood of Singapore.
Who are the Peranakan people? They are a mix of Chinese and Malay. Usually, their ancestors were Chinese traders who married local Malay women. The Peranakan have a distinct style of traditional clothing and their cuisine is more spicy and Malay-tasting than other Singaporean food. More information about the Peranakan people can be found here.
We caught a bus from the central city about 20 minutes to Katong, and met with our Singabites guide Kathy and two Germans who were our tour-mates. Petite and with a charming smile, Kathy was an engaging guide with huge knowledge about the food and people of Katong.
The first stop was a curry puff restaurant, where we got to see the workers making curry puffs from scratch. They way they kneaded, rolled and twisted the dough to make these delicious packages was amazing! The flavours were to die for – except for the durian flavoured one we tried, now that requires a open mind!
The quaint, colourful shophouses along the main street of Katong were a treat in the early evening light. We strolled along while Kathy told us about the interesting history of the neighbourhood and of the Peranakan people. She married into a Peranakan family so she was the perfect guide to tell us all about them!
Chicken and rice to die for
The next stop was for a Singapore favourite, Hainanese chicken rice. This dish looks a bit boring – it’s just steamed chicken served on steamed rice, after all! So we hadn’t really given it a second thought when doing research on what foods to try in Singapore. We are so glad that we ate it on this tour, because oh my goodness it was wonderful!
The chicken is boiled or roasted (we had both) and served with soy sauce. But the rice is the real winner here – it’s cooked in a broth of chicken stock, ginger and pandan. It’s served with chilli sauce and grated ginger, and is just so delicious. I’m craving some as I type. Where can I get some in Auckland, anyone?
We had to try not to eat too much chicken rice as we still had a lot of eating to do. Further down Katong’s main road, we stopped at a place that served popiah. Popiah is a bit like a spring roll, and it is filled with turnip, bean sprouts, a sweet sauce, chilli, carrot, and wrapped in a thin soft wrapping. It’s also delicious although a bit messy to eat!
Stepping into India
Next we turned down Joo Chiat Road and made our way to a shop selling an Indian specialty, and another local favourite, roti prata. This tied with the chicken rice as my two favourite dishes on the Singabites food tour – it was incredible. First, we watched one of the workers stretch the prata dough by flicking it around and around like very thin pizza dough. Somehow it never got holes in it! He then folded it into a rectangle and put it on the hot plate, where the little pancakes of deliciousness fluffed and crisped into roti. There was a big pot of bubbling curry that made the dipping sauce, which smelled like the best possible curry you can imagine.
Lastly, (and these guys are all about impressive food preparation techniques here), we were treated to the spectacle of pulling tea. Teh tarik, as it’s known in Singapore, is literally ‘pulled tea’. The tea is poured back and forth between different vessels from height (the vessels are about a metre apart!) and this makes the tea nice and frothy and cool enough for drinking. The tea we drank was flavoured with ginger and condensed milk – yum!
Finally we got to actually eat the roti prata – by that time our mouths were watering. Oh man, it was so good! The crispy, soft, slightly greasy prata dipped in the aromatic curry, accompanied by the ginger tea… yum.
Carrying on the Indian theme, Kathy took us to a local Hindu temple where the evening’s prayer ceremony was just getting underway. There was lots of dancing and the women looked lovely in their saris. They even blessed someone’s new car by putting flowers on it and running over limes!
Michelin star laksa
The Michelin Guide has recently arrived in Singapore, and the judges gave out a number of ‘Bib Gourmand’ awards to restaurants and hawker stalls that serve meals under $45. We visited 328 Katong Laksa and tried (you guessed it) laksa, another Singapore favourite. It was a little fishy for our tastes, but the flavours were complex and the broth was nice and spicy. It was pretty cool to visit a restaurant so highly regarded by the Michelin judges!
Side note: we visited the Chinatown Complex hawker centre and chatted to some people who were in a line to try chicken rice at another Bib Gourmand restaurant. They waited for nearly THREE HOURS to get their plate of $3 chicken rice! That’s just crazy – and definitely one of the benefits of being on a food tour where you don’t have to line up!
Dessert to finish
By this stage of the Singabites food tour we were getting pretty full. The last stop of the tour was to try some Peranakan sweets. We sat inside a lovely store that sold Peranakan textiles and gifts, and ate our little sweets that Kathy had picked up from a nearby store. My favourite was a chewy green ball coloured with pandan, covered in dried coconut. We also tried butterfly pea flower tea, which was blue! Yes actually blue!
Our Singabites tour was a great introduction to the wide range of food that Singapore has to offer. We enjoyed getting out of the main touristy areas and exploring Katong. And of course, the food was great – especially the chicken rice and the roti prata.
If you’re visiting Singapore and want a local food experience, check out Singabites! They also offer tours in other neighbourhoods of Singapore.