Whilst Singaporean food in essence has developed its strict identity in the last 50-60 years, those dishes which have come to represent Singaporean cuisine are celebrated and guarded like the rich treasure they are.
Many recipes are passed down from generation to generation and you’ll often hear words like ‘authentic’ and ‘traditional’ thrown around. It’s no secret that Singaporeans are very protective of their culinary heritage so when a brave Chef takes a quintessentially Singaporean dish and ‘changes’ it, many locals might come close to outrage that a seemingly perfect dish would need any change at all, and more importantly does this change reduce the ‘Singaporean-ness’ of the new creation?
Singaporean cuisine is one of my favourite cuisines in the world, .and it’s precisely because it has historically been a rojak (mixture) of several cultures and influences. So to me, these modern changes don’t pose any national threat. What they do however do, in this humble foodie’s opinion, is to elevate and expand the culinary wealth that exists in Singapore today. The traditional recipes will always be popular favourites, but by promoting and encouraging new recipes, Singaporean cuisine can take on exciting new forms.
With that in mind, there are some clear examples of increasingly internationally well-known Chefs here in Singapore who are doing just that, and it has been my great pleasure over the years to get to know them personally.
I would like to present what I believe are the top 5 Singaporean Chefs and their restaurants that are successfully pushing the boundaries of Singaporean cuisine to new heights:
328 North Bridge Road, #01-10, Raffles Hotel Arcade, Singapore, 188719
This publisher-turned-Chef set up Ujong in early 2014 at the famed Raffles Hotel. Serving up an impressive selection of Singaporean treats, her dishes are simply divine. Whether you’re a local or foreigner, the menu is easily approachable and satisfying to the stomach, of course. What makes her style unique is her playful variations on staple dishes. For example her take on Singapore Chilli Crab makes use of soft-shell crab meaning that the crab itself almost comes out like tempura. As for our top pick, the Shendol Delight – how can you not love a coconut panna cotta with sweet gulu melaka syrup. Just delicious!
Dish you must try: Shendol Delight
467 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore, 427678
Chef Damien’s style takes a look at the ‘return’ to old, lost Singaporean recipes that are hard to find. His Chilled Tofu and Century Egg, whilst not looking that attractive, provides an AMAZING flavour combination. For anyone who is scared of century eggs, this could change your mind. However it’s his Wagyu Beef Cheek Rendang which flaws me every time. Unlike most rendang which uses cheap cuts of beef and has to be cooked to hell just to make the meat even slightly soft, Immigrants uses Wagyu beef cheek. The gelatinous meat just melts into the sauce when pressed with a fork and is impossibly tender. It’s quite possibly my favourite rendang in Singapore.
Dish you must try: Wagyu Beef Cheek Rendang
5 Neil Road, Singapore, 088806
A new addition to the restaurant scene is Restaurant Labyrinth, a tiny space along Neil Road in Chinatown that really mixes things up. What do I mean… well: how about Chilli Crab Ice Cream? Or Chendol Xiao Long Bao? Coffee Pork Ribs anyone? Chef LG Han has been making waves and this small establishment is getting packed out most nights. What really sets them apart is their ability and desire to completely deconstruct Singaporean cuisine and put it back together again in cool new shapes and forms. As we say: ‘Damn shiok!’.
Dish you must try: Chilli Crab Ice Cream
23 Ann Siang Road, Singapore, 069703
Ding Dong’s cuisine is a very playful interpretation of Singaporean and Southeast Asian cuisine. Served on small plates, each dish is packed with flavour, whether it be the 48 hour Cooked Beef Cheek Rendang, or the delicious Blue Lobster Bao… From the fish dishes, it’s the Asam Pedas that takes the cake. Tender, soft fish and a superb spicy sauce. I keep coming back here and am always impressed by the sheer taste of everything I try.
Dish you must try: Asam Pedas Salted Barramundi
881 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore, 279893
Violet Oon is perhaps one of Singapore’s most well known international ambassadors of local cuisine. In many ways she is THE Pernankan auntie of the Singapore food scene, creating recipes, authoring books and of course cooking local cuisine, Violet Oon set up her own restaurant in 2012 offering a host of very traditional Singaporean cuisine along with some great variations. One of which is the Dry Laksa. Imagine an incredible laksa….now add in top quality seafood, and reduce the spicy broth so that the dish ends up being more like a pasta with intense flavour. I order this pretty much every time I visit, and with good reason.
Dish you must try: Dry Laksa
Get your Singaporean food fix at The next hawker generation in Singapore and Po: Elevated Mod-Sin Cuisine at The Warehouse Hotel