3 Vancouver Restaurants That Give You A Taste of Singapore’s Complex Food Culture
When you ask Vancouverites what Asian cuisine they eat regularly, Singaporean is rarely on the top of the list.
This is surprising since Singaporean food is comprised of ingredients and culinary styles that we are familiar with from other Asian cuisines. Their cuisine is a melting pot of Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, and Peranakan influences (Chinese descendants locally born in Malaysia/Indonesia). The city-state’s rich history led to an inevitable gastronomic interplay that kickstarted an evolution of dishes.
Singaporean food has been getting more attention ever since Crazy Rich Asians became a box-office success. The film featured hawkers stalls, outdoor/indoor food vendors, bustling crowds and street eats.
Luckily, you don’t have to be crazy rich to try these dishes.
So where exactly can you find Singaporean food in Vancouver?
We explored a few local spots that serve delicious Singaporean eats, and dove deeper into understanding Singapore’s food culture.
1. Mamalee Malaysian Delight
Photo credit: Hana Joi
Mamalee is a family-run restaurant named after their matriarch Betty Lee. From Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Vancouver, Betty endured many hardships ranging from poverty to health setbacks. No matter the case, she fought and pursued her passion for creating an experience that delivered high-quality and authentic Malaysian dining.
Her most praised dish is a Singaporean classic, the Hainanese chicken, also known as “chicken rice”. The chicken is traditionally boiled in temperature controlled water and deboned. It is served with chicken flavoured rice and all tied together by homemade chilli and ginger sauces.
Every bite produces a harmony of flavourful chicken, ginger, and spice. This is a dish that uses the whole chicken, meaning nothing is wasted.
Photo Credit: Hana Joi
Mamalee is also known for her selection of laksas, a spicy coconut-curry based noodle soup. We ordered the Seafood Laksa – a classic.
Last, we tried their roti canai. In Singapore, this would be called roti prata. This is an Indian originating flatbread that is served hot with curry.
Forget the cutlery – you’re eating this with your bare hands and you’re loving every second of it!
Okay, so we know what you’re thinking…
“Mamalee is a Malaysian restaurant. Where is the Singaporean food?”
While Mamalee is referred to as a “Malaysian” restaurant, many Singaporean dishes can be found throughout Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia. In Vancouver, you’ll find a lot of Singaporean/Malaysian restaurants.
The contrasts will differ in the same way that any prominent dish will region to region, such as Pho varying all over Vietnam or ramen in Japan. Each area will vary according to agriculture or cross pollination of other cultures. Singaporean and Malaysian food are a unique case because of culinary influences from the same cultures.
Let’s consider the curry (Singaporean) laksa VS. the Asam (Malaysian) Laksa. In Singapore, this spicy soup tends to have a thick coconut curry base with thick noodles, fish cakes, and prawns. Malaysian laksa contains a sour base of tamarind and fish stock with vermicelli noodles, vegetables, and fish. At Mamalee’s, you’ll surprisingly find the curry laksa which is prominent in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Location: 3144 West Broadway, Vancouver, B.C. V6K 2H3
Next is a Richmond classic, Prata-Man Singaporean Cuisine. Don’t come here looking for an Instagram worthy experience, but come for the delicious Singaporean food that is well worth the price.
Given the name of this place, you have to try the prata! Perfecting the prata is tricky because of the way the dough must be stretched to reach a balance of a flakey and fluffy texture. For the perfect combination, pair up your prata with Curry Beef.
Photo Credit: Hana Joi
The curry that we ordered with the prata is a Curry Beef Rendang – beef slow cooked and simmered in coconut milk and a variety of spices. This dish has Indian roots, emerged from Indonesia, and is also served in Malaysia and Singapore. This Beef Rendang is similar to the Massaman Curry, a chicken or beef curry dish with a coconut milk base.
The hearty rendang curry is best eaten with the roti prata or rice. The “oil rice” is a nice add-on for more flavour. Oil rice is the type of rice that comes with Hainanese chicken (the rice cooked in chicken stock).
Lastly, you’ll also want to try a plate of their BBQ Satay Skewers. Satay skewers originated as Middle Eastern Kebabs that spread to India and across Southeast Asian as a result of the spice and textile trade routes. The Singaporean (and Malaysian) version is marked by its sweet and spicy satay marinade.
Pro Tip: Ask for extra peanut sauce with the satay skewers. Trust me, you’ll need it!
Our last stop is Hawkers Delight, a Vancouver staple tucked away in Mount Pleasant. When you step inside, you’ll be met by the hustle and bustle from the buzzing cooks flocking to the diners. The experience will bring flashbacks of the Crazy Rich Asians scene displaying an array of dishes amongst the street stall hawkers.
The roti pratas are a MUST here!
The texture of the pratas are quite similar to a Chinese green onion pancake. They are perfectly spiralled, crisp, flaky and fluffy, and are paired wonderfully with the sweet and spicy curry sauce. The veggie fritters are soft, crisp and bursts with flavour after a dunk in the sour-vinegar sauce. Both the veggie fritters and roti prata are served quickly after ordering, so get these as starters to your meal.
Another must, is the Mee Goreng, which are thick spicy noodles (but you can make it mild if picante is not your thing).
Some might find that the Mee Goreng resembles Chinese chow mein. Mee Goreng is a variant of Chinese chow mein that was adapted from Chinese immigrants that settled in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In Singapore, this dish is strongly affiliated with the Indian Muslim community as they are the primary vendors in hawkers.
Other popular picks here are the Hainanese chicken, the Mee Siam, stir fried rice vermicelli, and the Kuay Teow, stir fried flat rice noodle with prawn.
Location: 4127 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5V 3P6
Experiencing Singaporean food expands our understanding of a dish beyond its taste. Every plate is a reflection of the interactive nature of different cultures in their history.
While Vancouver just scratches the surfaces, the available selection definitely demands your attention. Our city is known for the variety and quality of Asian food at our fingertips. It’s time we make room for Singaporean eats as an essential part of Vancouver dining.
Hana was born and raised in Vancouver, and since her infancy, has been fed on her main food groups: rice, noodles, fried chicken, and sushi. She grew up in a family of foodies where food is a form of embodying love. She was always exposed to many different cuisines as a child, regardless of her ethnic heritage. With every new cuisine explored, it's an opportunity to connect to someone else's culture.