Put Singaporeans and Malaysians together, and food wars inevitably erupt. Many times, we would often make fun of each otherʼs food culture, hinting or even outrightly implying the superiority of our own. This issue is a contentious but delicious one, so here’s a highlight of the differences in some dishes from these two amazing food cultures.
The Singapore and Malaysia versions
This is a national treasure of both Singapore and Malaysia. The fatty part of the rice comes from the use of coconut milk, and both are served with sambal. In Malaysia, nasi lemak is often taken as a breakfast item, with a hard boiled egg and ikan bilis – sometimes with added sides like sambal squid, sambal fish, chicken/beef rendang, or vegetables. Singaporeʼs version is more of a main meal and usually comes with acar, fried egg and usually a fried chicken wing, luncheon meat, ikan kuning, or otah.
Bak Kut Teh
The Malaysian version is darker, prepared using a variety of herbs and spices as well as light and dark soy sauce; the Singaporean version has a lighter soup made with garlic and lots of pepper. Also, the Malaysian version may sometimes include vegetables, like mushrooms or cabbage, in the soup. The bak kut teh in Malaysia has Hokkien origins and was first served in Klang in the early 20th century, while the Singaporean cousin is a Teochew-style bak kut teh that was developed in the Clarke Quay area in the 1940s after WWII.
A staple in Singapore, Hokkien Mee is a filling mixture of rice noodles and yellow noodles, often cooked with egg, prawns, and slices of pork. The Malaysian Hokkien Mee uses dark soy sauce and thicker egg noodles, creating a dark, sweeter dish cooked with pork and prawns. The Singapore version is slightly on the moist side, while the Malaysian version has the fragrance of the dark sauce. Both are Hokkien in origin; the Malaysian version originally developed in Kuala Lumpur’s Klang Valley, while the Singapore one was created along Rochor Road after WWII.
Singaporeʼs Katong laksa – which originated from the Katong area in the 1960s – is slightly sweeter and has the fragrance and thickness of coconut milk, cockles, and short, thick rice noodles that make chopsticks unnecessary. The Malaysian Penang laksa, aka Assam Laksa, has quite a twist, using tamarind to produce a clear-ish tangy-sour soup that is chock full of mackerel flakes. It’s typically garnished with shrimp paste and pineapple bits. While both laksa versions have different flavour profiles, both are Peranakan dishes.
Char Kway Teow
While both versions are rice noodles stir-fried over high heat with bean sprouts, prawns, cockles, and eggs, the Malaysian version – thought to have originated in Penang – uses only flat rice noodles. The Singapore version also uses a darker, sweeter sauce and has a combination of flat rice noodles and egg noodles.
While many of our dishes are named the same but taste and look different, some may have different names but taste and look exactly the same – like our roti prata, which is Malaysia’s roti canai. No matter which version is the best, one thing is for sure: some Singaporeans will always prefer the Singapore versions of the dish, and vice versa.