Cuisine of Singapore

Cuisine of Singapore

The cuisine of Singapore is often viewed by people as a prime example of the ethnic diversity of the culture of Singapore. The food is heavily influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian (specifically southern Indian styles), Indonesian, and even Western traditions since its founding by the British in the 1800s. The cuisine of Singapore is said to be similar to the diverse cuisine of Penang, North Malaysia, as most of the foods in Singapore can also be found in the state of Penang. In Singaporean hawker stores, for example, chefs of a Chinese ethnic background might experiment with Indian influences such as tamarind, turmeric and ghee, while an Indian chef could serve a greater amount of coconut products.

This phenomenon makes the cuisine of Singapore significantly rich and a cultural attraction. Most of the prepared food bought outside home is eaten at hawker centres or food courts, examples of which include Lau Pa Sat and Newton Food Centre, rather than at actual restaurants. These hawker centres are relatively abundant which leads to low prices; hence, encouraging a large consumer base.

Because it is often viewed by her population as central to Singapore's national identity and a unifying cultural thread, Singaporean literature often declares eating as a national pastime and food, a national obsession. Food is a constant topic of conversation among Singaporeans who like to comment on the food they have eaten and the eateries around the country. There are some religious dietary strictures as Muslims do not eat pork and Hindus do not eat beef; there is also a significant group of vegetarians. Nevertheless, people from different communities often eat together, while being mindful of each other's culture and choose food that is acceptable to all. There are also some halal Chinese restaurants that prepare Chinese food in a way that conform to Muslim dietary preference.

Food in itself has been heavily promoted as an attraction for tourists. It is usually promoted by various initiatives undertaken by the Singapore Tourism Board or the associations it deals with as one of Singapore's best attractions alongside its shopping. The government organises the Singapore Food Festival in July annually to celebrate Singapore's cuisine. The multiculturalism of local food, the ready availability of international cuisine, and their wide range in prices to fit all budgets at all times of the day and year helps create a "food paradise" to rival other contenders claiming the same moniker. The availability of a variety of food is often aided by the fact that Singapore's port lies along strategic routes.

The cuisine bears some resemblance to the cuisine of Malaysia due to the close historical and cultural ties between the two countries. However there are also significant differences. While a number of dishes are common to both countries, the way the dishes are prepared is often different. This is due to numerous evolutionary forks in their development, which gave rise to unique tastes pertaining to each country's cuisine.

As Singapore is a small country with high population density, land is scarce and is mainly devoted to industry and housing. Most of the agricultural produce and food ingredients are imported from other countries, although there is a small group of local farmers who produce some leafy vegetables, fruit, poultry, and fish. Nevertheless, Singapore's good air and sea connections allow it to import a large variety of food ingredients from around the world including costly seafood items such as sashimi from Japan.

Common main dishes and snacks


Many of these dishes were adapted by early Chinese immigrants to suit local circumstances (such as available ingredients) and cannot strictly be considered mainstream Chinese cuisine.

*Bak kut teh (Chinese: 肉骨茶; pinyin: ròu gǔ chá), pork-rib soup made with a variety of Chinese herbs and spices.
*Bak chor mee (肉脞面 roù cuò miàn), egg noodles with minced pork and other ingredients, served dry or with soup. Usually the flat, tape-like mee pok noodle is used. A variation on fishball noodles.
*Ban mian (板面 bǎn miàn), hand-made flat noodles served with vegetables, meat balls, sliced mushrooms and an egg in an ikan bilis-based soup.
*Chai tow kway, or Carrot Cake (菜头粿 cài tóu guǒ), diced and stir-fried radish with an egg mixture. Comes in black (with soy sauce and/or chili) or white (without soy sauce, but sometimes with chili) versions.
*Char png, fried rice (炒饭 chǎo fàn).
*Char kway teow (炒粿条 chǎo guǒ tiáo), thick, flat rice flour (kuay teow) noodles stir-fried in dark soy sauce with prawns, eggs, beansprouts, fish cake, cockles, green leafy vegetables, Chinese sausage and some lard.
*Char siew rice (叉烧饭 chā shāo fàn) and Char siew noodles (叉烧面 chā shāo miàn, Cantonese dish of rice or noodles served with barbecued pork in a thick sauce.
*Chee cheong fun (猪肠粉 zhū cháng fěn) - a thick, flat sheet of steamed-rice flour which is made into rolls, sometimes with a pork, chicken or vegetable filling. It is served with a sweet soy bean sauce.
*Chok (粥 zhōu), Cantonese rice porridge in various flavours including chicken and pork, often served with ikan bilis and either sliced century egg or fresh egg.
*Chwee kway or zhui kueh (水粿 shuǐ guǒ), steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish; usually eaten for breakfast.
*Claypot chicken rice (砂煲鸡饭 shā bāo jī fàn), rice cooked with soy sauce in a claypot, then topped with braised chicken and Chinese sausage.
*Curry chicken noodles (咖喱鸡面 gā lí jī miàn), yellow egg noodles in chicken curry.
*Duck rice (鸭饭 yā fàn), braised duck with rice cooked with yam and shrimps (卤鸭饭 lǔ yā fàn) or it can simply be served with plain white rice, served with a thick dark sauce. Side dishes of braised hard-boiled eggs, preserved salted vegetables, or hard beancurd "(tau kua)" may be added. Teochew Boneless Duck rice, the same dish but refined since decades ago. Due to the slightly tougher texture of duck, the duck is artfully deboned and sliced thinly for the convenience and ease of the diner, allowing the sauces to sip into the meat more, making it a more pleasant experience on the whole. Hainanese chicken rice and other similar dishes have followed this style due to the popularity.
*Fishball noodles (鱼丸面 yú wán miàn), usually of the Teochew variety. Any of several kinds of egg and rice noodles may be served either in a light fish-flavoured broth or "dry" with the soup on the side, with fishmeat balls, fishcake, beansprouts and lettuce. As with bak chor mee, the most commonly ordered noodles are mee pok.
*Fish head bee hoon (鱼头米粉 yú tóu mǐ fěn), a kind of noodle soup in which the main ingredients are rice vermicelli and fried fish head (separated into chunks). This dish is notable for the creamy, rich soup, which is typically made using a mixture of fish stock and milk - the latter being an uncommon ingredient in Chinese cuisine. A variant using ordinary fish meat also exists.
*Hainanese chicken rice (海南鸡饭 hǎi nán jī fàn), steamed chicken served with rice cooked in chicken stock. Always eaten with chili, thick dark soy, and ginger sauces.
*Hae mee (虾面 xiā miàn), yellow egg noodles in a rich broth made from prawn and pork rib stock.
*Hokkien mee (福建炒虾面 fú jiàn chǎo xiā miàn), rice vermicelli and yellow noodles fried with shrimp, sliced cuttlefish and lard bits.
*Hor fun (河粉 hé fěn), flat rice noodles in gravy often served with fish or prawns.
*Hum chim peng (咸煎饼 xián jiān bǐng), a Chinese bun-like pastry sometimes filled with bean paste.
*Kaya toast, a traditional breakfast dish. Kaya is a sweet coconut and egg jam, and this is spread over toasted bread. Combined with a cup of local coffee and a half-boiled egg, this makes a typical Singaporean breakfast.
*Kuay chap (粿汁 guǒ zhī), Teochew dish of flat, broad rice sheets in a soup made with dark soy sauce, served with pig offal, braised duck meat, various kinds of beancurd, preserved salted vegetables, and braised hard-boiled eggs.
*Lor mee (卤面 lǔ miàn), a Hokkien noodle dish served in a viscous, dark soy sauce-based broth with meat roll slices, fishcake and beansprouts.
*Mee sua (面线 miàn xiàn), not a dish but a type of thin, wheat vermicelli. Usually found in fishball noodles, or served with pork meat or kidney.
*Oyster omelette (蠔煎 háo jiān), oysters fried with a special flour-and-egg mixture.
*Pig's organ soup (猪杂汤 zhū zá tāng; literally "pig spare parts" soup), a soup-based variant of kway chap.
*Popiah (薄饼 báo bǐng), Hokkien/Chaozhou-style spring roll or rolled crepe, stuffed with stewed turnip, Chinese sausage, shrimps and lettuce.
*Chinese Rojak, a fruit salad with a topping of thick dark prawn paste. It is different from Indian rojak.
*Soon kway (笋粿 sǔn guǒ), a white vegetable dumpling with savoury sauce.
*Vegetarian bee hoon (斋米粉 zhāi mǐ fěn), thin braised rice vermicelli to which a choice of various gluten, vegetable, or tofu-based delicacies may be added.
*Wan ton mee (云吞面 yún tūn miàn), noodles with chicken or pork or prawn dumplings.
*Yong tao foo (酿豆腐 niáng dòu fǔ), a variety of vegetables stuffed with fish and meat paste cooked in a light ikan bilis-based soup. May also be eaten "dry" with sweet bean and chili sauces.
*You char kway (油条 yóu tiáo), fried dough crullers
*Yusheng (鱼生 yú shēng), a raw fish salad traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year

Malay and Indonesian inspired

*Acar, pickled vegetables and/or fruits with dried chilli, peanuts, and spices. This condiment also has Indian and Peranakan versions.
*Agar agar - agar extracted from seaweed that is usually moulded into a jelly-like cake, sometimes with layers and colourings, and in various shapes.
*Ayam goreng, fried chicken.
*Ayam bakar, grilled chicken with spices. There is also a fish version, ikan bakar, and the dish can be made in many styles.
*Ayam percik, barbecued chicken with a sweet-spicy marinade
*Assam Pedas, seafood and vegetables cooked in a sauce consisting of tamarind, coconut milk, chilli, and spices
*Begedil, mashed potato mixture that is fried into patties
*Belacan, not a dish in itself, but a paste made from prawns commonly used in spice pastes
*Curry puff, also known as epok-epok, a flaky pastry usually stuffed with curried chicken, cubed potatoes and a slice of hard-boiled egg. Sometimes sardines are used in place of the chicken.
*Dendeng Paru, an Indonesian dish of "dried" beef lung cooked in spices
*Gado-Gado, Traditional Indonesian salad with spicy peanut dressing
*Goreng pisang, bananas rolled in flour, fried and eaten as a snack. There is also a version made from Cempedek, which is known as Jackfruit in English.
*Gulai Daun Ubi, sweet potato leaves stewed in coconut milk
*Keropok, deep fried crackers usually flavored with prawn, but sometimes with fish or vegetables
*Ketupat, a Malay rice cake. Usually served with satay.
*Laksa, rice noodles in a coconut curry gravy with shrimp, egg and chicken. Peranakan in origin. A specifically Singaporean variant (as opposed to shared by Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine) is Katong laksa. Raw cockles are also frequently added.
*Lemak Siput, snails cooked in a thick coconut milk-based gravy.
*Lontong, compressed rice cakes in spicy vegetable soup
*Mee rebus, yellow egg noodles served in a thick spicy sauce made from fermented soy beans.
*Mee siam, "Siamese noodle", or thin rice noodles in a tangy spicy soup; may also be served "dry".
*Mee soto, a spicy chicken noodle soup.
*Nasi ayam penyet, Indonesian dish of flattened, lightly battered or batter-less, fried chicken served with spicy sambal, vegetables, and chicken-flavoured rice
*Nasi Goreng, a spicy and sweet fried rice dish which originated from Indonesia
*Nasi lemak, coconut rice with omelette, anchovies (ikan bilis), peanuts, cucumber, sambal, and sometimes fried chicken or otak-otak. It is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves to enhance flavor, but is now common to see the dish wrapped in brown wax paper.
*Nasi padang, an Indonesian meal of steamed rice with a wide choice of meat and vegetable dishes ranging anywhere from fried chicken to curried vegetables, for example.
*Nasi kuning, a Javanese dish of rice cooked in coconut milk and colored yellow using tumeric
*Otak-otak, spicy fish cake grilled in a banana leaf wrapping
*Oxtail soup, oxtail cooked to tenderness in a soup with nutmeg, cloves, chilli, and spices.
*Rendang, beef slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices which originated in Sumatra.
*Roti john, egg-dipped bread filled with various ingredients (usually meat and onions) and then fried. Accompanied with chilli sauce.
*Sambal, not a dish in itself, but a common chili-based accompaniment to most foods.
*Satay, grilled meat on skewers served with spicy peanut sauce and usually eaten with ketupat, cucumber and onions.
*Soto ayam, a spicy chicken soup which features hard-boiled eggs and sometimes balls made from fried potato.


*Achar, a condiment consisting of pickled vegetables and/or fruits. It is also popular in Malay and Peranakan cooking.
*Appom, a fermented rice pancake.
*Butter Chicken, a dish of Punjabi origin which involves marinating chicken with yoghurt and later cooking it in a creamy sauce consisting of butter, tomatoes, and numerous spices.
*Chapati,a popular type of fried flat bread made of atta flour
*Indian rojak, a Muslim-Indian dish of various vegetables and fruits, beancurd, seafood deep fried in batter, crushed peanuts, crispy dough cruellers, and a spicy and sweet chilli sauce. Traditional Malay/Indonesian and Chinese variants are common as well.
*Murtabak, a variety of roti prata with minced mutton and onion folded within the dough
*Nasi briyani, an Indian-Muslim dish of spiced basmati rice cooked in stock or other liquids and served with grilled chicken or curry (usually mutton, chicken, fish, or vegetable) and achar. There is another version known as Dum Biryani (Hyderabadi in origin) in which spiced meat is baked with the rice.
*Putu Mayam, a dish Sri Lankan in origin, similar to Sri Lankan hoppers.
*Roti prata, a Muslim-Indian dish of pan fried dough. Extremely popular for breakfast, this dish is enjoyed by all Singaporeans. A plethora of variations are available including egg, cheese, chocolate, durian and even ice cream.
*Naan, a South Asian flatbread of wheat made to accompany meals. It is similar to pita bread.
*Sop kambing, Indian mutton soup
*Sop Tulang, Indian style mutton or beef on the bone in a rich and savoury red sauce to be mopped up with bread. The bone marrow is considered the most vital part of the dish.
*Tandoori, a traditional Indian oven in which various kinds of meat are grilled with spices.
*Thosai, rice and lentil pancake. Commonly served as a "masala" version that includes spiced potatoes.
*Mee Kuah, An Indian noodle dish with gravy. The red colour sauce is from a mixture of chilli paste, tomato puree and red food colouring. Ingredients include vegetables (cabbage, potatoes and peas) as well as an egg.
*Samosa, An Indian snack consisting of a pastry shell stuffed with potatoes and a variety of vegetables or occasionally minced meat. It is usually eaten with chutney.
*Shami Kebab, a South Asian hamburger-like dish consisting of ground beef or mutton mixed with spices and dhaal (lentils).
*Vadai, spicy, deep-fried snacks that are made from dhal, lentils or potato


A number of dishes, listed below, can be considered as truly hybrid or multi-ethnic food.

*Fish head curry, traced to Chinese and Indian roots. The head of an "ikan merah" (literally "Red fish") - which is red snapper, is stewed in curry with vegetables. Usually served with either rice or bread.
*Mee Goreng, yellow egg noodles stir fried with ghee, tomato sauce, some chilli, egg, vegetables and various meats and/or seafood.
*Satay bee hoon, thin rice vermicelli served with spicy satay sauce
*Spicy kangkung, a dish of leafy green vegetables (water convolvulus) fried in sambal.
*Tauhu goreng, fried tofu with sweet sauce
*Kari Lemak Ayam, a Peranakan Chicken curry with a coconut milk base
*Kari Debal, a Eurasian-Singaporean curry dish with Portuguese and Peranakan influence
*Singapore-style Western food, Chinese interpretations of Western cuisine, although Malay-inspired versions also exist. Hainanese cooks in Singapore hybridised Western dishes for local palates during the country's British colonial era, creating such dishes as stewed pork chop in tomato sauce served with green peas.

Popular dishes by type


Singaporeans also enjoy a wide variety of seafood including crabs, clams, squid (known as sotong in Malay), oysters and lobsters.

Favourite seafood dishes include
*Barbecued stingray ("hang hir" in Hokkien), smothered in sambal and served on banana leaf. It is also known as Ikan Bakar.
*Chili crab, hard shell crabs cooked in a thick tomato and chili-based gravy.
*Fried oyster or Oyster omelette, an oyster omelette mixed with flour and fried, garnished with coriander leaves.
*Black pepper crab, hard shell crabs cooked in a black pepper sauce.


Another highly-noticeable growth in recent times is the growth of vegetarian eating places in Singapore. More people are promoting healthy living by changing their diet. [ The Singapore Vegetarian Society] has a list of the vegetarian-food outlets in Singapore.


A wide variety of tropical fruits are available all year round, though these are mostly imports from neighbouring countries. By far the most well-known is the durian, known as the "King of Fruits", which produces a characteristic odour from the creamy yellow custard-like flesh within its spiky green or brown shell. However, in spite of their popularity, durians are not allowed within public transport, many hotels and public buildings because of their strong odour.

Other popular tropical fruits include the mangosteen, jackfruit, longan, lychee, rambutan and pineapple. Some of these fruits are also used as ingredients for other dishes: iced desserts, sweet-and-sour pork, and certain kinds of salad such as rojak.


Singapore desserts have a varied history and can be found in every hawker centre and food court in the region. A stall will usually have a large variety of desserts for sale, including but not limited to:
*Almond jelly (杏仁豆腐)
*Beancurd Barley (often with ginkgo and/or snow fungus)
*Bubur cha cha (also Bobochacha, momochacha), yam and sweet potato cubes served in coconut milk and sago, served hot or cold.
*Chendol, a coconut milk drink mixed with brown sugar, green starch strips and red beans.
*Cheng tng, a refreshing soup with longans, barley, agar agar strips, lotus seeds and a sweet syrup, served either hot or cold.
*Green bean soup
*Honeydew sago, honeydew melon cubes or balls, served in chilled coconut milk and sago.
*Ice kacang, a mound of grated ice on a base consisting of jelly, red beans, corn and attap seeds, and topped with various kinds of coloured sugar syrup.
*Kueh, also know as kuih. Small cakes or coconut milk based desserts that come in a variety of flavors usually having fruit such as durian or banana or sometimes pandan. "Kueh Lapis" is a rich, multi-layered cake-style kueh using a large amount of egg whites and studded with prunes. "Lapis Sagu" is also a popular kueh with layers of alternating color and a sweet, coconut taste. This dessert is common in Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan cooking.
*Mango pudding
*Red bean soup (红豆汤)
* Red rubies, a Thai-inspired dessert made by boiling pieces of water-chestnut covered in tapioca flour and red food colouring, and serving them over shaved ice, rose syrup and evaporated milk. Also known as "mock pomegranate" since the chestnut pieces bear a resemblance to the seeds of that fruit.
*Tau-Huey, hot and soft soya bean curd sweetened with syrup.
*Tangyuan, also known in Singapore as "Ah Balling", glutinous rice balls served in soup.
* O-Ni, a Teochew dish consisting of yam paste, coconut paste and ginko nuts. A popular dish in Chinese restaurants.
*Watermelon sago, Watermelon melon cubes or balls, served in chilled coconut milk and sago.


*Chin chow drink, 仙草水 (xiān cǎo shuǐ)
*Bandung, rose syrup with condensed milk
*Horlicks Dinosaur, conventional Horlicks served with lots of Horlicks powder on top
*Milo Dinosaur, conventional Milo served with lots of Milo powder on top
*Milo Godzilla (aka Milo T-Rex), Milo Dinosaur with a scoop of ice-cream and optional whipped cream
*Singapore Sling
*Soya bean milk
*Sugar cane juice
*Teh halia tarik, ginger tea with milk pulled (tarik)
*Teh tarik, tea mixed with Carnation brand evaporated milk. This tea is unique in that during preparation, the tea is tossed repeatedly from one mug to another to create a thick froth (hence the name teh tarik, meaning "pulled tea"). See picture [] .
*Tiger Beer

Local names for coffee and tea

At kopi tiams, coffee and tea are usually ordered using their local names.

*"Kopi", coffee
*"Kopi-gau", coffee (strong brew - "gau" is "厚" in Hokkien)
*"Kopi-po", coffee (weak brew - "po" is "薄" in Hokkien)
*"Kopi-C", coffee with evaporated milk
*"Kopi-C-kosong", coffee with evaporated milk and no sugar ('kosong" means empty in Malay)
*"Kopi-O", coffee with sugar only
*"Kopi-O-kosong", coffee without sugar or milk
*"Kopi-O-kosong-gau", a strong brew of coffee without sugar or milk
*"Kopi-bing" or "Kopi-ice", coffee with milk, sugar and ice
*"Kopi-xiu-dai", coffee with less sugar
*"Kopi-gah-dai", coffee with extra sweetened milk

*"Teh", tea with milk and sugar
*"Teh-C", tea with evaporated milk
*"Teh-C-kosong", tea with evaporated milk and no sugar
*"Teh-O", tea with sugar only
*"Teh-O-kosong", plain tea without milk or sugar
*"Teh tarik", the Malay tea described above
*"Teh-halia", tea with ginger water
*"Teh-bing", tea with ice, also known as "Teh-ice"
*"Teh-xiu-dai", tea with less sugar
*"Teh-gah-dai", tea with extra sweetened milk

The above list is not complete; for example, one can add the "-bing" suffix to form other variations such as "Teh-C-bing" (tea with evaporated milk with ice) which is a popular drink considering Singapore's warm weather. See also Ordering at a coffee shop.

These names are indicative of the multi-racial society in Singapore as they are formed by words from different languages, and have become part of the lexicon of Singlish. For example, "teh" is the Malay word for "tea" which itself originated from Hokkien, "bing" is the Hokkien word for "ice", "kosong" is the Malay word for "zero" to indicate no sugar, and "C" refers to "Carnation", a brand of evaporated milk.


* Singapore style noodles (Fried Vermicelli Singapore Style/ 星州炒米粉), a common dish featuring fried rice vermicelli flavoured with yellow curry powder available in some Chinese restaurants in Canada and the United States, but cannot be found in Singapore.
* Singapore fried kway tiao (Sweet Sauce Fried Rice Noodle/ 星州炒粿條), a common dish featuring fried thick, flat rice noodles flavoured with dark soya sauce available in some Chinese restaurants in Canada and the United States, also unavailable in Singapore. It has to be Char Kway Teow (See above), or a variation of it.
* Singapore luo bo gao (Fried Carrot Cake/ 星州炒蘿蔔糕), a common dish featuring diced and stir fried radish with an egg mixture, flavoured with chilli. Another name is Chai Tao Kway, easily available in the food centres in Singapore.

ee also

* Culture of Singapore
* Cuisine of Malaysia
* Hawker centre
* Kopi tiam

External links

* [ Online Malaysian and Singaporean food]
* [ Best hawker food stalls]
* [ Uniquely Singapore website]
* [ BBC TWO Chinese food made easy]
* [ Lists of Halal-Certified and Muslim-Owned eateries]
* Information on halal certification at [ MUIS website]

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