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It is undeniable that Singapore is known for great food. For all the talk about how the city-state is sterile, expensive, and without flavour, naysayers have to concede that this tiny Southeast Asian country, known as the Little Red Dot for its placing on the world map, is chockfull of strange and wonderful tastes. The dishes here may not be as famous as Thai food and not as intricate as Japanese cuisine, but they pack a certain punch. Those who have tried them won't forget in a hurry.
The first in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of local breakfast choices for under $5. You won't be able to resist them even after stuffing your face with your hotel's breakfast buffet.
Kaya Toast (for the sweet tooth)
Pronounced: Kar-yah bread
Budget: $1.50 to $5 depending the set you order
Kaya is a jam made from coconut milk, pandan leaves, eggs, and sugar. It is sweet, sticky, and extremely fragrant. Kaya is typically served between two slices of toast, squashed in between with a slab of margarine. The margarine is not presented as a mere spread; it shares the centerstage with the kaya jam with its smooth richness balancing out the grainy texture of the kaya jam. They go surprisingly well with two soft-boiled eggs you can order from the same stall.
Roti Prata (for the pancake lover)
Pronounced: Row-tee Pra-ta
Budget: Around $1 per piece
A savoury pancake made of flour and vegetable oil, Roti Prata can be served with curry, sugar, or plain. Some may like the 'egg prata' which is thicker and chewier. Your best bet is to order one plain and another with an egg, and try them out over curry and sugar. The humble piece of fried dough also comes in spruced up variations: with cheese, chocolate, or even ice-cream, for the adventurous.
Nasi Lemak (for the hungry ones)
Pronounced: Na-see Ler-mak
Budget: Around $2 to $5 depending on the ingredients you add
White rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves yields a fragrant, almost sweet rice. While the ingredients involved sound similar to the Kaya toast, the taste is much different. This is a traditionally Malay dish. Commonly served with fried ikan bilis (fried anchovies), a boiled egg, and sambal—a sauce made of shrimp paste and other spices—it makes a fortifying meal for any time of the day. Popular accompanists include fried chicken, fried fish, or stewed beef.
Chwee Kueh (for those on a diet)
Budget: Around $1.50 for four pieces
Steamed rice cakes that essentially taste like gruel in a viscous, jelly-like form, this simple dish can get strangely addictive if done right. The plain cakes are topped with preserved chopped radish and a chilli sauce that add an instant zing. Those who cannot take the heat can cautiously ask for chilli on the side. Chwee Kueh is best when served piping hot from the steamers.
Vegetarian bee hoon (for the vegetarian)
Budget: $1.50 to $4 depending on the ingredients you add
When Singaporeans opt to go vegetarian due to religious festivities, the vegetarian beehoon stall sees a huge boom in business. Brown vermicelli lightly fried forms the body of the dish. Other items such as vegetarian char-siew (a sweet, red mock meat), stewed potatoes and peas, or vegetarian curry, are popular add-ons. There are countless vegetarian side dishes to accompany the vermicelli, so if you are unsure, ask the stall owner to choose two or three of the most popular for you.