By SGN | 6 June 2022
Singapore is known as a food paradise. It’s here that you’ll find world-class fine dining – including seven of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants – alongside a rich array of culinary traditions born of the population’s diverse heritage. Through its bars, bakeries, cafes, restaurants and hawker stalls, the city is also a metropolitan gateway to cuisines from every corner of the globe.
Here are ten lesser-known cuisines you shouldn’t miss out on.
1. Peruvian 🇵🇪 — FLNT
Perched on top of the iconic ION Orchard mall, FLNT is a chic gastrobar that offers stunning views of the city and a mouth-watering menu of Nikkei cuisine marrying Peruvian flavours and Japanese techniques.
Peruvian spices and the binchotan grill feature heavily in creations such as chicken anticuchos, skewers tinged with the heat of jalapeno and aji panca. Dishes off the grill are equally delicious – try the scallop tiradito, a spicy ceviche marinated in leche de tigre (“tiger’s milk”) laced with tamarind.
2. Nepalese 🇳🇵 — Lomba The Gurkha Bistro
Lomba The Gurkha Bistro is a hidden gem tucked away on the fourth floor of an old shopping centre in the central west of Singapore. Its Nepalese fare incorporates natural and nourishing ingredients like Himalayan salt, fresh herbs and raw oils. Everything is cooked to order with care, so be prepared for a slight wait.
If you’re unsure where to start, go for the signature ‘royal-style’ lunch or dinner set, which includes jimbu butter chicken (where jimbu is a Nepalese herb), steamed momo (dumplings) and a bara (lentil pancake).
3. Swiss 🇨🇭 — Coucou
Depending on which part of Switzerland dishes originate from, Swiss cuisine may skew French, German or Italian. At Coucou, a charming restaurant adorned with cuckoo clocks, this diversity is celebrated in a menu that even indicates which region each dish belongs to.
The best-known specialty of German-speaking territory is rösti, fried patties of grated potatoes that may be topped with veal sausage or draped in melted raclette. Another Swiss classic, fondue moitié-moitié – “half-half”, since it blends two cheeses, Gruyère and Vacherin – is ascribed to Fribourg in the west, near France, while hearty dishes like lamb loin with black pepper sauce and creamy polenta come from the south, closer to the Italian border.
4. African 🌍 — Kafe Utu
Situated within a buzzing dining belt in Chinatown, Kafe Utu exudes the warmth of African hospitality across three storeys of cosy nooks and inviting spaces decorated with vibrant prints, wicker lampshades and hand-carved furnishings.
The menu here isn’t limited to a particular region of Africa, a reflection of owner Kurt Wagner’s childhood spent in several countries across the vast continent, including Liberia, Sudan and Kenya. Along with Liberian peanut chicken stew or Swahili fried bread with cardamom and coconut flakes, indulge in cocktails with an African twist, featuring ingredients like Procera gin (from Kenya) and Amarula (a cream liqueur from South Africa).
5. Caribbean 🏝️ — Lime House
Just a few doors down from Kafe Utu is Lime House, a casual joint serving up breezy island vibes and creative cocktail concoctions, each inspired by a different nation in the Caribbean, from Puerto Rico to Barbados.
To complete the experience, dig into house favourites such as jerk chicken, curried goat, and fried plantains. There are also vegetarian options like ital stew – vegetables simmered in coconut milk – and pelau, a Creole descendant of paella that arose from the region’s history of Spanish colonial rule.
6. Yugoslavian 🇲🇰 — Yugoslavia Bakery & Cafe
Hailing from North Macedonia – one of six states that formed Yugoslavia in the 20th century – Mitre and Katerina run two bakeries in Singapore that present the best of Yugoslavian breads and pastries.
Their unique offerings include burek (phyllo pastry stuffed with feta, spinach, potatoes or beef) and Vasa’s cake (walnut sponge layered with chocolate mousse, meringue and candied orange). Be sure to try their housemade yoghurt drink, which pairs perfectly with a crusty burek.
7. Okinawan 🇯🇵 — Okinawan Diner Nirai-Kanai
Before 1897, Okinawa was ruled by the Ryukyu Kingdom as an entirely separate entity from the rest of Japan. Its southern location meant greater exposure to China and Southeast Asia, and trade interactions exerted a significant influence on food and drink.
A meal at Nirai-Kanai reveals the many ways in which Okinawan fare departs from Japanese cuisine. Okinawan tofu is dense and nutty, and their chewy noodles are served in a savoury blend of pork broth and bonito dashi. There is a predominance of stir-fries like goya champuru, bitter gourd tossed with eggs and tofu. Incidentally, champuru comes from the Malay word for mix, campur.
Another must-try is awamori, a distilled liquor that’s made from Thai long-grain rice and best savoured mizunari-style or cut with water and ice. According to some, the spirit is so pure that it never causes a hangover.
8. Portuguese 🇵🇹 — Tuga
No initiation into Portuguese cuisine is complete without savouring bacalhau, or salted cod. Tuga, a restaurant in Dempsey Hill – the charming lifestyle precinct that was formerly an army barracks – serves bacalhau in myriad ways: as fish cakes, in a salad, scrambled with eggs and potatoes, and so on. Other highlights include arroz de marisco (rice cooked in a rich seafood broth) and pica-pau (filet mignon sautéed in a beer sauce).
While waiting for your food to arrive, explore Tuga’s impressive wall of wines which covers all 14 wine regions of Portugal – pop a bottle at your table or take it home at a discount.
9. Iranian 🇮🇷 — Shabestan
Iranian (or Persian) cuisine is distinguished by the frequent use of fruits and spices such as pomegranate, saffron and Persian hogweed, while drawing on neighbouring cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Shabestan, a riverside restaurant in Robertson Quay, offers a satisfying survey. Here you can feast on classics such as kebabs served with chelow (fluffy saffron rice), ash reshteh (a thick yoghurt-based noodle soup) and faloodeh Shirazi (an ancient dessert of vermicelli noodles frozen in rose syrup).
10. Fijian 🇫🇯 — Poon’s Supper Club
Among the many private home dining businesses that have sprouted in Singapore over the last few years, Poon’s Supper Club is perhaps rooted in the most deeply personal story. Run by Kevin WY Lee – the founder of Invisible Photographer Asia and curator of @publicnoticesg – the dining experience is an extension of an ambitious project to cook and chronicle 100 dishes in tribute to his late father, who used to own a restaurant in Nadi, Fiji.
The soulful, eclectic dinner menus reflect Kevin’s personal history and the diasporic food of Asia and the Pacific, with Fijian-inspired dishes such as kokoda (fish ceviche) and vakalolo (cassava and coconut pudding).