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Singapore - Food and Drink

Singapore is famed for its delicious cuisine, which brings together influences from the Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian communities who have settled and established here. Being such a diverse society, it is possible to eat a wide range of food, but the dishes Singapore is noted for includes:

• Hainanese chicken rice: Poached chicken served on a bed of rice which was cooked in chicken stock, with an accompanying garlic chilli sauce
• Char kway teow: Flat rice noodles, wok-fried with bean sprouts, cockles, prawns and Chinese sausage, in a dark soy sauce and chilli sauce
• Nasi padang: Steamed white rice served with a selection of meats and vegetables chosen by the customer
• Murtabak: Pan-fried pancake stuffed with spiced mince meat, garlic, egg and onion.

Top restaurants open for lunch from noon to 2pm, and for dinner from 6pm to 10pm. However, you will always find food available in any neighbourhood throughout the day, at the hawker centres, casual restaurants and food courts. Some of these are open 24 hours a day.

The hawker centres offer very cheap but very high quality meals to all strata of society. They can often look outdated, being a central eating area of highly coloured tables and stools set into the ground, surrounded by food outlet counters. Each food outlet contains a small kitchen where up to three people can work for very long hours in the hot, confined area producing food which is so good that two of them have received Michelin stars. People will stand in long queues for up to three hours to receive one of two available dishes from Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle at the Chinatown Complex, or Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane, who each run a Michelin star kitchen selling food at $S4.50 per serving.

Because the environments of the hawker centres are seen as outdated in a society which values trendy and elegant design, the clientele rarely includes young people or western expats, despite the quality of food on offer. Meanwhile the hawkers, who are on their feet doing physically demanding work for very long hours in small kitchens to prepare very low cost meals, encourage their highly educated children to train for well paid careers and professions.

Singapore has a strong entrepreneurial society and a hipster version of the hawker centres has been successfully established. The Timber+ centre is based around a collection of container units and caravans, with a central seating area which is covered for rain and sun protection. The food is still high quality and cheap, but visitors can enjoy the surroundings too. It is hoped hawker centres like this may encourage more young people to continue the food traditions of the previous hawker generations, and bring in a new loyal clientele.

Artisanal coffee is very popular and fashionable, and many independent roasters and coffee chains have sprung up to meet the enormous demand. There is a trend toward Australian cafe breakfasts here with eggs, avocado and toast widely available.

Tiger beer, a local brew, is popular. There are a number of local micro-brewers and you can sample many of them at places such as Red Dot Brewhouse in Boat Quay. However, alcohol in Singapore is heavily taxed and therefore expensive; the most affordable venues are the local hawker centres where a bottle of beer will cost up to S$8.

Bars open at about 5pm, often running a happy hour of discounted alcohol which will end by 9pm at the latest. The bars will usually stay open until 2am Friday and Saturday and midnight the rest of the week, though for many people the last MRT by midnight means a very late night is unusual. For those taking a cab, the low crime rates in Singapore make late night streets feel much more safe than elsewhere.

In most bars and restaurants a 10% charge is added to the bill automatically. On a menu ++ means the 10% service and 7%GST hasn’t been added to the price shown, so you need to watch for this symbol if you are eating on a budget. There is no service charge for food or drink purchased in the hawker centres or food courts.

Tap water, most of which has been imported from Malaysia, is safe to drink. Toilets everywhere are clean and well maintained, with attendants present, and frequently displaying electronic rating boards for you to vote on cleanliness. They can be found in malls, fast-food outlets and large hotels. In the hawker centres access to the toilet may cost S$0.10.

Smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants and hawker centres, is banned unless there is an official smoking area. Do not eat or smoke on public transport (even at bus stops), or drop litter anywhere. Cigarette butts cannot be dropped on the ground. There are a lot of police in plain clothes, so you have a good chance of being caught and this leads to heavy fines.

Male homosexuality is still technically illegal in Singapore, but there is a thriving gay scene.

In Chinatown, Tanjong Pagar Road is popular with gay and lesbian customers, though it welcomes everyone regardless of sexuality.

Little India is seen as a disorderly and pungent area very different to the rest of Singapore. At the weekends produce, spice and trinkets crowd the covered pedestrian walkways known as five-foot ways. There are alcohol curbs in this area.

The Kranji Countryside Association, despite not having a huge marketing budget, successfully promotes the farm owners in the Kranji area. For a small fee, you can take a daily minibus from Kranji MRT Station and visit any of the farms on the minibus loop route. They sell organic fruit and vegetables, goats’ milk, wheatgrass, frogs, and pottery, and serve their produce in cafes and restaurants.

If you are dining as a private family in an eating establishment, you should aim to be quiet and polite, and not disturb other diners. If you are eating with other individuals, families or colleagues, the etiquette of the meal is determined by the racial identity of the host.

If your host is from Singapore’s Chinese community, an even number of guests - to signify good luck - will be placed at a round table. The host will sit in the seat next to, and to the right of, the most important guest.

The meal begins by the host raising their glass and saying ‘ch’ing’ (‘please’). Everyone else will then raise their glasses, the right hand supporting the glass from underneath and the left hand supporting the glass. Everyone will say ‘yam seng’ (‘to success’). Everyone then sips the drink using only their right hand.

Your Chinese host will then lift their chopsticks horizontally, and say ‘ch’ing’ again. They will now serve you, and you must then take the first bite, thus officially starting the meal.

Whether you are in a Singaporean Chinese home or a Chinese restaurant, you should use chopsticks as used in China. Similarly, if a fish plate is set down, you must eat it in the same position and not turn the plate.

If your host is from the Malaysian community, you will be asked to either sit at the head of the table or to your host’s right hand side.

With both Malaysian and Indian households, the serving spoon is used to place food on everyone’s plates, but the serving spoon must not touch the plate. You then use your fork to scoop the food into your eating spoon, but do not put the fork in your mouth. Sometimes you may have to use your right hand to eat.

In Singapore the evening ends promptly when all courses of the meal have been eaten, possibly after a cup of tea.

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