When it comes to breadth and quality of choice, Singapore has absolutely everything—ranging from high-end white-tablecloth dining to the famous hawker centers that are always BYON (napkins, that is). "It's definitely one of the most high-quality diversified scenes in the world, with food from all corners of Asia to Europe and America," Janice Wong, a world-renowned pastry chef based in Singapore, says. Here's why the restaurant scene in this Southeast Asian city-state, located off the southern tip of Malaysia, is one of the best in the world.
① Singaporeans come from varied backgrounds.
A former British colony, Singapore has attracted settlers primarily from China but also from India and other parts of Asia to live among the native Malay population. Today, all these groups coexist in an area of less than 280 square miles. "Singaporeans travel widely," Singapore food expert and blogger Leslie Tay explains. "And as most of our forefathers were migrants, we are very open to new things."
This unique amalgam of cultures and influences has led to dishes found only in Singapore, like Chinese-influenced chile crab, served in a sweet-and-spicy tomato sauce thickened with egg; and laksa, a noodle and coconut milk soup from the Peranakan neighborhood of Katong. Then there are all the dishes courtesy of early immigrants from the southern Chinese province of Hainan, like decadent curry rice and that famous ginger-scented chicken rice.
② Singapore is chock-full of expats.
Some 30 percent of Singapore's current population consists of expats, some of whom are influencing the dining scene. Practically every iteration of Chinese, Malay, Thai and Indian cuisines is available somewhere within the city's more than 100 hawker centers that provide cheap but high-quality meals to Singaporeans from all walks of life. And now some of those hawker stalls are specializing in Western-influenced food like English fish and chips at Fish & Chicks, American barbecue and burgers at Ministry of Ribs, and spaghetti Bolognese at The Pasta Stop.
"Different cultures bring with them different cuisines," says Julien Royer, the French-born chef at Odette, a renowned fine dining restaurant inside Singapore's National Gallery. "That, coupled with Singaporeans' innate adventurism for new flavors, has resulted in a huge spectrum of amazing food."
③ Even street food gets a star.
Although Michelin has recently expanded to include six guides in Asia, Singapore, whose inaugural guide was published last year, is the only destination to receive high regard for its street food. Two hawker stalls are now Michelin starred: Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.
④ There are outstanding high-end restaurants, too.
As the third-largest financial center in the world (after London and New York City) and a hub of global commerce, transport and shipping, Singapore has the economy to support a robust fine dining scene. In addition to the two hawker stalls, the new Michelin Guide honors 27 upscale restaurants, a diverse group that includes Royer's French-influenced Odette; two restaurants from world-famous French chef Joël Robuchon; Shisen Hanten, a high-end Chinese spot; Shoukouwa, a legendary sushi den; and Candlenut, known for Singapore's own Peranakan cuisine.
⑤ The cocktail scene is like no other.
Naturally, the vibrant dining scene has influenced Singapore's nightlife, which is fast developing a reputation as a cocktail capital, thanks to drinking dens like 28 HongKong Street and Sugarhall. And then there's Operation Dagger, perhaps the city's most creative cocktail bar. Owned by Australian expat Luke Whearty, the joint is famous for its unusual flavor profiles, including fermented apple and miso caramel. Only in Singapore could you order something like that.
Pack your passport—and an appetite—as we hit the world's hottest culinary destinations on and off the grid all month long. Now Boarding: your next trip to paradise.
Meredith Bethune is a food and travel writer based in Belgium. See how many different beers she can possibly try while living abroad @meredithbethune.
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