When one mentions Singaporean food, dishes such as chicken rice, roti prata and chilli crab comes to mind. While those dishes are of great prominence, there are three other delicious hawker foods that are fast disappearing in Singapore, ones that you have never even heard of. The variety of local food to try is simply endless, but these three disappearing foods in Singapore are ones you definitely must try when you’re here. Take the chance to try them now, or else you might not get a chance to in the future!
1. Oyster cake
No, this dish is not oysters stuffed into a chiffon cake. Nor is this the same as the oyster omelette, another Singapore hawker dish. Instead, it is more of a savoury rice-batter pancake, stuffed with oysters, prawns, minced meat and Chinese parsley, and topped off with a few peanuts. The palm-sized pancake is usually deep-fried to golden-brown, providing a crunchy first bite contrasted with the savoury and juicy interior. It is nicknamed the UFO for its resemblance, which can also stand for Unidentified Fried Object!
The snack is fast disappearing in Singapore as there are only three permanent stalls selling the pancake, with a few revolving food stalls also selling it at pop-up night markets. It is speculated that the dish is disappearing due to increasing costs of preparing the snack. The stalls selling oyster cakes are usually generous with ingredients, having a few oysters in that small pancake that usually sells for under $3 per piece. For such affordable prices, it is difficult for stalls to maintain profits without increasing prices.
2. Turtle soup
Turtle soup is a disappearing dish in Singapore, and definitely not something you can find easily at hawker centres. The second level of Berseh Food Centre used to be the place where locals would go to for turtle soup, where there were many stalls serving piping hot bowls of herbal turtle soup, now there are only two stalls left in the food centre.
Turtle soup is made with turtle meat, soft shell, boiled with a mixture of Chinese herbs. The smooth and soft jelly-like shell, along with tender turtle meat, is served in a bowl of savoury herbal goodness accompanied by tasty yam rice. Many people love turtle soup and consider it a delicacy because of its purported medicinal qualities, such as being rich in collagen, protein and may even lower blood pressure.
However, due to increasing costs as turtle meat is getting more difficult to obtain, the prices of turtle soup have gone up in recent years, averaging $20 for a bowl. The arduous cooking process of the dish is another factor that contributes to its rarity, from cleaning the meat to boiling the soup for hours.
3. Sar Kay Mah
Also known as sachima in Mandarin, sticky, sweet and slightly savoury snack originated from the Manchus in Northeast China and spread all over the country, reaching South China, where a Cantonese version evolved and was brought to Singapore. The Cantonese version is sweeter and often sprinkled with some kind of topping, most commonly sesame seeds. Although the snack is popular and more common in Hong Kong, there’s probably only one store in Singapore left that sells handmade sar kay mah – Pan Ji Cooked Food.
Founded in the 1960s, by his father, Mr Poon helped out at the stall at the tender age of 14. Now a master of his craft, he takes pride in keeping to the traditional recipe and using only quality ingredients.
The process of making the snack is a long and tiring one, a total of 9 hours spread into two days. Thin strips of dough are fried, covered in sugar syrup, cooled and compacted, then cut into small blocks. You can either bite straight into it or separate the strips by hand and dig into the deliciously addictive snack. It fills one up quickly as it is made from fried dough and malt sugar.
Mr Poon does this all by hand, sometimes with a helper, but the amount of hard work poured into this snack is probably why the craft is disappearing in Singapore.
Revival: Putu Piring
Once touted as a disappearing food in Singapore, the putu piring, a steamed rice-flour cake with a sweet filling and rolled in grated coconut, is making a comeback in the local food scene in recent years. The classic filling is gula melaka (palm sugar), with chocolate and even durian being more modern flavours offered at certain stores. The Malay snack was popular in the 1970s – 1980s, where sellers peddled the snack on their mobile pushcarts around Singapore.
The snack was deemed to be disappearing in the early 2000s as there were only a few stores left selling this snack. However, one shop at Haig Road Market, aptly called Haig Road Putu Piring, has grown into a mini putu puring empire, with several branches all over Singapore. The popularity of the snack grew when Aisha Hashim, the fourth-generation owner and a pastry chef by training, returned to Singapore from the US to help her mother with the business. She sought to expand the business and innovate with new flavours to attract more customers, leading to the growing popularity and presence of putu piring in the local hawker scene. Putu piring was even featured in Netflix’s Street Food series as part of the Singapore focus.