12 Uniquely Singaporean Icons That Should Be A Part Of Your Singapore Expat Life

If you’ve lived in the little red dot for long enough, surely you’ll know about Singapore’s icons.

These official Singapore icons cannot be missed. Oh, and some of her unofficial, kind of ironic ones, too.

1. OFFICIAL: Durian

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Known as the “King of Fruits,” the durian is particularly polarising, due to its spiky covering, soft, mushy insides and pungent smell. Even Singaporeans are divided! But that doesn’t keep away food enthusiasts. Try it at neighbourhood shops like House of Durian, where the prized Mao Shan Wang variety goes for $21 per kilogramme

2. UNOFFICIAL: Esplanade

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Singapore’s answer to the Sydney Opera house, the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is jokingly referred to as the Durian Building. Fun fact: Its exterior is made up of aluminium sunshades to keep the heat out so the building stays cool at all times. It boasts a wide range of free and paid programmes happening all the time, including theatre, music and arts performances and exhibitions.

3. OFFICIAL: Merlion

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A mythical half-fish, half-lion, the Merlion is the mother of all Singapore icons (she’s a lady, FYI). The aquatic part represents the fishing village origins of Singapore and the feline half represents the “Singa” (lion in Malay) in Singapore’s name. The statue outside The Fullerton Hotel is the original, installed in 1972.

4. UNOFFICIAL: Gardens by the Bay

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“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a tree. It’s a tower! It’s a Supertree!” Spot the awe-inspiring Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay – metal structures designed to provide shade and solar power, and have tropical flowers and ferns growing all over them.

5. OFFICIAL: English

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English is used everywhere here, but did you know Singapore’s national language is actually Malay? It’s a nod to the country’s pre-colonial history as part of a Malay kingdom. You’ll find it in official documents, on the Singapore Coat of Arms (check it out on the dollar coins) and in military commands, especially during the National Day Parade.

6. UNOFFICIAL: Singlish

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Singlish, or colloquial Singapore English, is a blend of the different languages in Singapore. Even a particle like “lah”, which is used at the end of sentences, can mean a number of different things, depending on its tone. Start here, with our simple Singlish crash course.

7. OFFICIAL: Tanjong Pagar Centre

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Singapore’s tallest building is the newly completed, 290-metre-tall Tanjong Pagar Centre. This 64-storey building holds offices, shops, residences and a hotel.

8. UNOFFICIAL: Beer towers

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While in Singapore, stop by any hawker centre or pub for a tower of Tiger Beer – the island’s own local booze. Otherwise, go for the Tiger Brewery Tour ($20), which ends at the Tiger Tavern, where you get to try the beer for free!

9. OFFICIAL: Chicken Rice

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One of Singapore’s national dishes, Hainanese chicken rice is often called its most popular. After all, the ubiquitous chickens hanging on hooks and displayed in glass windows at hawker centres are both affordable and delicious; best enjoyed with chilli, garlic and a dark soy sauce. Check out some of the best spots here!

10. UNOFFICIAL: Chilli Crab

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The national dish that is even more uniquely Singaporean? Chilli crab. Beyond the fresh crab, the real attraction is the gooey sauce – it’s a little spicy, sweet and savoury all at once. (And, yes, it’s pretty messy to eat!) Wipe up the sauce with fried mantou, pieces of fried buns. Dig in at New Ubin Seafood (from $42 for 500 grammes).

11. OFFICIAL: Vanda Miss Joaquim

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The Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid was chosen as Singapore’s official flower in 1981. Named after Agnes Joaquim, a horticulturist in the late 1800s, it is a crossbred of the Vanda hookeriana and Vanda teres orchids, which are commonly found here. See the hybrid at the National Orchid Garden, located within the Singapore Botanic Gardens (entry fee from $1).

12. UNOFFICIAL: ArtScience Museum

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It’s impossible not to notice the floating, lotus flower-looking structure that is the ArtScience Museum! Built as part of Marina Bay Sands, it is meant to be a symbol of welcome. The “Nature” section of its Future World exhibition is a fittingly immersive, technicolour experience for both young and old.

By Andre Theng, The Finder (Issue 285), July 2017 / Updated by Isabel Wibowo, February 2021 / Images: courtesy of the respective business credited

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