The food of Singapore is unique in that its cooking is influenced by three great cultures—Chinese, Malay and Indian. These cuisines blended over the years to develop a local cuisine called Nonya or Peranakan. Singa Pura or “Lion City” was on the ancient trade routes between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Traders passing through the Strait of Malacca brought with them many unknown spices and foodstuffs that helped in the evolution of Singapore’s unique cuisine. The early migrants, most of them from Southern China, brought with them local recipes, new ingredients and cooking techniques. As with most Chinese living outside China, they kept alive their customs, language and love of good food. Today the Chinese influence is still the dominant force in Singapore cuisine. The Chinese influence tempered when many early migrants married Malay women. Their offspring, known as Straits Chinese or Peranakan, developed Singapore’s distinctive Peranakan or Nonya cooking over the years. Most of the early Chinese settlers in Singapore were Hokkiens, Teochews and Cantonese, with Hakkas, Hokchius, Hokchias and a few Hainanese making up the balance. Shanghai, Szechuan, Hunanese and Beijing influences came later.
Peking or (Beijing) and the North (Shandong) cuisine is considered the haute cuisine of China. Grain is the main staple and is made into noodles or bread and generously flavoured with onions, garlic and shallots. Dishes are prepared either by baking, braising, sauteing or stir frying. Peking duck and tung po pork are famous dishes from this region.
Cantonese cuisine is the best known to Westerners. Seafood is an important ingredient and lobster or crab cooked with ginger and onion is a favourite. Mixing the flavours of seafood with meat or vegetables is common. Stir-frying and steaming is the predominant method of cooking and Dim Sum is popular for lunch.
Steamed fish and clear stocks typify the (Teochew) Chao Zhao cuisine while it is also renowned for sharks’ fin soup, braised goose and porridge.
Located on the southeast coast of China, Fujian or (Hokkien) food is mainly braised, simmered or fried but only long enough to bring out their freshness. They depend on their seafood: clams, mussels, river eels, sturgeons, sea cucumber, squids and scallops. Soup is an important dish and there may be more than one served during the meal. Hainanese food has uncomplicated dishes that are simple and straightforward, as typified by Hainanese chicken rice and pork with sweet black sauce.
Hakka, a nomadic people, used any ingredient they could find as they wandered through the plains of China. Rice wine and dried cuttlefish are common flavouring ingredients and bean curd and pork is in many Hakka dishes.
Hunanese cooking uses chili liberally and garlic and green onions come into play in the seasoning of dishes that are either steamed, simmered, shallow-fried or fried. Pigeon in bamboo cup, honey ham and mu shu pork are some well-known dishes.
Shanghai dishes are mildly seasoned with use of vinegar and wine. Rice is a major crop with rivers and lakes providing fresh water produce. Sauces give flavour to these simply prepared meals.
The distinctive aspect of the cooking of Szechuan and the West is the use of the Szechuan pepper. The dishes including this pepper are regarded as the hottest in China. Szechuan dishes use complicated local seasoning and rely on richness of taste. Combining soft and hard textures make these dishes interesting.
Malaysian food has strong ties with the middle east. Many spices essential to modern Malaysian cooking came originally from India and The Middle East; for example, satay derives from the middle-eastern kebab. Because of intermarriage, the Malaysian food in Singapore is very similar to that of Indonesia. Not influenced by Malaysian and Chinese culinary tastes the Indian population in Singapore prepares food today that differs little from that prepared in India.
The wary attitude of the first British colonials toward the local food was certainly their loss. The tiffin curry (Indian word for midday meal) became the standard word for curry and was the one major British contribution to the local food scene.
Eurasians, especially the Portuguese, have blended some of their ingredients, including olive oil, with local products and have come up with some very interesting dishes. However, it is hard to find this cuisine outside people’s homes. Dining experiences from all over the world are available throughout the city. From inexpensive hawkers’ stands to expensive French restaurants — they are all here within minutes of each other. An extremely diverse and wonderful dining scene has evolved in Singapore. Enjoy it!
Half the fun of visiting Singapore is getting there, if you choose to travel on Singapore International Airlines (SIA), an outstanding airline and flag carrier of the Republic of Singapore. Also, there is a certain comfort in knowing that you are flying, while being totally pampered, on the world’s Number One airline. Business Class is superior to most First Class service on North American carriers. It offers a wide choice of wines and a selection of dishes at each meal with the convenience of large covered luggage racks under the windows as well as above the seats. In turn, Economy Class has cart service with wines and spirits being served from large 750ml glass bottles and poured into a proper glass. Unlike the small plastic bottles of spirits or wine that are widely dispensed on North American airlines. These toy bottles are ungracefully thrown horizontally onto your tray, you must then pour them into a plastic cup that is apt to develop a leak midway through the drink. It has been my experience that Economy Class on SIA can be the equal of some European and North American airlines so-called Business or Superior class services. The attention to detail, preparation of cuisine and choice of wines in First Class is magnificent. Currently a choice of the premier Champagnes from the houses of Moet & Chandon and Krug are offered, either Dom Perignon or Krug Grande Cuvee are served. In addition wines are chosen for all classes by three experts in their own regions: Steven Spurrier of London, Michael Hill Smith of Adelaide, Australia, Anthony Dias Blue of San Francisco. Vintage year Grand Crus are purchased in advance and held until they are ready for drinking, often allowed to mature in the Chateau’s own cellars. The stock is then personally monitored by SIA’s wine consultants.
SIA has its hub at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, voted the best airport in the world, where you could literally stay for a week and never want for anything.
The spirit of the airline, steeped in Asian tradition, is probably capsulized best and featured in their high-quality advertising campaigns by the “Singapore Girl”.