Variety and all the spices
Singapore delights: A good place to start are hawker centres, where authentic Malay, Indonesian and Chinese dishes will set you back as little as $3.

As the latest Bollywood hit song blares out across the street, Indian families stream out of the Hindu temple after their prayer rituals and the curry houses quickly fill up.

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It is a colourful explosion of colour, sound and smells, but it's not Mumbai or New Delhi. This is an enclave of "sanitised" Singapore, and Little India is a vibrant and intoxicating slice of a culture that has not just survived, but thrived, in the techno-clutter of modern Asia.

Serangoon Road is the backbone of Little India and its distinct atmosphere and buzz stretches for almost a kilometre down this busy thoroughfare. The scores of smaller streets and alleyways running off Serangoon are where the heart and soul of Little India can be found and the smell of vat-cooked curries hangs in the air.

For devotees of Indian food, it doesn't get much more authentic than this and the best piece of advice for eating here is: follow your nose. If you see lots of Indians in the restaurant, then it must be good. One of the culinary specials of the area is the fish-head curry, which is exactly as it sounds.

Eating out seems like a full-time occupation for the locals in Singapore and for good reason.

It doesn't take much to sniff out an inexpensive gem, be it on a main street, a back street or in the middle of a shopping mall.

This is a city that has something to suit all tastebuds, and budgets, and even if you don't fancy a curry, there is enough variety of food types to keep the most fussy of eaters happy.

A good place to start is Singapore's famous hawker centres, where authentic Malay, Indonesian and Chinese dishes will set you back as little as $3.

This is where you can tuck into a real laksa or spicy noodle soup, satay sticks made with chicken and lamb, char kway teow which is a popular noodle meal, and Singapore chilli crab which is cooked in a tomato and chilli gravy.

Most shopping malls also have food courts where hawker food is abundant and, although slightly more expensive than the local joints by a dollar or two, they are still excellent value.

Although European, Malay and Indian culture remain an integral part of Singapore, its soul is undoubtedly Chinese, and a visit to Chinatown is the best way to get acquainted with the dominant culture of Singapore.

Street vendors hawk everything from fruit and vegetables to slabs of meat, fast food, Buddhist symbols, lucky charms, shoe repairs, haircuts, massages, and fortune telling.

It's also where the locals meet and eat, which is an essential part of Singaporean life, and a meal at one of Chinatown's busy food halls is an experience which is uplifting and very easy on the wallet.

In the chaos, clattering and confusion, ordering the food may seem a little tricky but a simple point-at-the-food-you- want strategy works perfectly well.

This is where you can order dim sum, or a simple Hainan chicken which is boiled with garlic and ginger and served with fresh vegetables, duck and its multiple ways of being prepared, and standard dishes such as kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork and chow mein.

Singapore is not all ethnic cheap eats and has some of the best international restaurants in the world including French and Italian, with European chefs heading to the Far East in droves to be a part of the city's foodie revolution.

And no matter where you go or what you eat, you can always finish it off with a $1 icecream from an umbrella vendor.

Here's where to find the best of Singapore food:


Hawker centres

• Lau Pau Sat Festival Market: Singapore's first food centre is right in the centre of the CBD and is open 24 hours. 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore.

• Gluttons Bay Food Centre: Set alongside the picturesque Marina Bay, this food centre is popular with locals and tourists and has stunning views of the Singapore skyline. 8 Raffles Avenue, Esplanade.

• Simpang Bedok Kway Chap: A real locals' joint near Tanah Merah MRT station. It doesn't get any cheaper or more authentic than this. Bedok Shopping Complex, 288 Bedok Road, Bedok.


Indian

• Kerbau Road, off Serangoon Road, has a good concentration of restaurants and locals say it's difficult to find a sub-standard meal because the competition is so fierce.

• The Gandhi Eating House (31 Chander Road) is popular with the locals and very cheap, even by Singaporean standards, and it also offers a good range of vegetarian options.

• Muthu's Curry (138 Race Course Road) is the place to go for a fish-head curry. It is eaten with rice and vegetables and there is actually quite a lot of meat on the head. Eating the eyeballs is optional, though not necessary, although connoisseurs believe the tissue behind the eyeballs is the best part of the whole dish.


Chinese

• Jumbo Seafood: Located in the popular East Coast Seafood Centre, this is the perfect place to truly dine Singaporean style. This is where you can dig into crispy baby squid, marinated in oyster sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and served over crispy noodles. +64 6442 3435; www.jumboseafood.com.sg.

• Jing: This is the ideal place to nestle down and luxuriate over a long lunch of Peking duck with its crispy duck skin and seared foie gras which is simply wicked. 1 Fullerton Road.

+64 6224 0088; www.jing.sg.


European

• Ristorante Bologna: Located on level 4 of the Marina Mandarin Hotel this was one of the first Italian restaurants in Singapore when the Marina Mandarin opened in 1987 and chef Carlo Marengoni has created an authentic menu which has a loyal following among the locals. Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore. +65 6845 1199

• Les Bouchon: Here, sweet lovers will delight in one of the biggest portions of creme brulee served in Singapore along with traditional French fare at an inexpensive price. 7 Ann Siang Road. +64 6423 0737.


Where to Stay

• Marina Mandarin Singapore: With 575 spacious rooms with balconies overlooking Marina Bay and the central business district, this is one of Singapore's iconic hotels.

• It is within striking distance of all the major attractions. Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore. Phone +65 6845 1199 or visit www.meritushotels.com.

The West Australian

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