Experience the rich history of Singapore and admire its tapestry of cultures when you tuck into Malay cuisine, whose restaurants are mostly Halal-certified and Muslim-owned. Characterised by a wide variety of native spices best represented by spicy pastes like rempah and sambal, Malay food exhibits influences from different parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, and is mostly slow-cooked over low heat. The Malay community are fond of richly flavouring their rice and noodle dishes, as well as deep frying their snacks—a technique indigenous to Southern China and the Mediterranean—while their desserts are made using sweet syrups, coconut milk and gula melaka (palm sugar).

A variety of nasi padang dishes on banana leaf

Nasi and mee

Walk through the former courtyard of the local sultan to feast on the nasi ambeng from Mamanda. A rice dish meant to convey regal hospitality and shared to mark special occasions, nasi ambeng comprises of rice surrounded by as many as 15 different side dishes on one huge platter. Try nasi ambeng served in Mamanda, which was formerly the Chief Minister’s abode where guests were hosted before they could see the Sultan. This dish of royalty includes items like bergedil (a fried meat and potato cutlet), sambal goreng (long beans and tofu fried in sambal) and paru goreng (fried beef lung), which mostly originate from Indonesia. A definite must-try.

Mamanda. 73 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198497. +65 6396 6646.
Daily 8am-10pm.

A stone’s throw from Mamanda is Warong Nasi Pariaman, which is famous for a humble mixed rice dish called nasi padang and is one of the oldest nasi padang restaurants in the country. Take your pick from this restaurant’s many side dishes, which include beef rendang (braised meat cooked in coconut milk and spices) and sambal sotong (sliced squid in chilli paste). Be sure to arrive before or after lunchtime when seating is more likely to be available.

Warong Nasi Pariaman. 738 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 198706. +65 6292 5898.
Mon-Sat 10am-8pm; Sun 10am-5pm.

A simple mixed rice dish meant to be easily taken away yet satisfying, nasi lemak (fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, accompanied by an array of side dishes like omelette, fried fish and anchovies) is highlighted by coconut-flavoured rice and fritters. Famous nasi lemak outlets include Power Nasi Lemak at Boon Lay; and in Changi Village, where nasi lemak is sold by most hawkers here as either a fried fish set or a fried chicken set. The umami of this region, lemak is a flavour derived from the braising of meats, fish and vegetables in coconut essence, which is further accentuated by the liberal use of spices.

Power Nasi Lemak. 221B Boon Lay Place #01-106, Singapore 642221. +65 6266 4466.
Mon 4.30pm-3.30am; Tue-Sun 6.30am-3.30am

Changi Village Food Centre. 2 Changi Village Road, Singapore 500002.
Mon-Fri 6-2am; Sat-Sun open 24 hours.

A variety of nasi padang dishes with rice
A plate of nasi lemak.

As you might have guessed, “nasi” means rice in Bahasa Melayu. “Mee” is the Chinese dialect word for noodles, which Chinese traders introduced to the Austronesians. A perfect venue for sampling Malay noodle dishes like mee soto, mee bandung and mee siam is Adam Road Food Centre. The many tenured Malay tenants of this hawker centre purvey traditional renditions of the Indonesian chicken-based noodle soup mee soto; mee Bandung, whose name refers to the mix of ingredients in this spicy and tangy noodle soup; and spicy vermicelli dish mee siam, whose name reflects its Thai origins.

Adam Road Food Centre. 2 Adam Road, Singapore 289876.
Daily 7am-10pm.

Mee Soto (Malay chicken noodle soup).
A bowl of Mee Siam.

Goreng

Introduced to Southeast Asia by Chinese and Western traders, and subsequently used by the Malays to prepare a multitude of snacks, to ‘goreng’ is to deep fry. Visit the historic Malay neighbourhood of Geylang to enjoy samosas, a crispy triangle dish filled with spiced potatoes and other savoury fillings that can be bought from Geylang Serai Market, as well as the deep-fried banana treat goreng pisang. Locals vouch that for the best Malay-style curry puffs (meat or fish with potatoes wrapped in a fried dough crust), one must venture slightly down the road to Epok Epok Central.

Geylang Serai Market. 1 Geylang Serai, Singapore 402001.
Mon-Fri 6am-9pm; Sat-Sun 6am-10pm.

Epok Epok Central, Eunos Cresent Market & Food Centre. Block 4A Eunos Crescent #01-09, Singapore 402004. +65 9695 8899.
Tue-Sun 7am till approximately dinnertime.

Many hawker stalls sell the Malay style of fried chicken, ayam goreng kunyit, which is flavoured and yellowed with turmeric. The East Javanese rice meal nasi ayam penyet, whose name refers to its accompanying portion of flattened fried chicken, has also been adopted by Singaporean Malays and is best enjoyed in Lucky Plaza at restaurants like Ayam Penyet Ria.

Ayam Penyet Ria, Lucky Plaza. 304 Orchard Road #01-45 and #04-25/26, Singapore 238863. +65 6235 6390.
Daily 11am-9pm.


Satay
Grilling satay at Satay by the Bay. Photo by Danny Santos

Grilled meat skewers called satay, which is prevalent in most Muslim countries, is a comfort food that can be found at Satay by the Bay in the Esplanade area or on Satay Street that flanks Lau Pa Sat.

Satay by the Bay. 18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-19, Singapore 018953. +65 6538 9956.
Daily 11.30-1am.

Lau Pa Sat. 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582.
Open 24 hours.


Desserts and kuih
A bowl of Chendol.

The Malays have a penchant for using tapioca, pandan, gula melaka, grated coconut and coconut milk to prepare kuih, which refers to a variety of small cake-like desserts. Treats like tapioca-based bingka ubi and ondeh ondeh, which is a green kuih covered in coconut shavings and gula melaka filling, can be purchased from bakeries like Bengawan Solo, which has outlets across the entire island. A bite-sized coconut cake filled with gula melaka, putu piring can be bought from Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring in the vicinity of Geylang, which teems with Malay kuih stalls.

After a day of food hunting, cool off with the shaved ice dessert chendol, which consists of pandan jelly moulded through a slotted spoon and immersed in gula melaka. Visit The Coconut Club in Chinatown to chase this restaurant’s decadent serving of nasi lemak with homemade chendol.

Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring. 14 Haig Road, Singapore 430014. +65 9688 3067.
Daily 11am-10pm.

The Coconut Club. 6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787. +65 6635 2999.
Tue-Sat 11am-3pm, 6-9.30pm; Sun 11am-3pm.