In the last few years, the coconut craze has picked up in the US and in Europe. But in Singapore and many parts of Southeast Asia, locals have been fans of the amazing coconut for centuries!

The coconut has been called “the tree of life” and “tree of a thousand uses” because no part of it goes to waste. Aside from its delicious flesh, it yields water and milk, and can be processed into oil. Besides being a source of fuel and used in a variety of household products, the coconut has a countless list of benefits for health, well-being and beauty – be it in body scrubs, moisturisers or supplements…the list goes on! No other tree can possibly be as versatile.

That said, its milk – an opaque, milky-white liquid extracted from the grated coconut pulp – is one of the most popular uses of the coconut in food, thanks to its rich taste and high natural fat content. What’s more, coconut milk is also lactose-free and is a great substitute for cow’s milk. Widely used in Southeast Asia and South Asia cooking, this article will focus on the most popular coconut milk-based traditional dishes in Singapore that have been handed down and refined from generation to generation.

So much to eat, so little time

A trading port long before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, Singapore has always drawn many nationalities to its shores. The result of this diversity cumulated in a literal melting pot where each nationality brought their cuisines along to Singapore and today, we enjoy dishes as varied and colourful as its multi-cultural heritage. Traditionally, coconut milk was used primarily in Indian and Malay cuisine. However, the intermarriage of Chinese immigrants with Malay natives, in particular, saw more Chinese incorporating coconut milk into their own dishes. Additionally, this marriage of flavours was reflected significantly in the Peranakan cuisine, known for its distinct and vibrant aesthetics and rich cuisine that relied heavily on coconut milk.

Of course, there’s so many to choose from and so little time… So here are five must-try dishes to help you savour the centuries-old coconut craze in Singapore. For each of these dishes, we recommend a local favourite (usually in a non-air-conditioned hawker centre or food stall), a more luxurious option (should you wish to treat yourself), and a value-for-money convenient option (with air-conditioning for those sweltering days!) which you can find at Changi Airport and around Singapore.

Whetting your appetite with a savoury start

Nasi Lemak: The secret’s in the rice

A plate of Nasi Lemak served on a banana leaf

One of Singapore’s comfort food, the humble Nasi Lemak is eaten as breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper

Meaning “rich rice” in Malay (Singapore’s official language), Nasi Lemak is a simple dish of rice cooked in coconut milk, and it’s usually served with ikan bilis (dry anchovies), peanuts, sometimes an egg and fried fish. You can also choose fried chicken, fried prawn, etc – the options are endless.

Such a simple dish but yet there’s always a queue in front of the most famous Nasi Lemak stalls (and of course, queuing is almost a hobby in Singapore). The die-hard fans will insist it’s the fragrant rice that makes the dish, or more specifically, the quality of the coconut milk in which it was cooked.

As local as it gets: Ponggol Nasi Lemak

Ponggol Nasi Lemak

Customize your Nasi Lemak with the various sides available. Photo credit: Ponggol Nasi Lemak Facebook

A local favourite – you can spot it from afar because of the snaking queue. Its fried chicken wings have been raved about as they are consistently crispy and juicy. A sign of their popularity, new batches of chicken wings and other ingredients are churned out consistently throughout the evening for ultimate freshness when you order. The rice will whet your appetite with its aroma of coconut and pandan and the sambal chili is foreigner-friendly – not too spicy and has a hint of sweetness.

 

Address : 965 Upper Serangoon Rd S(534721)

Opening hours: 5.30pm to 3.30am daily

Nearest MRT: Yishun

 

Address: 238 Tanjong Katong Rd S(437026)

Opening hours: 5:30 pm – 2:30 am daily

Nearest MRT: Dakota

Your go-to value-for-money option: CRAVE Nasi Lemak

CRAVE Nasi Lemak

CRAVE’s Nasi Lemak is made from long basmati grains as compared to the typical short grain rice found at other shops. Photo credit: Misstamchiak

A spin-off of the award-winning Selera Rasa nasi lemak, CRAVE has over 20 outlets across the island and uses a family recipe that has been passed down over generations. The use of the long-grain basmati rice is what sets it apart from other nasi lemaks. The result is that the rice has a mouthfeel that is lighter and fluffier, while still fragrant from the coconut milk. Everything is prepared in-store and you can pick from a range of combos offering different ingredients that pair beautifully with the coconut basmati rice – all of which are priced affordably between $4.90 and $6.90.

 

Right within Changi Airport:

Terminal 3, Public Area, Basement 2

10.30am to 11pm daily

 

Terminal 2, Transit, Level 2 Departure Transit Hall

6am to 1am daily

 

In the city:

Address: ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #B4-58/59, Singapore 238801

Opening hours: 9.30am to 9.30pm daily

Nearest MRT: Orchard

For more locations, visit here.

If you prefer a restaurant atmosphere: The Coconut Club

The Coconut Club Nasi Lemak

The Coconut Club only uses coconuts from one specific plantation in Sabak Bernam, and the type is called the MAWA (The Malaysian West African strain). Photo credit: The Coconut Club Website

Nasi Lemak goes for $12.80 here, more than double the price at a hawker, but the restaurant takes pride in getting quality coconut milk from only one source in Malaysia. And Chef Lee Eng Su has made it his life’s purpose to perfect the art of cooking Nasi Lemak. Has he already achieved it? According to Chef Lee, it’s still a work in progress as he seeks to continuously improve the dish – nevertheless, we think it’s worth a visit for an elevated nasi lemak experience. Many diners say the Club’s Chendol is another must-try – read about this delicacy below.

 

Address: 6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787

Opening hours: 11am to 3pm Tues to Sat. Closed on Mondays and Sundays.

Nearest MRT: Chinatown

Laksa: Spicy comfort food

A bowl of Laksa

Commonly found in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, the one thing that binds us together is our love for spicy food, especially Laksa

In Hokkien (one of the Chinese dialects spoken in Singapore), laksa means “spicy sand,” which refers to the ground dried prawns that give the broth its taste and texture. The prawn stock is enriched with coconut milk for even more oomph, then served with thick rice noodles, prawns and cockles. This is Nyonya Laksa, which has Peranakan roots and is the version most commonly found in Singapore. But there are other versions, which can be found in Southern Thailand as well as in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia!

As local as it gets: Sungei Road Laksa

Sungei Road Laksa

Nothing beats old school laksa from Sungei Road Laksa, but do expect a queue when you get there. Photo credit: Misstamchiak

Old school laksa in a humble stall, with aunties serving up a dish they have perfected for decades. They still cook the broth over a charcoal burner, possibly one of the last few remaining hawkers in Singapore who do so. A steal at $3, but one might not be enough!

 

Address: Blk 27 Jalan Berseh #01-100, Singapore 200027

Opening hours: 9am to 6pm daily, except every 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month.

Nearest MRT: Jalan Besar Station

Your go-to value-for-money option: Ya Kun Family Café

Ya Kun Family Café Laksa

Head over to Ya Kun Family Café for a wide array of Singapore’s comfort food. Photo credit: hlye2002 Blogspot

A favourite among both locals and tourists, Ya Kun Family Café has outlets scattered across Singapore and offers a range of quintessential Asian signatures in addition to its popular kaya toast and coffee offerings. Its laksa is a hard one to beat, served chockful with ingredients like shrimp, cockles, fish cake and a bonus hard-boiled egg that goes delightfully well with the gravy.

 

Right within Changi Airport:

Terminal 2, Transit, Level 2 Departure Transit Hall

24 hours daily

 

Terminal 3, Transit, Basement 2

24 hours daily

 

In the city:

Address: ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #B4-71/72, Singapore 238801

Opening hours: 7.30am to 10pm daily

Nearest MRT: Orchard

For more locations, visit here.

If you prefer a restaurant atmosphere: Chong Wen Ge Café

Laksa from Chong Wen Ge Café

Enjoy a good bowl of laksa while basking in the Peranakan culture at Chong Wen Ge Café. Photo credit: Darren Bloggie

A café that lets you step back in time to the glorious Peranakan days, Chong Wen Ge is located within one of Singapore’s most important landmarks, the Thian Hock Keng Temple. Expect an aromatic and mildly spicy broth with giant prawns on a heap of noodles, sliced fish cake and cockles.

 

Address: 168 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore, 068619

Opening hours: 11am to 5.30pm daily

Nearest MRT: Tanjong Pagar

Chicken Curry: From humble beginnings to a nation’s favourite

Bowl of steaming hot chicken curry

The chicken curry can be savoured with white rice, bread or even roti jala, a Malay pancake

It’s said that in the early days of Singapore where times were difficult, people were so hard up for food that they would just settle for rice and curry sauce over it as a meal. Over the years, the humble curry has evolved to include more ingredients to complement the rich gravy as a base.

Of course, as with many dishes in culturally diverse Singapore, there are also different types of curry, including Indian Curry and Nyonya Curry. For this article, we’re focusing on curry made popular by the Chinese, traditionally a stew of potatoes and chicken, which uses a paste made with herbs and spices, and, of course, coconut milk. The trick to this go-to comfort food is to keep the gravy cooking for hours and hours, just like Singaporean grandmas made them long ago.

As local as it gets: Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice

Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice

Pair your chicken curry with rice, eggs or even pork chop. Photo credit: Burpple

Operating in Tiong Bahru (a must-visit hood in Singapore!), Loo’s operations date back to 1946, even before Singapore gained its independence. The secret? Three painstaking days to prepare the curry in order to bring out its true flavour. This curry is typically doused over a selection of meat and vegetables that you can customise along with steaming hot white rice to complement the gravy. Our top picks are the Hainanese pork chop, cabbage and a fried egg. Of course, you don’t have to wait three days to eat there, but do expect a queue.

 

Address: 71 Seng Poh Road, #01-49, Singapore 160071

Opening hours: 8am to 2.45pm daily, except on alternate Tuesdays.

Nearest MRT: Tiong Bahru or Outram

Your go-to value-for-money option: Curry Times

Bowl of chicken curry from Curry Times

Enjoy the chicken curry with a bowl of white rice or baguette. Photo credit: Curry Times Facebook

With a mission to spread the love of curry, Curry Times is the offspring of Singapore’s pioneer and master of the iconic curry puff (a small pie consisting of curry with chicken and potatoes in a deep-fried or baked pastry shell). They’ve mastered the art of curry and pride themselves on not using any coconut milk – we know, blasphemous at first thought, but yet they have achieved its effect masterfully – perfect if you’re looking for a slightly lighter alternative after overloading on the other four coconut dishes! We also recommend trying their curry bun or dry curry chicken rice for a unique take on the traditional chicken curry.

 

Right within Changi Airport:

Terminal 3, Public Area, Basement 2

7am to 11pm on weekdays, 8am to 11pm on weekends

 

Terminal 4, Transit, Level 2 Departure Transit Hall

6am to 12am daily

 

In the city:

Address: Novena Square (Velocity), 238 Thomson Road, #02-33/34/41/42, Singapore 307683

Opening hours: 9am to 10pm on weekdays, 10am to 10pm on weekends and public holidays

Nearest MRT: Novena

For more locations, visit here.

If you prefer a restaurant atmosphere: Violet Oon

Roti jala with a bowl of chicken curry

Roti jala or roti kirai is a pretty dish that looks like a lace doily due to the way it is made. Photo credit: Violet Oon Facebook

Another throwback to the glory days of Peranakan culture, Violet Oon offers traditional and fusion dishes. Their menu includes a creamy curry of chicken and potatoes that is slow-cooked and spiced with coconut milk. Instead of the usual rice, it’s served with roti jala, a traditional laced pancake to soak up the delightful gravy. You’ll be resisting drinking the curry right from the bowl.

 

Right within Changi Airport:

Jewel Changi Airport, Level 1

11am to 10pm daily

 

In the city:

Address: ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #03-22, #03-28/29, Singapore 238801

Opening hours: 10pm to 10pm daily

Nearest MRT: Orchard

Round up your meal with something for the sweet tooth

Chendol: Voted among the world’s best desserts

Chendol, an iced dessert made from rice flour and pandan jelly with coconut milk and palm sugar

The Chendol is one of the best way to overcome the sweltering heat on this sunny island

After braving Singapore’s heat, you’ll need something to cool down with. And there’s nothing better than Chendol, a dessert made of shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar (gula melaka) syrup, green jelly made from rice flour and sometimes, red beans. When CNN named Singapore’s chendol one of the world’s best desserts in 2018, this sparked a debate about who should get credit, since it has Malaysian origins. But while the discussion continues, do your own exploration and see what you like best.

As local as it gets: Jin Jin Hot / Cold Dessert

A bowl of Chendol

Eating Chendol is one of the best ways to beat the sweltering heat in Singapore. Photo credit: Gurkhason Wordpress

They call their version Power Chendol – and for good reason. The palm sugar syrup is thick with an intense, almost smoky flavour. The people in the queues will tell you it’s “shiok” – the local way of saying it’s delicious.

 

Address: 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-21 ABC Brickworks Market Food Centre, Singapore 150006

Opening hours: 12.30pm to 10pm daily, except Wednesdays

Nearest MRT: Redhill

Your go-to value-for-money option: Mr Bean

Icy Sea Salt Chendol from Mr Bean

Mr Bean is doing it right by combining two of Singapore’s favourite desserts, soya milk and Chendol. Photo credit: Mr Bean Facebook

Mr Bean is well-loved among Singaporeans for its soya bean drinks – and its interpretation of chendol using its fresh soy milk instead of coconut milk is a worthy recommendation in its own right! Their chendol is blitzed with ice for a slushie effect reminiscent of the shaved ice in chendol and has red bean and green jelly toppings along with a dash of sea salt to bring out the complexity of the gula melaka. Best part, you can drink this on-the-go!

 

Right within Changi Airport:

Jewel Changi Airport, Basement 2

7am to 12am from Sundays to Thursdays

7am to 1am on Fridays, Saturdays and eve of public holidays

 

In the city:

Address: Wisma Atria, 435 Orchard Road, #B1-58, Singapore 238877

Opening hours: 8am to 10pm daily

Nearest MRT: Orchard

For more locations, visit here.

If you prefer a restaurant atmosphere: The Coconut Club

Chendol from The Coconut Club

Nothing beats a delicious bowl of Chendol, right after your Nasi Lemak. Photo credit: The Coconut Club Facebook

This restaurant gets a second mention because bloggers and regular online food reviewers have actually raved more about its chendol than its Nasi Lemak. Well, this is your chance to go all out with the coconut crave and have one after the other. The chendol here is said to be quite generous so two can share or you might just have it all to yourself.

 

Address: 6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787

Opening hours: 11am to 3pm daily, except on Mondays and Sundays

Nearest MRT: Chinatown

Kueh: A kaleidoscope of colours, textures and flavours

A row of colourful kueh

Not only are these traditional desserts pretty to look at, they taste delicious too!

Technically a Malay term for bite-sized sweet or savoury snacks, kueh generically refers to a small dessert that's steamed, baked or fried. It has considerable influence from the Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan communities and comes in different shapes, sizes, colours, flavours and textures. However, a commonality among all of these varieties is the use of coconut, but with the coconut being used in a myriad of ways as well. For instance, coconut milk in the batter or coconut flesh grated to coat the steamed kueh for added texture.

As local as it gets: Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry Bakery

Kueh Putu Ayu

The Putu Ayu is your local version of a bundt cake. Since they are miniature-sized, one piece is never enough! Photo credit: The Peak Magazine

Upon stepping in, the aroma of over a 100 types of freshly baked goods and the rows of kueh at the counter will bring a smile to your face. Galicier’s putu ayu cakes are steamed treats shaped like a mini bundt cake, with a green pandan sponge cake crowned with shredded coconut. Also, not to be missed are its kueh dadar, a roll with a light yet moist shredded coconut filling wrapped within a pandan-infused crepe. Affordably priced between $0.70 to $1.50 each per piece, you can go crazy trying a variety of kueh yet not burn a hole in your pocket!

 

Address: Blk 55 Tiong Bahru Rd, #01-39, Singapore 160055

Opening hours: 10am to 8.30pm daily, except Mondays

Nearest MRT: Tiong Bahru

Your go-to value-for-money option: Bengawan Solo

Kueh ondeh-ondeh

The bite sized ondeh-ondeh makes a very addictive dessert!

A household name with over 30 years of history, Bengawan Solo has over 20 varieties of kueh and preserves the time-honoured taste by using traditional methods. Its kueh lapis (lapis = layer) sago is a 9-layer rainbow-coloured gelatinous steamed cake – and the fun is in peeling each coloured layer one at a time. Its ondeh-ondeh is also one of the most addictive types of kueh you’ll encounter: little balls of steamed rice flour filled with a warm, melty goodness made with pandan juice and gula melaka, before being tossed in grated coconut for extra bite.

 

Right within Changi Airport:

There are multiple outlets at Changi Airport. Find them here

 

In the city:

Address: ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #B4-38, Singapore 238801

Opening hours: 10am to 10pm daily

Nearest MRT: Orchard

For more locations, visit here.

If you prefer a restaurant atmosphere: Candlenut

Kueh Salat from Candlenut

Candlenut’s Kueh Salat is almost too pretty to eat! Photo credit: Candlenut Instagram

Candlenut is a one Michelin-star restaurant focused on serving Peranakan inspired cuisine. Its kueh salat, a sweet cake of blue-tinged glutinous rice coloured with blue pea leaves, topped with a layer of green pandan custard, has received rave reviews. Made fresh every day and served only for dinner, the process is so labour-intensive and time-consuming that only 20 portions of the delicious dessert are served each night.

 

Address: 17A Dempsey Rd, Singapore 249676

Opening hours: 12pm to 3pm (lunch), 6pm to 10pm (dinner) on Mon to Thu, Sun; 12pm to 3pm (lunch), 6pm to 11pm (dinner) on Fri to Sat

Nearest MRT: Somerset

 

It’s easy to take your coconut mania to the next level in Singapore. From practical to pricey, you can have your fill of as many coconut-rich delicacies in the country that has taken centuries to perfect them. Let’s ‘jiak’ (eat in colloquial slang)!