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Aug 11, 2012 06:03 PM

Suggestions for a Foodie Family Visiting Singapore?

Hi there!

My family, my partner, and I will be visiting Singapore next week. It will be the first visit for most of us (My mother visited 10 years ago for all business). Considering that we're a family that loves to eat and explore, I figured this would be a great place to post to see if anyone has recommendations for restaurants for us to go to during our 5 day stay.

I've read over many of the previous posts in this forum on Singapore, but I wanted to get updated suggestions for my situation. We will be spending 4 nights in the city and 1 day in Sentosa. We don't have hotels yet, but it will be at least a 4 star location (for if they congregate in certain areas of the city to help narrow down your choices). We're amenable for a bit of a trip if something is a must have. We're up for any style of food, but we don't really need any celebrity off-shoots. We're from NYC so we've been to many of the best this city has to offer, and we don't need to repeat those same places in Singapore. This being said, if something is a particular standout at a celebrity offshoot (The pizza at Pizzeria Mozza any good?) we're happy to go there.

As for price points, we would like to have one meal that is around S$150-200, and the rest around S$50-100 (or cheaper). We're not a big wine family, so that will be all for food. Please highlight any local or "institutional" dining spots if you can think of any.

As I said, I've looked at previous threads so I have a rough list of places I may want to go to. They include:

-Restaurant Andre, Iggy's, or Jaan for high-end [Andre might be a little too much $, but I hear great things about it]
-Cocotte, Gunther's, Luke Mangan's Salt, Pamplemousse Bistro for medium-end
-Crystal Jade Palace for Dim Sum
-Imperial Treasure for Peking Duck
-Jade Palace for Catonese
-Hajjah Mainnunah, Jalan Pisang, or Warung M Nasir for Malay

Is there anything I'm missing from this list that is a "must go to"? I'm sure Chili Crab is a bit of a cliche for those of you who live there, but is there any place that does it really well? Does anyone recommend a particular Hawker Center for a Westerner that's unfamiliar with them?

[Also, if anyone has any suggestions for cool places to go or see that I can't find through a Google search, it would be much appreciated]

Thank you in advance for any and all suggestions! I wish Yelp was in Singapore already!

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  1. "a particular Hawker Center for a Westerner that's unfamiliar with (chilli crabs)" - definitely Newton Hawker Centre. Check the prices with them before you agree to order.

    "Is there anything I'm missing from this list that is a "must go to"? - Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard for Hainanese chicken rice. Not cheap, but it's a Singapore dining institution, if ever there is one ;-)

    IMO, Mozza churns out the *best* pizzas in Singapore, without exception.

    1. I'm a Californian who lived in Singapore 2006-2008. Especially for folks from NYC where you can get food of any stripe, I would focus on places where the experience of eating simply feels different than a "regular" restaurant -- the places above are perhaps more likely to give you a great meal, but not necessarily a great experience. The food will be more variable if you eat primarily at hawker centers etc, but you'll certainly get some star dishes and I think it will be more fun.

      Another way to think about Singapore eating is to decide what dish you want to eat, and then figure out where to get a great rendition of it (eg chilli crab). There's a book called makansutra which is organized by dish rather than restaurant, giving the top 3 or 10 or whatever places to get each dish (see this thread for a similar take


      For a hawker center introduction, try Lau Pa Sat -- a beautiful Victorian ironwork building, no touts (my biggest gripe with Newton Hawker Centre). I would not go at prime lunch hour as its packed with office workers, and also the satay/BBQ street is only in the evenings. There are of course multitudes of hawker centers, others more decidedly local than either of these -- maybe first time here and then just dive right in to any of them and order what looks good (or look for long lines). Things are cheap -- if you don't like it, get something else!

      This was assuming the hawker question was separate from the chilli crab question. I would go to the East Coast seafood area for chilli crab -- sitting outside with sea breeze -- my fave was Red House. You might try black pepper crab or one of the other varieties instead or as well (ginger-spring onion...mmm). (Note that the nibbles on the table are chargeable, have them taken away of you don't want them). Or, for a really local crab experience, try somewhere like Uncle Leong Seafood (champagne crab!) -- this would be a taxi ride out to a local neighborhood)

      I would make sure to have a steamboat dinner (aka hot pot) -- in the Bugis area, Liang Seah St/Beach Road. I like the places that a) have divided pots so you get two flavors (1 spicy, 1 mild); b) buffet style (so you get the exact amount you want of each thing, rather than ordering platters to be cooked), c) let you make your own dipping sauce. See this post

      And you should also go to Little India for a banana leaf meal -- no plates, they just plop the food on a big banana leaf in front of you. Locals will be eating with their hands, but they'll be happy to give you utensils. I always liked Gandhi on Chander Road, but one of the Race Course Road places will be more used to tourists.

      I would definitely not bother with pizza in Singapore. FYI, you might try tripadvisor for a yelp substitute.

      Cool places to see: When on Orchard Road, walk through Alley Bar to the back and go up Emerald Hill Road to ooh and ahh at the neighborhood. Go for a morning walk or run in Fort Canning Park. Visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre (aka shophouse museum, maybe similar to the tenement museum in NY?).

      1. For Peking duck, make sure you go to Imperial Treasure's branch in Paragon (Orchard Road) which specializes in the dish, although its main branch in Great World City does better dim sum, even better than Crystal Jade Palace, in my opinion. Important to note: This is Singapore - make sure you make advance reservations at the restaurants especially Crystal Jade Palace or Imperial Treasure as they can get booked up a day or two in advance!

        For Hajjah Maimunah, you go and stakeout a table for yourselves, then queue up to pick and order the food "cafeteria-style". It can look quite chaotic, but you'll enjoy the experience all the same.

        Aren't you trying Indian banana leaf rice? Or fish head curry? Apolo (sic) Banana Leaf Restaurant on Race Course Rd is an institution. Another must-try is Komala Vilas for Indian vegetarian food and very good prata and Indian curries.

        You can also try Nyonya (Malay-Chinese fusion) food which is representative of Singapore traditional cuisine at True Blue at Armenian St or House of Peranakan at Pan Pacific Orchard.

        For chili crab, I go to either Long Beach or No Signboard.

        2 Replies
        1. re: M_Gomez

          if you are going to imperial treasure or crystal jade for peking duck, make sure you reserve the duck as well when you make the reservation for the table. they can (and do) run out of duck.

          seconding nyonya food. another option is peramakan at east coast road.

          1. re: akated

            This is good to know! I'll make sure and call ahead for the duck! Thank you!

        2. Thanks everyone for all of the recommendations so far! Although it is very easy for me to find the more upscale places in Singapore myself, all of your tips are very appreciated in order to find the places that may not be on the front page of a Google search!

          Here's my updated list of places to go to with all of your input:

          Dim Sum: Crystal Jade Palace
          Peking Duck: Imperial Treasure (Paragon)
          Cantonese: Jade Palace
          Malay- Hajjah Mainnunah, Jalan Pisang, or Warung M Nasir
          Banana Leaf: Gandhi or Apollo Banana Leaf Restaurant
          Hainanese: Chatterbox
          Chili Crab: Red House (East Coast area), or Long Beach
          Steamboat Dinner: Chong Quing, or Zhong Hua (Long Seat St/Beach Road)
          Hawker Centers: Newton, and Lau Pa Sat
          Indian (Vegetarian): Komala Vilas

          Is there anything important that I'm missing from this list? If you were in Singapore for 5 days, anything else that you must have, or that is indicative of Singaporean food culture? A tall task, I'm sure, but any input is appreciated!

          14 Replies
          1. re: Doorkeeper

            Zhong Hua steamboat restaurant is on Liang Seah St (not Long Seat - your browser must have an automatic spell-checker)

            Any reason why you want to go to Zhong Hua? Are you specifically looking for ultra-spicy Chongqing-style steamboat? Otherwise, I'd recommend Coca steamboat at Ngee Ann City which is more "central" in its location on Orchard Road.

            Another good one is Imperial Treasure's Steamboat restaurant at ION Orchard, which serves very traditional Chinese steamboat but using high-quality ingredients. Great service, too.

            1. re: makanputra

              Doorkeeper, I wouldn't bother with Cocotte, and Gunther leans more towards the high-end - his cut-price set lunch is not worth the waste of a meal slot. You'll get a lot of bloggers waxing about their discounted / comped lunches there, but there's really not much doing there. Dinner is a different and altogether better story.

              1. re: Julian Teoh

                agree with julian. cocotte, while good, won't be in my list if i only have 5 days in sg.

              2. re: makanputra

                makanputra: No reason why I listed Zhong Hua other than the fact that it was listed on the blog post that you linked to, but I'll make sure to note Coca or Imperial Treasure's Steamboat instead. I know next to nothing about these restaurants so I'm relying on what all of you knowledgeable posters are relaying to me!

                Julian Teoh: Noted. Thank you. I'll make sure to steer the family to Gunther only for a possible dinner time then.

                1. re: Doorkeeper

                  Please do note that Coca and Imperial House are both in malls (Ngee Ann City and ION, in case you didn't know those were mall names). Granted, a "restaurant in a mall," or a chain in general, is much less suspect in Singapore than in the US (especially NYC) -- and maybe you'll be ready for air-con after a day of walking around -- but it will be a very different experience than I was pointing to on Beach Road. Beach Road/Liang Seah is 10+ open-front steamboat restaurants almost all side-by-side, plastic tables and chairs spilling onto the sidewalks, vibrant, and maybe half the price.

                  You can get good and authentic food at the restaurants in malls, but to me it's less of an authentic experience (or at least not old-school; I guess it's 21st century authentic Singapore), and less fun. I could give similar contrasting recommendations for dim sum also (I would point you to Red Star, or the little teahouse shop whose name I can't remember right now (but I could find out)). I'm sure Jade Palace is very good, but I would simply prefer not to go to a chain outpost in a mall.

                  None of your Malay picks are in malls, and the first two are in the Sultan Mosque/Arab Quarter area, exactly where I would point you. ;-)

                  A note on Komala Vilas: before I lived in Singapore I would never think of Indian food for breakfast, but I'd highly recommend morning roti prata at Komala Vilas, the one on Serangoon Road, upstairs. Masala chai to drink, and also mixed carrot-orange juice.

                  1. re: sweethooch

                    Actually, with the haze (from forest fires in Indonesia) currently blanketing Singapore, and sending the air's PSI reading into unhealthy levels, going into a mall may be a good idea right now. The heat & humidty in Singapore may also be quite enervating for visitors unused to our tropical weather. Just a thought.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      The comment about restaurants in the malls is noted. I'll make sure to suppress my instinct to run away from places inside of malls. That being said, it sounds like some balancing between the in-mall and outside restaurants will be in order in order to balance the need for A/C with the benefits of having the "experience" in Singapore.

                      I had no idea about the forest fire issue. Is this something that will be long-term? I ask because my flight arrives on Sunday.

                      1. re: Doorkeeper

                        Bad timing -- looks like this year it's worse than usual and going on longer than usual, unfortunately.

                        Great attitude on the mall-experience-A/C issues, btw!

                        I think this is the other dim sum place I was thinking of -- it is more of a tea house experience than a dim sum experience (no carts), don't know if that's interesting to you. I think it does have A/C, but not positive.

                        1. re: Doorkeeper

                          No, don't run away from mall-located restaurants - in fact, *in* Singapore (unlike in the US), they are actually the best ones! :-D

                          1. re: klyeoh

                            Or the ones in hotels, for that matter.

                      2. re: sweethooch

                        actually, as a born-and-bred singaporean, i'd say that eating in a mid-priced restaurant in a mall in singapore is a very common sight in singapore, and not at all "inauthentic".

                        in fact, many of the steamboat restaurants at beach road / liang seah street are owned by chinese nationals. not "authentic" if you ask me.

                        (i must qualify that i never understood why anyone would want to eat steamboat in singapore, especially given our weather. so my view towards this issue is definitely biased.)

                  2. re: Doorkeeper

                    Whenever I go to Singapore, my must haves are Wantan Mee, Chicken Rice, Murtabak, Satay, Kaya Toast, Chilli Crab, Mee Goreng, Popiah and Ais Kachang. Basically all the things I can't get here (or get well made here) in So. CA.

                    Like Sweethooch said, it may be better to research the foods and then ask for the best places to get them. Singapore is full of small shops and hawkers stalls that often have better versions of items than larger, "fancy" restaurants. You'll be missing out on a lot of what Singapore has to offer if you look at mainly restaurants. For example, my favorite popiah shop is a tiny hole in the wall near the old Tekka market. It's not a hawker center, nor a restaurant, but a place my grandmother had been taking me to for years. I heard they recently closed down due to the owners retiring, but it's one of those places you would find out about by word of mouth if you asked someone what their favorite popiah place was.

                    1. re: boogiebaby

                      Yes, very sad that Cathay Popiah is no more. The old lady (who used to roll her popiahs since she was a young girl outside the old Cathay cinema) decided to retire when Tekka Market underwent renovations. There's been repeated large-scale construction work at and around Tekka for nearly a decade now: the Tekka Market upgrading, the North-East MRT line construction, and now the new Downtown line MRT construction. All these had disrupted normal life & business at Tekka.

                  3. Hey! just some input for a local singaporean =)

                    My suggestion for good old local food would be to stay to the hawker centers, usually conveniently located. stay off restaurants in malls! if you have the time venture into the sub-urb housing estates , you will never go hungry!

                    Lau pa sat ;great vibes in the evening, central location at raffles place
                    Maxwell food centre: home to the famous tian tian chicken rice! only open at lunch and in the china town area.
                    Golden mile food centre: great malay food and the famous bone marrow stew!

                    Seafood: No sign board seafood in Geylang (great chili crab, salted egg crab)

                    Canto dim sum : causal dining < $15 /head - swee chun's along jalan besar, 126 dimsum in geylang (opens till late!) Fancy brunch options 40-50/head Asian grand, Lei garden

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: clianne

                      for cheap dim sum, i'd suggest victor's kitchen in sunshine plaza at bencoolen street. personally i don't quite like 126 or swee chun in terms of taste. although they are good places to experience the "roadside eating' vibe i guess.

                      and i won't write off the restaurants, especially those in malls, if you are going for quality of food especially non-local food (to note that clianne's point that it's only wrt "local food" that you'd want to avoid restaurants in malls).