As a popular stopover, Singapore is the perfect combination of first world Western amenities with the cultural and culinary highlights of Asia. It is a country where you can sample all the extremes from Relais & Châteaux restaurants to streetside hawker fare. But the sheer volume of food can be intimidating, especially if your kids are picky eaters. Here is the suitcases&strollers travel guide to a Singapore holiday with kids, through food.
The “Don’t Miss” Local Experience
The famed national dish of Singapore is chilli crab and there is nowhere better to sample it than early evening at the East Coast Seafood Centre (1202 East Coast Parkway, Singapore). All along the waterfront there are several restaurants lined up serving a variety of seafood and other Chinese dishes (with the standard child-friendly fare such as fried rice, noodles and steamed fish), but the one you must order is the chilli crab. Even if the kids don’t eat it (it can be very spicy), they will love watching parents digging in and getting covered in the bright red sauce (which must be sopped up with fried or steamed mantou bread). Tip: if you are a crab beginner, order a larger crustacean as they are easier to eat. Things tend to get very messy so bring dark, casual clothes. Afterwards there are plenty of places for the kids to run, scoot, cycle and play in the tropical warmth.
Fun Finger Food
Another Malay Straits specialty is Indian roti – a ridiculously delicious fried bread normally dipped into a curry sauce. Curries can be a hard sell with children, but helpfully Mr Prata (26 Evans Rd., Singapore) has a menu that includes a number of kid-friendly options such as banana and cheese. Order it with a local kopi (coffee) or a decadent Milo Dinosaur for the rugrats (think cold Milo drink on a serious sugar rush).
Mr Prata is all about casual, cheap eats (a whole family can roll out stuffed full for only SG$20) so you will be on plastic stools and likely eating with your fingers. If you have very small toddlers who can’t sit still, this may not be such a good option as there are no high chairs to keep the little ones immobile.
Sometimes you just need somewhere that serves drinks and passable food so you can unwind, chill and take stock while the children play.
Food for Thought at the Singapore Botanic Gardens serves decent children’s meals and café-style food but it’s main selling point for families is the (almost) enclosed playground good for pre-schoolers. Parents can sit in the shade at tables right next to the playground and let the children run. When you’re done, head upstairs to the nearby koi ponds and you can wander round the Gardens proper.
If high quality coffee is a must, opt for Kith at Robertson Quay, a favoured caffeine spot for local mummies. They serve good sandwiches and very good espresso-style coffee. The seats are quite uncomfortable but the great beauty is that the café is right in the heart of Robertson Quay where lots of families choose to cycle, run, scoot and play. Kids can watch the boats going up and down the river or kick a football if it’s not too busy.
For divine handmade dumplings, head to the famed Crystal Jade and Din Tai Fung restaurant chains. Both restaurants have high chairs, children’s plastic plateware and also serve a variety of Chinese dishes kids will enjoy (such as handmade noodles, spring rolls and fried pork cutlets). Din Tai Fung restaurants all have open show kitchens where it’s fun to watch the chefs carefully portioning, weighing and constructing the dumplings.
The star for parents is the xiao long bao. These dumplings are filled with soup so there is a bit of technique to eating them – place them gently in a spoon and take a teeny bite out of the skin to let out the steam. When they’ve cooled a little, eat them whole off the spoon so you get the soup and meat in one mouthful. Because of the boiling soup content, the best way to serve them to children is to cut them open in a bowl rather than trying to retain the integrity of the dumpling shape.
If you are happy to do as the locals do and keep the kids up late, head to Lau Pa Sat, one of the only places in Singapore you will get an authentic street food market experience. From 7pm during the week and 3pm on weekends Boon Tat Street is closed to vehicular traffic and becomes Satay Street. Tables and stools are brought out and the atmosphere is vibrant and lots of fun. Mutton, beef and chicken satay with delectable peanut sauce can be ordered with lots of other greasy, fried, delicious hawker foods. Happily in Singapore everything is safe to eat, so there is no need to worry about cleanliness or hygiene as in most other Southeast Asian countries – just enjoy.
For a Night Out
Just because you’re travelling with kids, doesn’t mean you are limited to only eating in casual cafes. If you fancy treating yourself and the children to more sophisticated fare, book a table (and a duck) at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck restaurant. The pancake wraps are easy for little ones to eat with their fingers or, if they don’t like the duck, there is still a huge Chinese menu to order from. Despite it’s fine dining look, the restaurant is extremely welcoming of kids so the entire family can feel comfortable having a dressy night out on the town.
Or if you really want to splurge on an incredible experience that will have even the adults ooh-ing and ahh-ing like little kids, book into Ocean Restaurant By Cat Cora. This is very posh nosh (with a price tag to match) but what’s incredible is the view you get straight into the Open Ocean Habitat at the S.E.A. Aquarium. Book a window-side table well in advance and plan to go for dinner as it is in the evenings that the rays and large schools of fish get up to mischief and play in brilliant formations you never see in the day.
Amazingly, for such an expensive and elegant restaurant, they do welcome children. High chairs are available as well as a kids’ menu but do keep in mind this is fine dining, so your children will need to know how to behave.
If one meal is not enough time with the fish, you can book into one of the amazing Ocean Suites hotel rooms that have the same view. To read more, see the suitcases&strollers story Underwater Hotels.
Jamie’s Italian is Jamie Oliver’s first entry into Singapore and offers a menu of simple, homemade Italian favourites. The cool kids menu is in the form of the classic red ViewMaster but if the children still aren’t that hungry, there are some fantastic antipasti planks that are a great way for the whole family to pick and share whatever suits them. You can book but this is a super popular place right now, so it’s best to only head to the restaurant during off peak hours.
Jamie’s Italian is also helpfully located at VivoCity which is chock-full of childrenswear stores, has a free outdoor waterplay area on the roof and a miniature train that does laps of the waterfront of the shopping centre that's good for pre-schoolers.
Pete’s Place is centrally located right next to Orchard Road and has a very affordable (for Singapore) early diners special. Tables that order their meals before 7pm also get free access to the extensive salad bar which is a great way to get the kids to eat their greens before the lasagna and ice cream arrives.
Sometimes when you’re travelling in a foreign country, all you want is a sandwich or some basic eggs on toast.
Caffe Beviamo is a local favourite for its menu of sandwiches, salads and the little kid-friendly touches (they serve water to the children in take-away coffee cups to avoid spills and all sandwiches can be ordered in half portions for children). It is located within Tanglin Mall, a favoured destination for American, Australian and British supermarket goods if you’re missing something from home.
Café Manuka serves reliable sandwiches, milkshakes and pastas. It lives on the fifth floor at Paragon which is entirely dedicated to children’s stores. On the opposite end of the floor to the café is an indoor playground useful for bribing the kids to sit through their meal properly.
Singapore’s restaurants are extremely family-friendly which makes it perfect place if you’re a foodie who still wants to travel with kids. There are very few restaurants that don’t welcome children. Many food courts where you can sample local favourites will have high chairs (although you must be extremely careful with young kids as other diners are carrying trays of boiling hot soups and sizzling hotplates). Similarly, even most of the most hoity toity-looking restaurants usually also have plastic cutlery and high chairs.
If anyone in your family has severe dietary restrictions, be extremely careful about ensuring that your food allergies at being taken seriously by wait staff. For some useful travel tips and resources for what kinds of foods to avoid and how to order, see the suitcases&strollers story Travelling With Allergies (& Dietary Requirements).
For tips on how to get your children accustomed to foreign food before you travel, read celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant’s tips here
To find out more about things to do in Singapore in general, read the suitcases&strollers story here
Images: Singapore Tourism Board