On the Coast

 By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff Writer

Singapore is a small country perhaps most famous for its strict laws and harsh punishments for crimes as seemingly minor as chewing gum. As such, as Jennifer Lee says in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, food is "the most fun you can have [in Singapore] without getting arrested," and is something of a national obsession.

 On the Coast

 

 By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff Writer

Singapore is a small country perhaps most famous for its strict laws and harsh punishments for crimes as seemingly minor as chewing gum. As such, as Jennifer Lee says in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, food is "the most fun you can have [in Singapore] without getting arrested," and is something of a national obsession.

The population of Singapore is nearly 75 percent ethnic Chinese, which means tracking down traditional Chinese cuisines is a lot easier than it is in most countries to which Chinese food has emigrated. Many countries welcome some adaptation of bold, spicy Szechuan cuisine, but fewer have standard Han Chinese dishes like congee and youtiao (essentially, a really long donut) or Hokkien, Hakka, or Chaozhou (Teochew) cuisines in abundant supply. That's not to say it's impossible to find Singaporean Chinese foods familiar to the Western eye: dim sum is extremely popular in Singapore, as are specific dishes like fried rice and steamed buns. Even those familiar dishes, though, sometimes feature unusual twists: for example, in the United States most Chinese food lovers would be familiar with dim sum's classic sweet egg tarts, but fewer would be familiar with the "Portugese Egg Tart," which is topped with caramelized sugar like crème brulee.

Yushyushengeng 

 Even in a foodie nation with a wealth of traditional Chinese cuisine, though, Chinese food retains its chameleon nature. Chinese food in Singapore has still significantly adapted to local ingredients and flavors: as Singapore is located on the coast, many Singaporean Chinese dishes feature seafood prominently, particularly shrimp and fish. One such dish, a fish-head and noodle soup called 鱼头米粉 (yú tóu mǐ fěn), includes in its broth milk, an ingredient highly unusual in traditional Chinese cooking. Additionally, some dishes adapted while brandishing names that made them seem more 'authentic,' like Hainanese Salt-Baked Chicken, a dish that cannot be found in Hainan. And finally, as in Australia, Japan, and India, some famous Chinese dishes were adapted for local tastes by a local celebrity chef. During the 1960s, chef Than Mui Kai of Lai Wah Restaurant adapted a raw fish salad native to Chaozhou to modern Singaporean tastes, and the salad (yusheng) is popular during Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore to this day. 

And as a fun throwback to our first article, according to columnist Gillian Murdock, Indian Chinese cuisine is gaining in popularity within Singapore.

 

Best restaurant worldwide?

Singapore might just be a country where the persistent idea that the best Chinese food can only be found in hole-in-the-wall joints is close to true. Singapore is famed for its street food, sold in stalls and carts. However, Singapore is also home to a number of high-end Chinese restaurants. 

The_MajesticThe Majestic in Singapore

Given how ubiquitous and popular Chinese restaurants are in Singapore, it's far easier to name the most famous restaurants than it is to name the 'best': in terms of the best, I have to defer to Jennifer Lee's selections. Majestic is famous for elegant re-imaginings of Chinese food with extremely expensive ingredients: its menus feature ingredients like foie gras, avocado, and abalone. Xi Yan restaurant is famous for its elegant modern Chinese cuisine.

 

Join us next month as we jet around Europe to see what different countries there do with Chinese food!

 

 

 

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