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 second in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of local lunch choices for under $5. Visiting a new country can get a little daunting and tiring as you traipse up and down the sunny streets—still, look forward to lunch, for you will always be able to find something that will perk you right up.
Mee Soto Ayam
Pronounced: Mee So-toe Ah-yum (for the picky eater)
This dish of yellow noodles in a mildly spiced chicken broth is the perfect choice for a fuss-free meal. Topped with shredded chicken (ayam means chicken in Malay), beansprouts, and fresh coriander, it tastes fresh and clean. The dish is also a major crowd pleaser—everyone from young kids to grandpa and grandma can appreciate this light and flavourful soup. Mee Soto Ayam is also a common breakfast dish, if you feel like loading up first thing in the morning.
Hainan Chicken Rice
Pronounced: Hai-Nan-Jee-Faan (for every single visitor)
This is hand's down Singapore's most famous dish, no matter for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This dish of sliced poached chicken served atop fragrant white rice was even on the royal menu when Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton visited the city-state two years ago. Properly executed, the chicken meat should taste springy, and the skin smooth with a thin layer of gelatine that makes the dish all the more sinful. The star of the dish is always the rice—cooked with pandan leaves, garlic, and chicken broth, it's fragrant, silky, and delicious. It's the perfect meal that won't leave you breaking out in sweat on a hot day.
Minced meat noodle (for the pasta lovers)
Pronounced: Bak Chor Mee (Bahk-Chore-Mee)
Skinny yellow noodles go surprisingly well with morsels of minced meat, silvers of pork liver, braised mushrooms, and the tastiest of all guilty indulgences: crispy pork lard. Usually served with a small bowl of fish ball soup and a leaf of raw green vegetable, this dish relies heavily on a well-made sauce. Various options include: dark (sweet black soya sauce), chilli or tomato sauce (depending on whether you want it spicy) or white (sesame oil). The first few are heavier on the palate; those who love aglio olio would love the last preparation method.
Nasi Briyani (for the adventurous spice lover)
Pronounced: Na-see Bree-yarn-nee
Cost: $4 to $6.50 depending on what you add
Extremely fragrant, highly exotic, and perfect for when you're in the mood for a hearty meal. Basmati rice is cooked with a variety of herbs such as cinnamon, saffron, and lemongrass, and the result is a plate of orange-and-yellow grains that look like the sunset and tastes just as glorious. Its slightly spicy tang goes great with a side order of fried chicken. If you're bent on having this, order a cold drink to bring down some of the heat.
Lontong (for the vegetarian)
Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike should check out this traditional Malay dish. Rice is tightly wrapped in banana leaves, boiled, cut into small pieces, and drenched with a mild vegetable curry. The vegetables—usually carrots, beans, and potatoes—are cooked until extremely tender. Sometimes, hard-boiled eggs and bean curd are also added into the mix. Together, they form a whole meal in a bowl of delicious curried stew—especially perfect for rainy days.