IS Malaysian food the same as Singaporean food? Which country does it better? Who really owns chicken rice?
It’s an age-old food fight between the neighbouring countries that will never truly end. Malaysia and Singapore often get compared because of their proximity to each other and similar demographics. In fact until its independence in 1965, Singapore was a part of Malaysia.
Although the assumption is the two countries are quite literally joined at the hip, the differences between their cost of living, the standard of living, palates, and cultures are what set them apart.
This of course includes food.
Often, Malaysians and Singaporeans debate over the quality of their food and for years, the nations have been staking claim over some identical dishes and what they think is rightfully theirs.
Case in point: The well-loved Hainanese chicken rice. Said to be one of the world’s 50 most delicious foods (according to CNN GO), the dish has been caught in this tug of war for decades, with Singapore calling it their national dish.
“(They say) chicken rice is theirs (and) if we’re not careful, ‘char koay teow‘ will become theirs (one day too),” Business Insider quoted Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng as saying.
Those who don’t know any better may think that Malaysian food and Singaporean food are one and the same. As they always say, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”
But here are some popular Malaysian and Singaporean dishes that are actually different.
Wantan mee (wonton noodles) is a Cantonese noodle dish which is popular in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.
Malaysia: The noodles are either served in a hot broth, garnished with leafy vegetables, and wonton dumpling, or relatively dry, dressed with oyster sauce, and garnished with chopped spring onions, with wontons and soup in a separate bowl.
Singapore: The dish includes noodles, leafy vegetables, barbecued pork, and bite-sized wonton. However, the Singapore version uses less soya cause and is often served with chili ketchup.
Bak kut teh
Bak kut teh (Hokkien words which mean “meat bone tea”) is a pork rib dish cooked in broth popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore, and also in neighboring areas like Riau Islands and Southern Thailand.
Malaysia: Usually cooked in a claypot, bak kut teh contains a variety of herbs, pork meat and ribs, and soy sauce creating a more fragrant, textured and darker soup.
Singapore: Ordinarily, bak kut teh restaurants serve the Teochew style of clear soup bak kut teh, which is light in color but uses more pepper and garlic in the soup.
Hokkien mee is a dish in Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine that has its origins in the cuisine of China’s Fujian province.
Malaysia: Cooked over a raging charcoal fire, it’s a dish of thick yellow noodles braised in thick dark soy sauce with pork, squid, fish cake and cabbage as the main ingredients and cubes of lard.
Singapore: It’s a stir-fried dish of egg noodles and rice noodles in fragrant stock (made from stewing prawn heads, meat, clams, and dried fish). It also has a lighter colour than the Malaysian version and is usually served with lime and sambal (hot sauce) for that extra zing.
Laksa is a spicy dish popular in the Peranakan cuisine, consists of noodles chicken, prawn or fish, served in soup. It’s found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and southern Thailand.
Malaysia: There are various types of laksa across the country, even some state-specific recipes such as Asam laksa (Penang), Sarawak laksa (Sarawak), Laksa Kelantan (Kelantan), Laksa Johor (Johor), curry laksa, Nyonya laksa (Malacca), and laksam (Kelantan and Terengganu), just to name a few.
Singapore: The country’s variant of curry laksa is better known as its local “Katong” version. It’s a spicy soup stock the color of a flaming sunset, flavored with coconut milk and dried shrimp, and topped with ingredients like cockles, prawns, and fishcakes.
The countries aren’t always at loggerheads though. As much as food is one of the reasons why Malaysians and Singaporeans can’t see eye-to-eye, food is also a big uniting factor.
For example, Singapore and Malaysia banded together with Indonesia in a furor over MasterChef UK judge Gregg Wallace’s crispy chicken rendang comment.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister website Travel Wire Asia.