The earliest records of Chinese influence in Southeast Asia date back a thousand years, but it was not until the 19th and early 20th centuries when the burgeoning opportunities in the port of Singapore drew an influx of migrants from Southern China. Experience the eclectic cultures of the Cantonese (renowned for delicious dumplings, rich marinades and deep frying), Hainanese (their popular pork chop and chicken rice sport global influences), Hakka (famous for their ‘abacus beads’ and yong tau fu), Hokkien (best known for fried noodles and nutritious soups) and Teochew (known for their rich braised dishes and light, steamed seafood) people through their cuisines, and enjoy how their emphatic dishes have adapted to Southeast Asian ingredients and Singaporean palates.
The Cantonese’s world-famous sub-cuisine dim sum—whose name implies that it “delights the heart”—consists of bite-sized portions of food served in steamer baskets or small plates. Relish a range of textures and flavours when you dig into dim sum, which ranges from soft chee cheong fun (steamed rice noodle rolls) and meat dumplings like siew mai and har gao, to tau sar pau (sweet red bean buns) and xiao long pau (“little dragon buns” whose tender skin pops open to release nutritious soup). Locals flock to Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant when they crave dumplings after a night out, as this watering hole is open every day except Tuesday till 6am, and also serves an assortment of soft and sweet desserts. Visit TungLok Teahouse or Lei Garden for a gourmet dim sum experience.
Cantonese favourites like Lanzhou noodles (light noodles served with meat in clear soup), fried beef noodles, century egg porridge, and sweet and sour pork can be enjoyed in the sophisticated settings of acclaimed restaurants like Yàn in the National Gallery Singapore; one-Michelin-starred Lei Garden in CHIJMES; and heartland stalls like Keng Eng Kee. Cantonese dishes are served with a contemporary spin in Mitzo along Orchard Road, where homemade tofu is made with crab meat, crispy duck is topped with truffles, and classic dumplings are finished with caviar. The Cantonese like to fry their comfort foods like diced beef, fried rice and fried noodles in an extremely hot cast iron wok, in a technique called wok hei. This practice smokes and chars food, and translates to the “wok’s breath”, which is left deliciously imprinted on the food.
Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant. 191 Jalan Besar, Singapore 208882. +65 6225 7788.
Mon & Wed-Sat 11am-2.30pm, 6pm-6am; Sun 10am-3pm, 6pm-6am.
TungLok Teahouse. 10 Sinaran Drive #01-73, Singapore 307506. +65 6893 1123.
Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm; Sun 9am-4.30pm.
Lei Garden. CHIJMES. 30 Victoria Street #01-24, Singapore 187996. +65 6339 3822.
Daily 11.30am-3.30pm, 6-10.30pm.
Keng Eng Kee. 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-136, Singapore 150124. +65 6272 1038.
Daily 12-2.30pm, 5-10pm.
Yàn. National Gallery Singapore, 1 Saint Andrew's Road #05-02, Singapore 178957. +65 6384 5585.
Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm.
Mitzo Restaurant & Bar. Level 4 Grand Park, 270 Orchard Rd, Singapore 238857. +65 6603 8855.
Mon-Wed 12-2.30pm, 6.30pm-1am; Thu-Fri 12-2.30pm, 6.30pm-2am; Sat 11.30am-2.30pm, 6.30pm-2am; Sun 11.30am-2.30pm, 6.30pm-1am.
Opened in 1935, Mooi Chin Place is a revered institution of Hainanese fare, which exhibits how Western influence has evolved Singaporean Hainanese food and where traditional dishes like curry chicken and mutton soup can be enjoyed. Iconic Hainanese pork chop and oxtail stew are served in a fancy modernist environment at British Hainan. Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore is a local adaptation of the chicken rice recipe called “wenchang chicken” of Hainan Island. Chicken rice, which is rice flavoured with garlic and chicken stock, served with tender steamed or roasted chicken with a side of garlic and chilli sauces, can be enjoyed at Sin Swee Kee along Seah Street or at the many outlets of Boon Tong Kee.
Mooi Chin Place. Landmark Village Hotel Bugis. 390 Victoria Street #03-12A, Singapore 188061. +65 6339 7766.
British Hainan. 75 Carpmael Rd, Singapore 429812. +65 6336 8122.
Mon, Wed-Sun 11am-5.30pm, 6-10pm.
Sin Swee Kee. 34-35 Seah Street, Singapore 188391. +65 6337 7180.
Boon Tong Kee. 399, 401 & 403 Balestier Road, Singapore 329801. +65 6254 3937.
Mon-Sat 11am-4.45pm, 5.30pm-4.30am; Sun 11am-4.45pm, 5.30pm-3am.
Journey to Sembawang Hills to relish rare Hakka favourites at Plum Village. Delicacies like fried prawns in Hakka wine and yam-filled ‘abacus beads’ have been satisfying diners here for over three decades. Hakka cuisine’s most widely received culinary export is yong tau foo, which is a soup that consists of assorted fish paste, tofu and vegetable items. It is prepared to perfection by Hakka chefs of Plum Village as well as Goldhill Hakka Restaurant. Try trademark Hakka dishes like steamed ‘la la’ clams alongside authentic yong tau foo at Goldhill Hakka Restaurant in tranquil Changi Road, whose founder’s father used to sell Hakka food from his pushcart in the 1940s.
Plum Village. 16 Jalan Leban, Singapore 577554. +65 6458 9005.
Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 6-10pm.
Goldill Hakka Restaurant. 299A Changi Rd, Singapore 419777. +65 6842 4283.
Also originating from Guangdong near the Hakka region, the Hokkien people are well known for their flavourful Hokkien mee (fried prawn noodles), which can be had at two famous stalls in Toa Payoh, Tian Tian Lai and Kim Keat Hokkien Mee. A mixture of yellow and white noodles accompanied by prawns, lime and fried pork fat, Hokkien noodles are served on traditional plates at Tian Tian Lai, and piping hot in claypots by Kim Keat.
Savour Hokkien-style pig trotters and yam at four decades-old Beng Hiang Hokkien Restaurant in Jurong. Hokkien delights like fish maw soup are also served at Beng Thin Hoon Kee Restaurant on Chulia Street. Maw (the dry-aged swim bladder of large fish) is highly prized by the Southern Chinese, as it is rich in collagen and good for one’s complexion and blood circulation.
Tian Tian Lai Hokkien Mee. 127 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh #02-27, Singapore 310127. +65 6251 8542.
Kim Keat Hokkien Mee. 92 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310092.
Beng Hiang Hokkien Restaurant. 135 Jurong Gateway Road #02-337, Singapore 600138. +65 6221 6695.
Daily 11.30am-3pm, 6-10pm.
Beng Thin Hoon Kee Restaurant. OCBC Centre. 65 Chulia Street #05-02, Singapore 049513. +65 6533 7708.
Daily 11.30am-3pm, 6-10pm.
Best known for Teochew opera, Teochew porridge and bak kut teh (peppery pork rib soup), the Teochew people originate from the eastern part of the Guangdong region, which was once a regional hub of the arts, culture and higher learning. Feast on the many side dishes of their porridge at Ah Seah Teochew Porridge, a local favourite in the Teochew neighbourhood of Hougang, which is named after a harbour in Chaozhou. Enjoy classic dishes like preserved vegetables and braised peanuts, as well as steamed fish and tofu sheets at Ah Seah, whose regular patrons like drizzling the gravy for their duck meat or duck innards over their white rice porridge.
Next, take a short MRT ride to Rangoon Road, where Legendary Bak Kut Teh and Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh preserve the original recipe of this peppery pork rib soup that the Teochew brought to Singapore from China. For Teochew-style pig trotter jelly, braised duck, braised goose, steamed pomfret, prawn rolls and the yam paste dessert ‘orh nee’, head over to Swatow Restaurant or Chui Huay Lim.
Ah Seah Teochew Porridge. 31 Teck Chye Terrace, Singapore 545731. +65 6283 7409.
Legendary Bak Kut Teh. 154 Rangoon Road, Singpore 218431. +65 6292 0938.
Mon-Tue, Thu-Sun 9am-1pm; Wed 11am-11pm, .
Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh. 208 Rangoon Road, Singapore 218453. +65 6291 4537.
Swatow Seafood. 181 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh #02-602, Singapore 310181. +65 6363 1717.
Chui Huay Lim. Chui Huay Lim Club. 190 Keng Lee Rd #01-02, Singapore 308409. +65 6732 3637.
Mon-Thu 12-3pm, 6-11pm; Fri-Sun 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-11pm.