Chicken rice to Supertrees: Singapore in 50 facts

Max Veenhuyzen - 17/04/2019

In June, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony heads to Asia for the first time. Get to know the host city of Singapore with these bite-sized tips

From unpretentious streetside dining from hawker stalls, to high-reaching casino restaurant precincts, Singapore has something for every appetite. While the city-state has captured its share of food headlines over the past decade (including success in both The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and The World’s 50 Best Bars lists and the recent arrival of the Michelin Guide), eating well is a national pastime. From its fascinating culinary history to its cocktail scene and beyond, there are endless things to discover about Singapore – here are 50 of the best.

1. Chicken rice is widely considered as Singapore’s national dish


Chicken rice (image: Lennard Yeong)

2. In 2013, Singapore hosted the first ever edition of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, with the awards ceremony held at Marina Bay Sands. (The 2014 and 2015 editions were held on Sentosa Island)

3. Traditionally, people would “chope” (reserve) space at a hawker centre by leaving a packet of tissues on seats

4. The Little Red Dot, one of Singapore’s many nicknames, refers to how the city-state appears on world maps

5. Although Malay is Singapore’s national language, the country has four official languages: English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay

6. There is also a fifth unofficial but widely spoken language called Singlish: an amalgamation of English and various slang words, lah

7. Singapore has six restaurants in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 – with Julien Royer’s Odette topping the list


Julien Royer's signature yuzu tart at Odette

8. Singaporean cuisine is diverse and constantly evolving. Traditionally its three biggest influences have been the country’s Malay, Chinese and Indian populations, but different ethnic groups have left their mark (even some elements of British cooking have made their way into the Singaporean edible playbook). Hawker centres remain the best place to sample Singapore’s range of dynamic, punchy dishes such as soup noodles, Chinese barbecued meat and traditional sweets with group dining the surest way to profit

9. According to government statistics, there are almost 15,000 licensed hawkers in Singapore 

10. In addition to being the first Asian city to host The World’s 50 Best Restaurants this June, Singapore was also home to the first ever Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards ceremony, in 2018


The signature drink at Manhattan in Singapore, No.1 in Asia's 50 Best Bars 2018

11. The city is also home to a vibrant wine scene with bars like Wine RVLT, Le Bistrot du Sommelier and Le Bon Funk leading the way

12. Chasing a street art fix? Head straight for Haji Lane in the south of the city, near Marina Bridge

13. The MRT, Singapore’s largely underground subway line, is the best way to get around. The Singapore tourist pass offers visitors all-day travel across the network and can be purchased from major stations for S$10

14. Singapore National Day is celebrated each year on 9th August

15. Singapore’s Changi Airport is widely considered one of the world’s best airports. Terminal 4, its newest addition, opened in 2017 and is notable for its automated bag drop, immigration clearance and flagship lounges for many airlines


Changi Airport (Singapore Tourism Board)

16. Speaking of Changi Airport, the 24-hour “staff canteen” (open to everyone) in the Terminal 1 basement is an excellent option for one last taste of authentic Singapore before heading home

17. The city’s cocktail scene is equally dynamic, with the city state boasting five entries in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2018 list and 12 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars

18. Singapore is also home to a thriving Thai community, with the eating options at Golden Mile Centre covering the entire spectrum of regional cooking

19. There is no Uber in Singapore. Instead, local ride-sharers use Grab to book transport

20. Singaporeans can get the signature Burnt Ends sanger (a juicy pulled pork sandwich) delivered to their home or office via Deliveroo


Burnt Ends and the pulled pork 'sanger' (Burnt Ends)

21. Singapore’s national icon is the merlion: a creature that’s half mermaid, half lion

22. No building in Singapore is allowed to be more than 280 metres in height

23. Not flushing a public toilet after use in Singapore is a fineable offence

24. Opened in 1994, Singapore’s Night Safari was the world’s first after-dark zoo

25. Singaporeans, it would seem, like doing things by moonlight: The Singaporean Grand Prix was also the world’s first Formula 1 night race

26. Made from robusta beans, the local Singaporean coffee – “kopi” – is a potent brew and has its own slang and serving methods

27. But if you do want third-wave coffee, Singapore’s growing speciality coffee scene can oblige. Chye Seng Huat Hardware, Common Man Coffee Roasters and Nylon Coffee Roasters are among the cafes leading the charge

28. Singapore got its first Michelin Guide in 2016

29. A traditional Singaporean breakfast – Singaporean coffee, toast made with a sweet spreadable custard called kaya, and soft-boiled eggs – is a must-do when visiting and can be found at any hawker centre


Kaya toast with coffee and eggs (Singapore Tourism Board)

30. Singapore is one of just three city-states in the world (Monaco and the Vatican City are the other two)

31. Most Singaporeans don’t buy their apartment, but “rent” them from the government on a 99-year leasehold

32. Prior to gaining its independence in 1965, Singapore was, among other things, part of Malaysia as well as a former British colony

33. Closed at the end of 2017 for a major makeover, Singapore’s iconic Raffles Hotel is due to open mid 2019 with a fresh new look


The iconic Raffles Hotel (Singapore Tourism Board)

34. Eaten something delicious and interesting? “Shiok” is the way to describe it

35. Although increasingly harder to find, the Singaporean $10,000 note is the world’s most valuable banknote in circulation

36. The Singaporean $1,000 note, meanwhile, is a little easier to find and comes with the added bonus of having the words to Majulah Singapurah printed on it in microtext

37. Despite being so heavily built up, Singapore – ‘The Garden City’ – is home to more than 2,100 native plant species

38. Gardens By The Bay is another riposte to the notion that Singapore is just a concrete jungle. By day, beat the heat and learn about nature in the park’s two conservatories, then return in the evening to admire the nightly Supertrees outdoor light show

39. This year marks 15 years since restaurateur and sommelier Ignatius Chan opened his eponymous fine diner, Iggy’s. While the restaurant proper continues to thrill diners, its dedicated wine bar offers small plates and the option to match dinner to various Burgundian wine flights


Ignatius Chan and a dish at Iggy's (Iggy's)

40. As well as housing the world’s largest public display of modern southeast Asian art, The National Gallery of Singapore is also home to Odette, Julian Royer’s chic modern-European restaurant – recently named No.1 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

41. Once home to the British army, Gillman Barracks has been transformed into a sprawling collection of contemporary art galleries and spaces that captures the city’s latent creative energy

42. Mononymous photographer Nguan is celebrated for his minimalist, yet colourful, vignettes of the Singapore lesser-seen: seek out his images; great as gifts

43. Struggling to keep up with your vegetable intake? The prosaically titled “economic mixed vegetable rice” – a staple at most hawker centres – is a buffet-style stall that lets customers pick from a variety of cooked vegetable and meat dishes

44. Singaporean men must complete two years of national service at age 18

45. Singapore has observed six different time zones since 1905

46. Moshe Safdie’s distinctive design of Marina Bay Sands resort was inspired by a deck of cards

Marina Bay Sands shot from Gardens by the Bay (Marina Bay Sands)

47. Pro-tip: a single salted plum makes an excellent addition to fresh squeezed sugar cane juice

48. Don’t be alarmed if you overhear a lot of people being called auntie and uncle: both are respectful terms used by Singaporeans when addressing older women and men

49. Traditionally eaten around Chinese New Year, bakkwa is a sweet and salty pork jerky and one of the more addictive snacks available in Singapore

50. Although Tiger beer is synonymous with Singapore, the island is going through a craft beer renaissance. One of the more unusual discoveries is The Good Beer Company, a craft beer stall at the Chinatown Food Centre

Header image: Gardens by the bay - overview of supertrees (Singapore Tourism Board)

Catch up on The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2018:

The 2019 edition of The World's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will be announced on Tuesday 25th June in Singapore. Follow 50 Best on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for all the latest news, interviews and videos.