Whether you’re a tourist or an expat, one of the first things you’ll notice about the foodie scene in Singapore is the dominance of Indian cuisine. The island is packed with world-class eateries and traditional curry houses that cater to almost every taste. You can find everything from traditional North Indian delicacies to authentic Bengali dishes and more. If you’re curious about the origins and traditions of Indian food in Singapore, read on. We’ll explain everything you need to know about this mouthwatering cuisine, including some signature Indian-Singaporean dishes to try and where to try them.
Origins of Indian food in Singapore
The Malay Peninsula is believed to have featured busy trading settlements since the 14th century. Indian food such as was originally introduced to this area by migrant Indian workers who brought with them Tamil cuisine and Tamil Muslim cuisine. Over time, these cuisines mixed with those of other ethnic groups and were adapted to suit local tastes. Herbs and spices from India such as turmeric, saffron, and cumin were blended with other foods, recipes, and cooking styles to create a wide range of new dishes.
After Britain established Singapore in 1819, the numbers of Indian immigrants swelled substantially. This change saw other styles of Indian food being introduced such North Indian food and led to the creation of a hybrid Indian-Singaporean cuisine. Traditional Indian and Singaporean ingredients were used to develop entirely new recipes that suited local palates.
Traditions of Indian food in Singapore
Indian-Singaporean cuisine features many traditional ingredients from both India and Singapore and has been adopted by other ethnic groups. For example, the mixed vegetable Indian pickle has been adopted by both Malays and Chinese, while Indian curry has formed the basis for a wide variety of popular Malay dishes including Laksa. The Indian Nasi biryani featuring meat and saffron rice has become a traditional dish at Malay weddings.
The popularity of Indian food in Singapore
To understand the popularity of Indian food in Singapore, it’s helpful to know that people of Indian ancestry actually comprise Singapore’s third largest ethnic group, accounting for 9 percent of the population. Many dishes that are thought of as being traditionally Chinese or Malay such as Singapore’s national dish, Chili crab, and Laksa, actually originate from Indian curry and feature Indian ingredients and cooking techniques.
Interesting facts about Indian food in Singapore
Many Indian-Singaporean dishes commonly served in Singapore today were introduced during the 19th century when culinary influences from India were spreading around the British empire. The popular curry dish, curry tiffin (meaning ‘lunch’) derives from an Anglo-Indian dish, while chicken wraps are another popular Anglo-Indian-inspired lunch option. The peppery curried soup Mulligatawny is derived from the Tamil dish rasam, while fish moolie is derived from both Portuguese and Indian cuisines.
Signature Indian dishes and where to try them
There are many Indian-Singaporean dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. Here’s an overview of what’s on offer and where to try them.
- Indian Rojak
One dish that you won’t find anywhere outside of Singapore is Indian rojak. Rojak simply means ‘blended’ so the recipe varies from place to place. In fact, you can choose what you like! The dish commonly features deep-fried battered potatoes, eggs, prawn fritters, tofu, fried sausages, onions, chilies, and a spicy orange sweet chili sauce.
Another uniquely Indian-Singaporean dish is pratas. Pratas is a type of traditional flatbread that was developed to suit Singaporean tastes. These fluffy flatbreads pair well with curry dishes such as tandoori chicken and are a must-try dish when you visit Singapore.
- Aloo Chat Chaupatti
The signature Indian dish Aloo Chat Chaupatti features flash-fried cubes of potato blended with Indian spices and chutney. It is extremely popular in Indian restaurants throughout Singapore.
- Paneer Chili Milli
Singaporean Paneer Chili Milli pairs spiced cubes of cottage cheese with a coriander sauce, onions, and carrots.
- Fish head curry
This Indian-Singaporean dish was invented by Kerala-native Mr. Marian Jacob Gomez and is unique to Singapore.
If you are already excited but don’t feel like cooking, you’d be amazed how easy it is to find your dream Indian dish from one of the restaurants on our list. We’ve scoured the city to bring you these five must-try Indian-Singaporean dishes, so why not order one tonight?