It’s quite incredible that for such a tiny country, we have such a wide array of foods from various cultures and influences. Step into any hawker centre and you’re simply spoiled for choice at the vast number of options presented to you. And as Singaporeans, we’re pros at eating. But have you ever considered making these delish local dishes at home? They’re actually not that hard once you have the know-how.
From nostalgic chicken rice and laksa to innovative takes on orh luak and chilli crab, we asked local chefs from top restaurants and cooking schools in Singapore to share their best recipes inspired by local hawker favourites. Here are 18 to try at home for yourself!
Text: Barbara Koh & Elizabeth Liew, Photos: Andy Wong/Rave Photography
Whether you enjoy it black or white, this humble breakfast favourite is so simple and delicious, with the right balance of sweet and savoury. Made with radish, you can add more chye poh if you want added crunch, and leave it on the pan to toast up for that nice crisp.
Get Chef Poh’s Fried Radish Cake (Chye Tow Kway) recipe here.
“Orh luak or oyster omelette is one of my favourite dishes as I love oysters. But I wanted to elevate this humble hawker dish so I’ve used contemporary European techniques in creating this deconstructed version of salt-baked oysters on scrambled egg, pork lard and dried oyster ‘shell’, and fermented chilli sauce,” says Chef Lee.
“You’ll still get key elements of the traditional dish – like the chilli sauce and that decadent pork fat flavour which is found in the shell, but you’ll also get to experience multiple textures and flavours.”
Get Chef Lee’s Deconstructed Orh Luak recipe here.
Whether you’re team white or roasted, chicken rice is definitely one of Singaporeans’ favourite hawker/coffeeshop foods. It’s a winning combination of tender meat and flavoursome rice paired with crunchy cucumber and a spicy chilli and soy sauce combo.
Chef Poh shares his recipe so you recreate this nostalgic dish at home. Plus, watch the video below as he demonstrates how to blanch chicken in order to achieve perfectly tender and succulent meat:
Get Chef Poh’s Hainanese Chicken Rice recipe here.
Epok epok, or Malay curry puff, is one of Singapore’s all-time favourite snacks. Each pocket of goodness is stuffed with chicken, potatoes, boiled eggs and curry (of course), which make for a delightful pot luck dish or afternoon treat.
And now you can make this hearty dish at home with Chef Poh’s quick and easy recipe!
Watch the video below to see how to make it, plus Chef’s tips on how to get your epok epok nice and crispy:
Get Chef Poh’s Epok Epok recipe here.
If you love to indulge in a hot plate of hokkien mee, consider saving the trip to the hawker centre and try making it at home instead. This yummy recipe by by Chef Jeremmy puts a French twist on the local favourite too.
“My grandmother is Hokkien and she used to cook Hokkien mee for us when we were young. At the restaurant I use a lot of European techniques and for this version of my local favourite, I’ve used a base much like a French prawn bisque, where the prawn shells and bacon are roasted. The broth is key and there’s no shortcut, but it’ll make a huge difference to the taste of your dish. And of course, no Hokkien mee is complete without good chilli, and I serve my noodles with a fiery house-made sambal belachan.”
Get Chef Jeremmy’s Hokkien Mee recipe here.
Mmm, a comforting hot bowl of laksa hits all the right spots. And one of the best parts of consuming this dish is that after you’ve finished the noodles, there’s the thick coconutty broth left to slurp up.
The secret to a successful laksa? It’s all about the rempah. Chef Poh warns not to rush through making the rempah paste, as it’s the foundation of the dish and forms the multiple layers of flavour.
Get Chef Poh’s Laksa recipe here.
Tapioca sago pearls are typically found in myriad Asian desserts, such as mango pomelo pudding. Enjoyed at both restaurants at hawker centres, these little beads add plenty of texture to a dish but some people may find it a challenge to get the consistency right. Boil for too long and they literally disappear; too short and they’re too hard.
Chef Poh shares his delicious Sago Pudding with gula melaka, plus demonstrates how to boil sago pearls so they’re just right in the video below:
Get Chef Poh’s Sago Pudding recipe here.
This innovative and delicious dish marries tasty ngoh hiang filling wrapped in wanton skin. “I’m an Indian boy who loves Chinese food, and this is a go-to dish for my friends and me” Chef Sam reveals.
“I was taught how to make basic ngoh hiang by a close friend and we decided to put it into a dumpling because who doesn’t love pork dumplings!
They are easy to make and can be done in advance, and then we’d sear them hard in a cast iron pan because #noburnnotaste. To spice things up, we would experiment with sauces, like this one, inspired by hot pot restaurants.” Delish!
Get Chef Sam’s Cast Iron Charred Ngoh Hiang Dumplings recipe here.
This simple and fragrant Malay rice dish is a hawker favourite, so why not try recreating it at home with this yummy recipe by private dining chef Shen?
“I love that nasi lemak is so not egalitarian – it’s food for the people, and there are so many flavours in the one dish. Growing up, I ate a lot of $1 nasi lemak packets! This one is more elevated and the rice recipe may seem laborious but, trust me, it has a myriad of flavours,” she shares.
“Serve with any of your favourite sides – fried ikan bilis, egg and slices of cucumber. and I usually have it with pork rendang, and sambal belacan which cuts through the richness better than sambal tumis.”
Get Chef Shen’s Nasi Lemak recipe here.
Here’s one for the salted egg lovers, created by Chef Sujatha of The Garage. The mouth-watering dish is sure to be a hit at your next home party. The inspiration behind the dish?
“I have a Chinese mum and an Indian father, so I grew up in a household exposed to a melting pot of foods from different cultures,” she shares.
“The dish I have picked is a dish I love when I go to zichar places for dinner. I would always order salted egg sotong or pork ribs. For this recipe, I’ve given it a more contemporary bistro touch, refining the dish with a salted egg yolk aioli with mayonnaise. It’s perfect finger food for when friends come over.”
Get Chef Sujatha’s Crispy Baby Squid with Salted Egg Aioli recipe here.
“It’s obvious why I chose this dish as all the different ethnicities have their own version of a curry,” says Chef Damian.
“This one will have flavours that will appeal to everyone. Kencur is very Malay; ginger is Chinese; there are Indian aspects in the cumin, coriander and fennel, which is also very Eurasian; galangal and lemongrass are Peranakan; and we all use dried chillies.I wanted the taste to be well-balanced – it’s perfect for pot luck.”
Get Chef Damian’s Singapore Curry Chicken recipe here.
There’s just something so nostalgic about the ice-cream sandwich sold via those iconic ice cream carts with their obnoxiously large umbrellas around the island. The feeling isn’t lost on Chef Wai Leong, who created this beautiful dish inspired by the cold treat.
“The ice-cream sandwich is quite special to us Singaporeans, I remember eating raspberry ripple flavoured ice-cream nestled within a multi-coloured soft and fluffy sandwich from old uncles selling ice-cream sandwiches on motorbikes,” he reminisces.
“My version of this embraces Asian flavours, and instead of raspberry I use goji berries, an ingredient I use a lot. Have fun with this dessert, plate it up messily and haphazardly as you see fit! Better yet, organise all the ingredients in the middle of the table and let your guests design their own ice-cream sandwich!”
Get Chef Wai Leong’s Ice-Cream Sandwich recipe here.
Annette Tan has always had a love for food, especially Peranakan. She started out as a food editor and freelance writer, but it’s her passion for Nonya food that inspired her to launch her private dining business, Fat Fuku. Set up in May, it’s so popular you now have to make advanced bookings, and Annette only caters to a maximum eight diners at each seating.
For her private dinners, Annette serves innovative dishes such as homemade corn ice-cream with touyu caramel, a real taste bud thriller, but as her tribute dish, she has gone back to basics.
Annette shares, “To me, Ayam Tempra says ‘home’. This was a dish my mother cooked often when we were growing up, and, as an adult, I see why. It is easy to whip up and, like most Peranakan dishes, tastes better the day after it is cooked. It is the dish I crave when I’m away from Singapore for extended periods of time. It is also a dish that is easy to cook when I’m abroad – the list of ingredients is simple and made up of things you can get in just about any country. You don’t need any special equipment either – just a large enough pot or frying pan.”
Annette also feels the dish is a good representation of Singapore, the cultural melting pot. “It is an amalgamation of Chinese and Malay flavours, and its mild spiciness and nuanced complexities – with its sweet edge and bright acidity from lime juice – make it pleasing to the Singaporean palate, regardless of race.”
Get Annette’s Ayam Tempra recipe here.
It may sound like chicken rice, but Chef Damian’s Gai Fan is Cantonese for “street rice”. The chef, who used to run Immigrants at Joo Chiat, is now helming the new restaurant Folklore at Destination Hotel on Beach Road. The recipe he shares with us is a heritage dish, something that has special meaning for him.
Chef Damian says, “This is a hawker dish that was sold during the 40s to late 60s, and fed the labourers or coolies who worked tirelessly to move heavy loads of rice, grain and sugar from the tongkang (wooden boats) into the warehouses on Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
“The dish did not have a specific name and was called gai fan, or street rice, and although it was a simple dish, it had copious amounts of soul that fed the working migrants and gave them some semblance of home.”
The dish contains sliced char siew (roasted pork) and lup cheong (preserved Chinese sausage) and shredded chicken; these are placed on top of a warm bed of rice, and topped with a slow-cooked chicken broth and simply garnished with Chinese parsley. Chef Damian says, “As soon as the stock covers the toppings, it causes the char siew and lup cheong to release their flavours into the rice, immediately turning a simple dish, into one cooked with ‘heart’.”
According to Chef Damian, the dish was sold by a hawker who vanished when the coolies were no longer required. Chef’s grandfather used to cook this for the family once a month. “I only knew of the hawker’s existence when my grandfather showed me how even a simple hawker dish with five ingredients could excel and leave a lasting impression. My grandfather has passed away, but it is the dish that we most remember him by.”
Get Chef Damian’s Gai Fan (Street Rice) recipe here.
A waterless soup? How is that possible? Well, Chef Leong has come up with an inventive recipe for his tribute to SG. He shares, “In a tropical, water-scarce island nation like Singapore, water is a highly valuable resource. Spurred by the mindfulness of saving water, I was inspired to create a soup that doesn’t require the addition of water.”
So, the creative chef, who also has a love for pottery and food carving, decided to create a soup that contains no added water.
“I chose ingredients that would yield enough water when double-boiled to become a soup! This ‘water-less soup’ features red- and white-coloured ingredients – watermelon and white cabbage – reflecting our national flag. Both ingredients are refreshing and offer cooling properties for the body; it is indeed the perfect summer-long dish.”
As if that’s not enough, Chef Leong also came up with tofu and watermelon fireworks, which not only symbolise prosperity but is also reminiscent of the National Day fireworks with their reflection in the water.
Get Chef Leong’s Waterless Soup recipe here.
Birds Of A Feather at Amoy Street is a contemporary restaurant with fiery Sichuan influences. Diners expect the burn of Sichuan peppers and spices when they feast on dishes like the signature Find The Chicken In The Chillies.
So when we asked Chef Eugene what his tribute dish to Singapore would be, it was natural he’d turn to his treasure of spices in his kitchen.
Inspired by the food and people in Singapore, the Malaysian chef says, “In this one city, different peoples and cultures interact with and influence one another, resulting in fresh perspectives on the familiar.”
For Chef Eugene, the familiar is the local favourite, chilli crab. Chef Eugene feels that Singaporeans, in general, love eating chilli crab and it’s become a dish that is synonymous with the Little Red Dot. Being a fan himself, he decided to bring his spicy Sichuan spin to it, using spices and a tempura soft shell crab for a fresh taste and look.
Get Chef Eugene’s Chilli Crab With A Touch Of Sichuan recipe here.
Pastry Chef Lauren returned to her childhood memories to create this dish. “I spent my growing years in the East, and as early as I can remem ber, my grandparents and parents would take me to the coffee stall located inside the nearby wet market for a comforting breakfast of kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and kopi (coffee).
“I always looked forward to this weekly affair and I would often observe how the elderly intermittently poured piping hot kopi onto a saucer to cool before drinking, and dipped their toast into the robust kopi.”
With these flavours in mind, she has created a beautiful contemporary dish that is visually stunning and mouthwatering. “The traditional breakfast, as well as my childhood memories, inspired this specially-crafted dessert that harmoniously melds the familiar local flavours of kaya, gula melaka and kopi.”
Pastry Chef Lauren’s dish has several elements to it, so you can choose to do some parts, like the brioche, a day ahead.
Get Pastry Chef Lauren’s Roti & Kopi In The Garden City recipe here.
Chef Mario, who runs the kitchen at Peruvian restaurant TONO Cevicheria feels that the rojak is a representative dish of the island.
“There are popular variants to this salad, but no one particular style, and many hawkers do it their own way,” says the Mexican who has worked at respected South American restaurants including Central Restaurante and Rafael Osterling, which was ranked No. 30 on The World’s Best in 2016.
To Chef Mario, this is similar to a ceviche – originally a Spanish dish made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices. He calls this a “democratic dish as it can take in many influences but it also still always remains itself.
“This ceviche is a tribute to rojak, with flavours that both recall and match perfectly with rojak itself: It is fresh and light with a juicy mouth feel. And these flavours and textures also work well in the Singapore heat and humidity!”
Get Chef Mario’s Rokaj Ceviche recipe here.
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This post was first published on August 8, 2017, and updated on August 6, 2019.