What is Little India?
A myriad of colorful shophouses housing restaurants, small businesses and grocers; Little India wasn't always as exciting as it is today. Initially used to accommodate the expanding Indian migrant community of Singapore, it was just a place used to raise cattle and trade in live stock owing to its strategic location next to the Serangoon river. As more and more people started to pour into the district, small businesses like green grocers, spice mills, restaurants, and even Chinese entrepreneurs started thriving. Today, it is home to hundreds of regional Indian restaurants, lined up one-after-another, serving the most authentic Indian food one can find - a sight you will see nowhere else in the world.
Shopping in Little India
Little India is the most exciting district of Singapore, if you ask me. I love taking a walk through the lanes of this colorful district, whether it's while shopping for amazingly fresh produce at small local vendors along Buffalo Road, or buying meat and fish from one of the many familiar faces inside the ever-bustling Tekka market. Did you know that Tekka doesn't just sell local and Indian produce? In fact, it has fresh produce and meat coming in daily from different parts of the world. If you haven't already been there, you are seriously missing out.
Let's get down to business and talk food...
I am going to name a number of different restaurants here and also mention the different dishes you can order. However, don't just stick to these few dishes. You see, Indian food is very regional and relies heavily on locally available produce, which is what makes is so different and special. I am an Indian chef and still not familiar with many regional Indian dishes there are. When I go to an Indian restaurant, the first thing I do is ask the wait staff for their recommendations, and it works every time.
I will also be adding new restaurants to this list constantly, so do come back and browse for new names whenever you crave good Indian food.
Mustard (Race Course Road)
This restaurant has been on top of my list for years now. Specializing mainly in Eastern-Indian cuisine from Bengal, Mustard has some lip-smacking curries and breads, and all made from scratch. Apart from many traditional Eastern-Indian dishes (some of which are listed below), their extensive menu also includes popular Northern Indian favorites like butter chicken (one of the best in Singapore - apart from my own recipe of course ;).
Remember to reserve a table in advance as this is a small restaurant with less than 10 tables, and therefore always full. And do be patient as they claim to cook everything from scratch, and your order will take time to arrive.
-Chingri Macher Malai (prawns in creamy coconut curry sauce)
-Begunar Shirazi (fried eggplant in caramelized onion and tomato sauce)
-Kosha Mangsho (spicy mutton curry)
-Roomali Roti (very thin handkerchief-like bread roasted on a special inverted griddle)
-Shahi Tudka for dessert (deep-fried toast topped with cardamom-flavored milk porridge) - tastes much better than it sounds :)
Spice Junction (Race Course Road)
If you like it spicy, this is the place to go. Mind you, this isn't your regular Indian restaurant, so no butter chicken or tikka masala here. At Spice Junction, you are served proper Kerala coastal cuisine with plenty of coconut based curries, delicious seafood and a dozen different rice-based breads - truly authentic! Here are some of my favorites,
-Mango Shrimp Curry (made with tangy green mangoes and sweet shrimp in a spicy coconut-based sauce - you can even request for milder curry if you prefer)
-Fish Pollichathu (pan-fried spiced fish fillets wrapped in banana leaves - a popular appetizer)
-Appam (fermented rice and coconut pancakes - with crispy edges and soft fluffy interior, these crepes serve as a perfect sponge for lapping up a good, spicy curry)
Do try other breads on their menu, like steamed rice rolls and flakey Parota
Sankranthi (Serangoon Road)
This restaurant chain from Andra-Pradesh has several locations in Singapore, including one right across from the famous Mustafa center and one at Jewel. The place is known mainly for its Thali - a platter with multiple different curries (vegetarian or meat-based), chapatis, rice and dessert. Their a-la-carte menu is equally good, and I always always order their spicy eggplant curry during my visits.
-Vegetarian Thali (full meal platter with curries of the day)
-Non-Vegetarian Thali (full meal platter with chicken curry plus more curries of the day)
-Chicken Dum Biryani (marinated chicken steamed with aromatic basmati rice, herbs and spices)
-Eggplant Curry (simply the best!)
Podi and Poriyal (Modern South-Indian)
One of my most favorite vegetarian hangouts in the city, Podi and Poriyal is traditional South-Indian cuisine with a modern twist. The place has a small menu, but everything on it is absolutely scrumptious! Apart from their delicious thali (full meal platter), the a-la-carte menu includes some classic South-Indian favorites (listed below) and a fabulous bar that serves spiced cocktails and mocktails with a unique Indian twist. Oh, and they always always welcome you with a complimentary refreshing cool drink. The staff here is super-friendly, more than happy to explain the items on the menu and give recommendations. Love, love, love this place!
-Steamed Radish Cakes (so good, I often have dreams about these)
-Sabudana Vadai (crispy-golden sago and peanut fritters)
-Dosai (fermented rice cakes)
-And their iconic Vegetarian Thali (full meal platter)
Kailash Parbat (Serangoon Road and Syed Alvi Road)
This is a very popular Indian chain with multiple locations all over the world, specializing in Indian vegetarian street food, commonly referred to as Chaat (which literally means licking your fingers). Indian streets come to life each evening with multiple hawkers lining the sides of roads in villages, towns and cities all over the country. At 6pm in the evening, when the rest of the world is getting ready for dinner, Indians finish their afternoon siesta, have a cup of "chai tea" and head out for a quick plate of Chaat and chat (sorry, bad pun) with family and friends. These street-side snacks (Chaat) often consist of a savory crispy base made of deep-fried flour, and topped with potatoes, lentils, chickpeas and sweet, sour and spicy chutneys - literally a party in your mouth!
Now, at Kailash Parbat, these guys may not serve the best Indian street food there is, but they do serve a variety of it on their very extensive menu. I have listed some of my most favorite items on their menu. If you decide to go here, remember to do so in a group so you can order a few different dishes to share each time.
-Pani puri (crispy puffed pastry filled with spiced potatoes, mung beans, sweet tamarind chutney and spicy mint chutney - a great combination of flavors and textures)
-Chaat Platter (different chaats made with rice crispies and crispy crackers tossed in sweet tamarind chutney, spicy mint chutney, chopped onions and tomatoes)
-Vada Pav (Indian equivalent of burger made with spiced potatoes patties and chickpea flour)
-Pav Bhaji (spicy vegetable curry served with savory buttered buns)
-Dahi Vada (lentil fritters served in sweet and spicy yogurt sauce)
-Ragda Patties (curried chickpeas served with crispy potato and lentil filled patties)
-Cholay Baturay (curried chickpeas served puffed deep-fried bread)
Raj Vegetarian Restaurant (Race Course Road)
Raj has been around for as long as I can remember. Known for its fabulous vegetarian Thali (full meal platter), it also serves the best Dosas (rice crepes) in Singapore in my opinion. Do keep in mind that their thalis are available only on weekdays; I have ended up there a few times on weekends when I had a sudden hankering for their thali, and almost cried. Their a-la-carte menu includes many lovely vegetarian curries, although I do miss their hot and fluffy ghee-laden chapatis, which they stopped serving a few years ago. Do try your luck and check with their wait-staff if they'll make you some on request.
-Masala Dosa (fermented rice and lentil crepes served with coconut chutney, mint chutney and Sambar (lentil stew))
-Vegetarian South-Indian Thali (full meal platter)
Bismillah (Dunlop Street, near Rochor MRT)
Bismillah in Little India serves one of the best Biryanis in Singapore. And, I mean authentic biryani made the proper way, where partially-cooked spiced basmati rice is steamed together with marinated meat and spices for hours, all in a large sealed saucepan. I once had a long chat with the owner who claims to have travelled all over India, learning tips and tricks from the best biryani makers in the country.
Their restaurant in Little India is quite small and therefore, I usually get take aways from this place. Mind you, Bismillah has multiple locations and for some reason their biryani in other outlets isn't as good as the one in Little India.
- Mutton Biryani
-Chicken Tikka Biryani
-Chicken Dum Biryani
Payal Thakurani is a cooking instructor, consulting chef, and author of the popular Southeast Asian cookbook “Curries for the Soul”. Originally based in Shanghai China, chef Payal has been in the food industry since 2012, working in training and brand development in central kitchens. She was also the proud owner of a cooking school and several food brands in Shanghai. She now lives in Singapore and heads Commune Kitchen in Downtown Gallery, where she hosts affordable, hands-on cooking classes for all ages.