Eric Cheam, executive sous chef at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, on the local tastes and flavours that inspire his cuisine

Singapore has a variety of rich multi-ethnic cultures, consisting of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan, among several others. And this diversity is uniquely captured in the tantalising array of local cuisine – a melting pot of flavours and tastes. As a destination it offers a fantastic opportunity for foodies and aspiring gourmands to try assorted fare, ranging from traditional classics to modern delights, available in food centres and restaurants across the nation.

Eric Cheam, executive sous chef at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore Chinese cuisine is one of the key players in the local food scene, and its strong influences from different parts of China are found in many dishes: the much-loved chicken rice from Hainan Province; the Hakka’s popular yong tau fu, a special type of beancurd stuffed with homemade fish paste; hot and spicy dishes from Szechuan; delicious Cantonese dim sum, roasted meats and double-boiled soup; light Teochew porridge, clear boiled soup and steamed seafood; as well as hearty Hokkien noodles and meat dishes. The famous chilli crab, fish head curry and boiled pork ribs soup (otherwise known as bak kut teh), and rojak, an interesting mix of fried dough strips, fruits and shrimp paste, are also a huge part of the local Chinese cuisine.

Dim Sum Fans of Malay food can indulge in a wide variety of spices and herbs, including chillies, curry leaves, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, ginger and a special, pungent belacan shrimp paste. Usually prepared with a generous splash of coconut milk and local spices, Malay rice dishes, like the flavourful nasi lemak, nasi padang and rendang curry, add a spicy touch without being overwhelmingly hot. Another staple of Malay cuisine, peanut sauce is a great condiment in dishes such as satay, charcoal-grilled skewers of meats served with onions, cucumber and ketupat rice; and gado-gado, an Indonesian-inspired salad of fried beancurd, bean sprouts and lettuce.

Flavoured spices, such as chillies, coriander, cumin, cardamom and cloves, are widely used in the local Indian cooking, resulting in some of the most popular offerings: fiery curries prepared with coconut milk, grilled tandoori meats and seafood, fluffy breads, as well as rich and creamy yoghurt-based dishes. Singaporeans are often spoilt for choice with the array of local Indian-Muslim cuisine, which includes nasi biryani, spicy chicken or mutton curry accompanied with fragrant saffron rice and murtabak (flattened bread stuffed with minced meat, eggs and onions). To complete the meal, try the hot, steaming cup of frothy milk tea, or teh tarik.

Chilli Crab On top of these delicacies, the cooking of Singapore’s unique Peranakan culture blends Chinese, Malay and Indonesian flavours, infusing aromatic herbs and spices to create delectable braised stews, curries and soups. The Nyonyas are also best known for their laksa, made of rice vermicelli, seafood and coconut milk; and ayam buah keluak, a wholesome chicken stew mixed with earthy buah keluak nuts.

You can sample many of these local delights at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. Try the Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab and rojak, for instance, at Melt – The World Café, and Cantonese dim sum at Cherry Garden. Singapore also offers an extensive selection of sumptuous international dining choices, like the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Dolce Vita. It’s no wonder that eating is dubbed as the nation’s favourite pastime.

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