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Understanding Singapore Through Food

As the plane makes its descent into Changi Airport, my mind immediately begins to wander to the distinct aroma of Chicken Rice, the comforting tummy-warming feel of Bak Kut Teh, the rich oily taste of freshly-made Roti Prata and Curry. Mmh, the taste of home.

What should my first meal be, and where should I have it? It is this moment that I feel truly Singaporean.

It is said that the one thing that defines Singaporeans is our national obsession with food; we might be politically apathetic, and unconcerned about world issues, but bring up your thoughts on for the best Laksa in town and you’ll have a heated debate from young and old alike about which is the real Katong Laksa.

But food doesn’t divide us – it is through cuisine that Singapore’s famed multiculturalism really shines through. Just walk into any food centre (we call them kopitiams) and you’ll encounter cuisine from all cultures and ethnicities, many of which we have made our own, having borrowed, bastardized and assimilated these new dishes into something truly Uniquely Singapore. Try to claim our Char Kway Teow as your national dish and we will rise up in one united force… it’s Singaporean dammit!

So the next time you visit Singapore, skip the fancy celebrity chef restaurants at Marina Bay Sands, forget dining at your ritzy hotel and ignore where your guidebook tells you to go. Just put on some shorts and flipflops and ask that surly taxi driver uncle where his favourite joint to get some dinner is. I guarantee you’ll put a smile on his face and end up with some great insight on what it truly means to be Singaporean. Oh, and a great and cheap local meal of course.

I wrote this article as an entry for the World Nomads 2012 Southeast Asian Travel Writing Scholarship