Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Vegetarian in Singapore


Singapore is one of the most exciting Asian cities to dine in. Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines blend with other Asian and Western fare, and bloom into thousands of restaurants, cafés and informal eateries. In fact it is said that eating, together with shopping, is the national pastime, and you can find people munching at any hour of the day and night.

The tropical setting and the vicinity of countries like Malaysia and Thailand assure a vast array of tropical fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices which provide fresh tantalizing flavours.

I have been to Singapore several times, and never had a problem with being vegetarian. On my last visit I was fortunate enough to stay at the Fairmont Singapore and, before travelling, I checked the hotel website for a quick restaurants preview. The Fairmont has 15 restaurants and in 2007 was in the Condé Nast Traveller (UK) Gold list for 'Best Hotel in the World for Food'.

Well, I felt positive that with 15 restaurants I wasn’t going to starve! But I was luckier than that – I happened to visit in May, the month traditionally set aside to celebrate Vesak Day, the most holy day in the Buddhist calendar. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.

During this month, many non-vegetarian restaurants also provide a special vegetarian menu. Not only that, the Western tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day in the same month adds to the choice, as many Mother’s Day specials happen to be vegetarian because vegetarianism is also associated with health, and keeping one’s mother healthy!

At the Fairmont they had a vegetarian special in every restaurant, and I was really keen to try the Szechuan Court & Kitchen, renowned for serving some of the finest Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine in Singapore. Szechuan food is spicy and flavourful, with the ubiquitous chilli peppercorn a key ingredient. Taking advantage of the extensive vegetarian promotion menu I started with the vegetarian version of Szechuan hot and sour soup, which was yes, spicy, but utterly delicious.

Then I moved to the Cantonese Dim Sum and from bamboo baskets and small plates came an array of the most delicious things: pan-seared shredded yam with pumpkin filling, crispy vegetarian oysters with sweet and sour sauce, deep fried potato and vegetable croquettes, balls of steamed turnip with asparagus and black fungus wrapped in a crystal clear dough, and poached vegetarian dumplings with assorted vegetables and mushrooms.

By this stage I was full. My lunch companions went on to mains, but I jumped straight to the dessert: mango pudding. There were many more choices on the vegetarian promotion menu; beyond what I’ve listed I counted another 6 appetizers, 5 soups and 10 mains. It is not often that I leave a restaurant satisfied, and with the feeling that I could go back for the next few days and try something new each time.

If you are walking around the city, and in need of a quick meal, the numerous food malls offer a bustling atmosphere and inexpensive food. One of the best bets is Indian: there are always authentic vegetarian dishes, and the bonus is that Singapore is clean and safe. On my visits I’ve had more than one meal eaten with fingers over a banana leaf, and never felt sick.

The same thing can be said about fresh fruit. In many countries we need to be aware of fruit either cut or washed with water, and only eating what we can peel. But in Singapore you could almost live on fresh fruit and juices. The big plates of cut guava and papaya, and the amazing fresh mango or sugar cane juices, are exquisite.

Another thing vegetarians should take note of is that many street malls have vegetarian or Buddhist eateries. These are easy enough to find: just walk around the stalls and check out the cheapest! Usually it has a lotus flower on the sign, and the food is Chinese style. Select either rice or noodles, then three mains and a free soup… it costs around NZ$2.00, because serving vegetarian food for Buddhists is an act of piety, not a money-making enterprise.

Western cafés also abound, which is good if you like to start you mornings with a cappuccino and a pastry, rather than a bowl of noodles. Italian and French restaurants are also popular, as it is fusion cuisine.

I had a magnificent work dinner organised by Glenmorangie. Each course was to be matched by a different Glenmorangie whisky, introduced by a whisky expert. The special menu had been designed by a Scottish chef and there were around 50 guests.

A few days prior to the dinner I advised my hosts that I was a vegetarian, and you know what? They didn’t even blink. They created a vegetarian 5-course menu just for me, to match the whiskies. So while everyone else was eating foie gras and lobster I was treated with delights like porcini mousse, white asparagus, carrot foam, and basil risotto. I was sitting next to one of the organizers, who was sincerely interested to know how well the flavours of my food matched the drinks, and never made me feel once like the odd one out of the group. Nor did any other guests asked why I was a vegetarian, a question that seems to follow me to dinner in New Zealand and in many other countries.

So Singapore is excellent from the culinary point of view. The only drawback of the city is that the climate may be to hot for some people. It is wise to keep drinking water, and maybe eat more raw food, light meals, or just salads.

At the Fairmont I found a good choice in the Alligator Pear restaurant, next to the swimming pools and very informal. The food is also created to complement the various spa treatments on offer, and I did have a massage. This was an hour of bliss, and the Balinese masseur the most professional I can ever remember.

Good food and massages, what else can a girl wish for? I was so content with myself in Singapore that I even forgot to shop!


80 Bras Basah Road
Singapore, 189560, Singapore
+65 6339 7777


  1. All that sounds like food heaven (vegetarian or not !)...
    Oh, is that dragon fruit I see in your picture ?
    You are indeed a lucky girl !
    I wish you some good time in your home land and bring back a lot pic and stories to tell !

  2. Yes, dragon fruit...the fruit is the best, and the mango juice the very very best!

    Thank you Vanille, I will try to bring a lot of pics, and food, back from Italy.


  3. Hi,

    We have just added your latest post "Alessandra Zecchini: A Vegetarian in Singapore" to our Food Directory . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory for getting a huge base of visitors to your website and gaining a valuable backlink to your site.

    Warm Regards

    foodnrecipes.info Team


  4. My hubby is a vegetarian, I'm not. But after reading your post, I'm ready to fly to Singapore and becomes a vegetarian. But seriously between you and me, isn't the Fairmont hotel an excellent hotel by all standards?

    Jackie @ PhamFatale.com

  5. Wonderful pictures...great recipe.

  6. You must have been satisfied indeed, if you even forgot to shop! ;-) Great place and great food, really. By the way, I also noticed you took pictures of durian fruits, how do they taste? I found some in London, but they smelt terribly and unfortunately didn't have a chance to try them.

  7. i didn't like the durian...nor the smell, but I had durian ice cream in Vietnam and it was nice!

  8. ha durian is an acquired taste. Either you hate it or love it. An exciting fruit that reveal the mystery after you tasted it as not one durian is identical in taste.


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