When it comes to breakfast, our multiracial country has no lack of ethnic choices. Here at ConnexionSG, we have compiled a list of the popular breakfast picks among the different races and a slice of their tasty history.
Kaya toast: an evolution from British food
Ask any local what a Singaporean breakfast should be and you will definitely hear of kaya toast as an answer. Did you know that this breakfast favourite is actually a Hainanese creation?
In the colonial past, many Hainanese worked on British ships as cooks. As the cooks settled in Singapore, they began selling western food such as coffee and toast to the locals. To make it more palatable for their Singaporean customers, they added a local twist to the food. Expensive western jam was replaced by a cheaper native alternative – butter and kaya, a sweetened coconut milk and pandan leaf spread.
Now, Singaporeans can still enjoy munching on this sweet and brittle toast. Paired together with a wobbly, soft-boiled egg and black kopi, this kaya toast set is suitably Singapore’s answer to the English breakfast.
Nasi lemak: the coastal Malay brekkie
If you’re looking for something to fill you up in the morning, this carbohydrate-laden nasi lemak is your answer. Nasi lemak, which is Malay for rice in cream, is believed to be an invention of the Malay community that lived by the sea in Singapore’s early years.
Coconuts were easily available by the sea shores and the ingenious idea of adding coconut milk to rice resulted in the flavourful nasi lemak. Likewise, anchovies that were readily caught from the sea were dried and added to this coastal Malay dish. Working farmers from back then wrapped their nasi lemak in banana leaves, and this practice is still followed by some of the hawkers now.
Today, this inexpensive dish is served with ikan bilis (fried anchovies), nuts, fried fish, cucumber and sambal belachan (shrimp past pounded with chilli). Nasi lemak has become so popular that it is even possible to find a Chinese variant of it. Chinese hawkers, such as Chong Pang Nasi Lemak or Qi Ji, serve their version with an additional range of sides such as deep-fried chicken wings, chicken sausages, fish cake, curried vegetables and even luncheon meat.
Roti prata: a flipping good Indian pancake
If you ask for roti prata in India, you’ll be met with puzzled faces. Even in Malaysia, this dish is more commonly known as roti canai . You see, roti prata is a uniquely Singaporean term for this iconic fried flat bread. In India, the same dish would be called “Paratha”.
The recipe is believed to come from original pancake recipes from Pakistan and India. As they have been from the beginning, roti pratas are still made from plain flour imported from India in sacks.
Many Singaporeans would be familiar with the sight of a prata man, deftly flattening a small ball of dough and flipping it into a paper-thin sheet. The sheet is then folded into a rectangle and fried to a golden brown crust on a griddle.
To best enjoy this dish, forget about using forks and knives. Use your fingers! Tear a bite-size portion of the roti prata and dunk it into the curry. If you’re still hungry for more, try the other variants such as tissue prata (a paper thin version of roti prata), prata bomb (roti prata with condensed milk and sugar) and prata plaster (roti prata with a fried egg “plastered” on the outside).
If you are not the sort to be hung up over the calories, roti prata might end up as your new daily breakfast!
Written by Kat Wong
Photos from Connexion SG
“Singapore’s Breakfast: A Slice of History” was originally published on ConnexionSG, 30 May 2013.