By SGN | 30 Jun 2023
Earlier this month, five Singapore restaurants were featured in the global Top 100 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and just this week, 55 local restaurants were awarded Michelin Stars (for a total of 67 stars awarded).
Food & travel lover Jon Lu has had extensive dining experiences across the world and in the past was featured on CNN for his exploration of Singapore’s food scene during his time living here. We reached out to Jon to get his unique insights and perspective on what makes Singapore’s food scene so special.
You’ve eaten your way through many different parts of the world in the past few years. What makes Singapore’s food scene stand out to you?
So many things! For starters, Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and you really see this diversity reflected in the food scene. Within a short walk in CBD alone, you can find options for a multitude of international cuisines. So much of the produce here comes from overseas; in both restaurants and even some grocery stores you can try artisanal produce that was imported from all over the world. Having access to all of this culinary diversity within a short MRT ride of one’s home is a luxury that not many cities in the world have.
Second, the street food scene here is extraordinary: Hawker culture is deeply rooted in Singapore’s culinary heritage and there are many stalls where the recipes and techniques have been handed down over generations. I love watching hawker stalls in action because you can often notice the craftsmanship that goes into preparing the food. In many cities, street food is viewed as a quick and cheap option that sacrifices on quality, but in Singapore some of the best dishes you can eat come from hawker stalls and kopitiams.
Third, Singaporeans’ passion for food is unbelievable: From my time living there, I feel like almost everyone I’ve met has a strong personal opinion on where to find the best chicken rice, nasi lemak, char kway teow, laksa, et al. Even people I’ve met in non food-related contexts that wouldn’t normally strike me as “foodies” can hold an in-depth conversation on why they prefer the flavors and textures at one hawker stall over another; it’s great to see people really appreciate the quality of the food they eat rather than view it purely a means of sustenance, something that’s not always the case elsewhere.
In conjunction, these three factors: diversity of international cuisines, rich local culinary traditions and a demand for quality food by consumers make Singapore’s food scene incredibly exciting and dynamic. Many food cities I’ve visited may have one or two of these factors, but few have all three to the extent that Singapore does.
You were featured on CNN for your explorations of fine dining restaurants when you lived in Singapore. What are your thoughts on the fine dining scene here and which restaurants do you recommend?
Like the rest of Singapore’s food scene, it’s very exciting with new restaurants constantly opening. I came back for three weeks last December and was honestly a bit overwhelmed by how many new fine dining restaurants had opened in just the two years I was away. Some new restaurants from my past trip that I thought were outstanding were Born, Poise, and Seroja; their concepts were a breath of fresh air within a very saturated fine dining scene and I was really happy to see all three receive their first Michelin Stars earlier this week 🙂
In terms of recommendations, it’s always tricky because food is so subjective and flavors I enjoy someone else may not (and vice versa). For Modern European or Nordic cuisines, my best meals in Singapore have come at Odette, Zén, JAAN, Sommer, and Euphoria. For sushi, my favorite so far has been Kimura though there’s been a wave of sushi-yas that have opened recently that I still need to try. One restaurant I always recommend to others is hometown hero Labyrinth, which recently became the first Singaporean-inspired restaurant ever featured by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The dishes there are mostly inspired by hawker dishes, making them one of the few fine dining concepts in Singapore that truly pay homage to the local cuisine.
Any personal dining anecdotes in Singapore you’d like to share?
Where do I begin… I have lots of stories of amazing food I’ve eaten, but some of the more interesting anecdotes are instances of really unexpected unreasonable hospitality. In my most recent trip, I dined a restaurant that I had been to several times in the past where I knew the team well. For the first 30 minutes of a fully booked lunch service, they sent team members to my table one-by-one to catch up with me all while seamlessly keeping pace with service. It was clear they had put a lot of thought and effort into planning this out beforehand; this was so far out of the norm of anything I’d experienced that it completely blew me away.
Another memory was a zi char place (KEK Seafood) that I visited a few years ago where I happened to have a cake that a friend had just given me. One of the uncles noticed the cake and generously offered to put it in their fridge. At the end of the meal when we got the cake back, we saw their team had added disposable utensils and plates to our bag so that we could share it; all of this was completely unspoken and done proactively from the kindness of their hearts. I still remember this powerful act of hospitality years later and it (along with their amazingly delicious food) has turned me into a huge fan and loyal supporter ever since.
These were just two memorable examples of many where I’ve been blown away by hospitality in Singapore. It’s really heartwarming to see restaurants try to genuinely connect and take care of guests on a personal level, which I know is not always easy with the high stress and long hours in F&B.
What’s on your food bucket list the next time you visit Singapore?
Aside from revisiting my favorites, there’s two restaurants that just opened that I really want to visit the next time I’m back in Singapore. One is Bacatá, a modern Colombian concept by Chef Fernando Arevalo. I was a huge fan of Chef Fernando’s bold & creative culinary style at Preludio (now closed) and am excited to see him apply his talents to his native cuisine. The other is Fico Masseria, a casual concept by Chef Mirko Febbrile that’s inspired by the masserias of his hometown Puglia. Their space in East Coast Park looks absolutely stunning with gorgeous water views from the restaurant and the overall experience seems unlike anything else I’ve seen in Singapore.
Of course since Singapore’s food scene is so dynamic, I’m sure there will be more new and exciting restaurants that will open in the coming months! Even while living in the US, I still try to keep tabs on the food scene in Singapore to hype myself up for my next visit 😉
Jon Lu is an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) currently based in NYC. As a passionate food and travel lover, he travels to new cities around the world each year, always planning his trips around discovering amazing food. His time living in Singapore in 2020 was one of the most memorable periods of his life and an experience he will cherish forever: Singapore has become a second home to him and he comes back to visit every year!
For more on Jon’s food and travel adventures, you can find him on Instagram @jlunyc.