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Uniquely Singaporean Food Habits That Confuse Expats – Explained!

Food habits in a food city.

Overwhelmed by some of the bizarre foods you’ve seen here in Singapore? We try to explain some uniquely Singaporen food habits to you – and convince you they’re for good reason!

1. Butter in coffee 

(image: Daniel Food Diary)

There’s kopi (coffee), its multitude of permutations like kopi o and kopi c… And then there’s kopi gu you (buttered coffee) – literally coffee with a slab of butter added to it.

Weird? Nah – it’s apparently deliciously velvety and creamy, the sweetness of the butter palatable next to the bitterness of the coffee itself; nothing like the oily mess it sounds like it’d be. Find yourself an endearing cuppa at one of the old school coffee shops in Singapore.

2. Half-boiled eggs 

How would you like your eggs – scrambled, fried, poached… or half-boiled?

This goopy concoction isn’t a failed, half-arsed attempt to cook some eggs before the chef gave up and served it to you anyway. It’s an old-school breakfast staple to many a Singaporean, often seasoned with dark soy sauce and white pepper – also used to dip kaya toast (coconut jam on buttered toast) in.

Watch these adventurous tourists try out half-boiled eggs for the first time – their initial repulsion eventually gives way to unexpected delight.

3. Carrot Cake

If you place an order for Carrot Cake at a hawker centre in Singapore, don’t expect to be served a slice of cake nicely frosted with cream cheese. You’ll be getting this:

The Singaporean rendition of Carrot Cake is a dish made from daikon (white carrot) and rice flour dough (“cake”) – which is what gives the dish its name – sautéed with egg, garlic, and spices.

It seems like an unappetizing mess, but you probably figured by now that local food centres don’t pay much attention to presentation – it’s all about the taste. If done right, the carrot cake is a savoury delight ever-so-lightly crisp on the outside, and soft on the outside.

4. Durian 

Ask a local for one unique food you have to try in Singapore and you’ll probably be directed to the durian stall half the time. Who even first thought to split open that fatally spiky object to look for food? And still decided to go ahead and eat the fruit despite it looking like an alien fetus?

We don’t know, but durian’s a love-it-or-hate-it thing – delightfully pungent, if we may call it so – and in a truly Singaporean kaypo (nosy) spirit, we want to know which side you’re on.

5. Never-ending long queues 

Can’t decide what to eat? Join the longest queue – it has to be good. And that’s also why once a long queue starts, it never ends. People just keep adding to it. For the most part, we have to say, it’s a pretty effective guarantee that your food’ll be good.

6. Where are the napkins…?

(image: Qoo10, Great Deals Singapore)

Don’t be alarmed if you can’t seem to find napkins in food courts or hawker centres – the locals are well-prepared and bring their own every time they head out! Tip? You can even use these to “chope” (a.k.a. reserve) tables during a crowded day. Talk about a sweet hack, eh?

By Pinky Chng, May 2016 / Updated by Willaine G. Tan, February 2021. Images: credited to source. 

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