There's a Singapore that people think they know, a hyper-globalized city of modern skyscrapers.

But once you know where to look, it peels away to another world, one where traditional beliefs and age-old customs are practiced. Eating is a national obsession. You know the city means serious business when the first inscription on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list is the hawker or street food culture.

My background revolved around food, cooking at restaurants and hosting supper clubs. I took my knowledge of the streets to set up a food tour company focusing on the backstreets and local eats of the place I was born and raised in.  I have made it my life mission to help people find the best eats in the city. 

Think of this guide as getting the keys to the other, less visible city and immersing in the life of real Singapore. Let's get started, shall we?

Coffee, buns with jam and an egg dish on a table
Stop by YY Kafei Dian for buttery toast with coconut and egg jam, the quintessential Singapore breakfast © Pei Shyuan Yeo

Breakfast

If there is one breakfast I can only ever have in my life, my unconditional love would be the quintessential Singapore breakfast, the coconut and egg jam (kaya) toast at YY Kafei Dian. In a city that thrives on efficiency, this old-school breakfast spot continues to make its kaya from scratch. The result is a subtle smokiness of the toast, slattered with homemade kaya and topped with slices of buttery goodness. However, if you’re looking for all things sourdough, Bakers Bench Bakery is my go-to for breakfast meetings or just to work at a nice and inviting space for a few hours. The sticky buns are a personal favorite!

A glass of iced coffee with a straw and two baristas working at the coffee bar
An iced coffee is the ideal thing to order on a humid afternoon in Singapore © Pei Shyuan Yeo

Coffee and snacks

Singapore has a thriving coffee culture, whether it’s the traditional coffee (kopi) or the specialty coffee shops. 

Let’s start first with kopi. A dark and full-bodied brew, it uses robusta beans that grow well in the region thanks to the higher temperatures and lower altitudes. There are so many ways to serve kopi that infographics have been made to demystify the art of placing your order. For example, Kopi-O kosong is straight black, Kopi-C is with condensed milk, and Kopi-Peng is iced coffee (remember this, you need this on humid afternoons in the city). And having it as a takeaway? Sometimes it might come in a plastic bag.

I’m also incredibly lucky to live within walking distance from Nylon, a beautiful space nestled on the ground floor of one of the oldest social housing estates in the city. Its coffees are beautiful and the staff are so down-to-earth that this place is worth returning to over and over again. 

And while you are in the neighborhood, pop by Ji Xiang Ang Ku Kueh, which sells what I like to think of as Singapore-style mochi, which are handmade and fresh daily. If this is your first time trying this snack, I recommend the traditional flavors of peanut or sweet bean. For freshly baked granola, you can’t go wrong at Dearborn.

A dishe of chicken curry with noodles and a table full of small plates of food
Don't miss a meal at Singapore's hawker centers © Pei Shyuan Yeo 

Lunch

It’s time to hit one of the most defining aspects of the local way of life – eating at a hawker center. No visit to Singapore is complete without this experience and my personal favorite is the Beach Road Market. There are so many good eats here, but I tend to gravitate towards a lesser-known star, the chicken curry noodles at Da Po Hainanese. This is the way that chicken curry noodles should be done. The star of the dish is the gravy. It has a light savoriness that the ingredients, like the tofu puffs, soak up like a sponge. This market is also famous for its floor of hiking gear shops and I have many memories of picking up stuff for a camping trip before heading down to the food market.

Mid-afternoons in Singapore can be quite hot and humid and if you are looking to have heritage Singaporean recipes in an air-conditioned space, Rempapa would be a top pick. You can’t leave without trying buah keluak fried rice. Buah keluak is a seed of a tree that is native to Indonesia and Malaysia and believe it or not, is highly toxic if not prepared correctly! And because there should always be space for dessert, I also highly recommend finishing off with kuehs (local sweets).

Left: Two people sat at a restaurant table smile at the camera. Right: a piece of cooked fish in broth
Delicious and creative local dishes are served in the casual 808 Eating House © Pei Shyuan Yeo 

Dinner

The city is not short of Michelin-starred restaurants and if you want to eat in any of them, you will need to book in advance. However, if you would like a non-blingy casual restaurant, my recommendation would be 808 Eating House. Reservations are recommended but walk-ins are also possible. With a tagline of "More fun dining than fine dining," you know you’re in for a good time.

In the heart of the charming Joo Chiat neighborhood, the chef has managed to put the spotlight on local and regional ingredients with a new spin on classic dishes. The result is that creations are both technically precise and wildly inventive, like the barramundi on a lightly spiced garam masala pumpkin puree with a touch of curry leaf oil.

If you are looking for Indian food, my top pick is Revolver, which serves innovative modern Indian cuisine with global influences, cooked on a grill or open flame. Service is impeccable and the extensive drink list makes it a fun night out.

Two cocktails served in glasses, and a woman sat smiling while holding a drink
Cocktail lovers should try the jellyfish martini at Fura © Pei Shyuan Yeo

Bar 

There is so much to love about Fura. The drinks are top-notch and the food menu is designed to pair with the drinks. As if this isn't reason enough to check out this space, its use of sustainable ingredients is nothing short of inspiring. For example, jellyfish – an overpopulated species in the oceans – forms part of the jellyfish martini. I have tried it and I recommend you try it too! Expect a relaxed atmosphere and attentive service by the all-female team. 

On the same street is Platform, a quirky understated cocktail bar with minimalist interiors. The drinks here not only taste good, but are also nutritious. Try the light and refreshing Rooibos72, a blend of orange blossom water, horseradish, sparkling sake and blue pea flower. The set-up makes you feel like you are hanging out at a friend’s place to chill and unwind. Isn’t it amazing that there are still these little places that you can escape to, even if it’s for an hour or two? 

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