Traditional breakfasts in Singapore: The best dishes locals love and where to try them

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and no place does it like Singapore. Forget eggs benny or avocado toast and pancakes – our traditional sunrise meals are one of the best, as they reflect the country’s mishmash of cultures in their variety. Hearty and comforting (though not always healthy), these hawker classics are good for hangover days, rainy mornings, and everything in between.

Make sure you’re not hangry before you scroll down.


Carrot cake

Photo: Jimmy Tan/Flickr

Make no mistake, this is no cake. At least, not in the dessert way. And there aren’t any orange carrots involved in its creation.

A piping hot plate served “black” (with sweet dark soya sauce) or “white” (with light soya sauce), the aromatic dish is wok fried with ingredients like garlic, eggs, preserved radish, plus a steamed rice flour and white radish mix that’s been diced into chunks. Also known as chai tow kway in Teochew dialect, the greasy local favorite can be eaten at any time of the day, really, even as an afternoon snack if you so wish.


Where to find it:
618 Sim Carrot Cake at #01-3230, Blk 618 Yishun Ring Rd.
Fu Ming Cooked Food at #01-49 Redhill Food Centre.
Ghim Moh Fried Carrot Cake at #01-16 Ghim Moh Food Centre.

Chee cheong fun

Photo: Jnzl’s Photos/Flickr

Otherwise known as steamed rice rolls (they’re made of rice flour), this simple dim sum dish commonly features in hawker centres across the island. With soft, silky sheets that wrap around bits of prawn, char siew (barbecued pork), you tiao (fried dough) or even scallops, the sliced-up, bite-sized layers can come with a mix of soy sauce and chilli, though versions vary depending on each recipe’s origins.


Where to find it:
Freshly Made Chee Cheong Fun at #01-155 Old Airport Road Food Centre.
Pin Wei Hong Kong Style Chee Cheong Fun at #01-25 Pek Kio Market & Food Centre.
Yin Ji Chang Fen at #01-01, 133 Amoy St.

Chwee kueh

Photo: Ruth Ellison/Flickr

The steamed rice cakes topped with chye poh (preserved radish) and a side smear of chilli may not be much to look at, but they sure are a scrumptious medley of sweet and savory. Made in small, saucer-like aluminium containers, the “water cakes” are slightly firmer than pudding and easy to slice through. Just make sure to top each chunk liberally with bits of chye poh and a dollop of chilli (depending on how well you take spice) for maximum satisfaction.


Where to find it:
Bedok Chwee Kueh at #01-53 Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre.
Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh at #01-31 Ghim Moh Food Centre.
Jian Bo Shui Kueh at #02-05 Tiong Bahru Market.


Photo: Alpha/Flickr

The Chinese rice porridge is comfort food at its best – you can have it on rainy days, sick days, or any time you need some cheering up. There’s nothing quite like a belly-warming bowl to get you going, especially when you can have it with anything you like, including chicken, fish, pork, abalone, meatballs, or century egg.


Where to find it:
Ah Chiang’s Porridge at #01-38, 65 Tiong Poh Rd.
Mui Kee Congee at #01-12 Shaw Centre.
Sin Heng Kee Porridge at #01-150, Blk 685 Hougang St 61.


Economic bee hoon

Photo: Alpha/Flickr

This carb-heavy option is a hearty one, so save it for days when you need an energy kick, or the resulting food coma will overtake you. Mainly consisting of fried rice vermicelli noodles, the dish is one you can customize to your preferences – even if you don’t know the names for the items on display, just point and smile, and pile your plate high with the likes of luncheon meat, fried chicken, fish cakes, hotdogs, and veggies.


Where to find it:
Economical Bee Hoon at #01-401 Meng Soon Huat Coffeeshop.
Holland V Fried Bee Hoon at #01-11 Holland Village Food Centre.
Hup Lee Fried Bee Hoon at #01-03 Chong Pang City.

Kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs

Photo: Daniel Zemans/Flickr

It’s basically bread and spread, but pair it with a hot mug of kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) and runny soft-boiled eggs, and you’ve got the breakfast of champions. You can have your toast thick-cut or thinly sliced, but either way it’ll be charred and meltingly good, especially when sandwiching a generous hunk of butter and a creamy layer of sweet kaya (coconut jam made with pandan leaves) in between.

Nibble on the bread for a bit before you dip it in the wobbly eggs swimming in dark soy sauce and a sprinkle of white pepper, then wash it all down with a sip of caffeine.


Where to find it:
Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Toast Box have outlets everywhere, but for a less commercialized experience, try these below.
Chin Mee Chin at 204 East Coast Rd.
Heap Seng Leong at #01-5109, Blk 10 North Bridge Rd.
Tong Ah Eating House at 35 Keong Saik Rd.


Nasi lemak

Photo: LWYang/Flickr

Infused with coconut milk and pandan leaves, the rice in this traditionally Malay dish is so wonderfully aromatic, you’ll scent it the moment you step up to the stall. It’s usually served with chicken wings or fried fish, egg, cucumber slices, ikan bilis (fried anchovy), roasted peanuts, and a fragrant dollop of sambal (chilli paste) for a proper lick of heat. But certain spots will allow you to bulk up your meal with sides such as otah (grilled fish paste), sotong (squid), and even lobster.


Where to find it:
Ponggol Nasi Lemak at #01-01, 371 Jalan Besar.
Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak at #01-02 Adam Road Food Centre.
The Coconut Club at 6 Ann Siang Hill (it may be relatively pricey at $12/plate, but it sure is magnificent.)


Roti prata

Photo: Kai Hendry/Flickr

Introduced to the Singaporean palate by South-Indians immigrants, this deliciously oily and buttery flat bread – which you can get plain or with egg – is typically made by kneading, flipping, and stretching a dough mixture that consists of flour and ghee or margarine. The result? Roti prata that’s crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Curry is crucial to the dish (or sugar, if you absolutely must), and these days you can get all kinds of variations on the classic, including fillings like onion, cheese, mushrooms, chocolate, and even fruits such as durian.


Where to find it:
Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata at 300 Joo Chiat Rd.
Sin Ming Roti Prata at #01-51, Blk 24 Sin Ming Rd.
The Roti Prata House at 246 Upper Thomson Rd.


Hungry for more? Check these out:

Singapore snacks: 7 local brands that make chips in flavors like laksa, chilli crab, and cereal prawn

Healthy desserts in Singapore: Where to find (mostly) guilt-free cakes, ice cream, brownies, and other alternative sweets

The culture of probiotics: These 2 local brewers make their own kombucha and kefir in Singapore

This article, Traditional breakfasts in Singapore: The best dishes locals love and where to try them, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!