The Ordinary Patrons’ Singapore Food Dictionary
We hope The Ordinary Patrons’ Singapore Food Dictionary will be a useful companion for ordinary patrons who love eating in Singapore or reading about food in Singapore.
As we visit restaurants, cafes and other food and beverage establishments and write about them, we found that there is a bewildering array of descriptions of dishes, ingredients and cooking techniques. In a globalised city like Singapore, with its mix of races, languages and cultures, sometimes a menu can be completely unintelligible to the uninitiated. This Singapore Food Dictionary is our attempt to make the terms used in the diverse cuisines found in Singapore a little easier to understand. Whenever possible, we use a pictorial illustration. This is a work in progress. We add entries as we learn more about local Singapore food and discover more and more of what we do not know about the culinary world and the Singapore food scene.
Ah Baling : A Teochew dessert. Glutinous rice balls with filling in clear sweet soup. The filling could be peanuts, red bean paste, green bean paste, yam or sesame paste. Also referred to as “tang yuan” in Mandarin.
Al dente : Describes food, particularly pasta, that are cooked so as to be still firm when bitten.
Ang Ku Kueh : Literally means Red Tortoise Cake. A small Chinese pastry having a soft sticky glutinous rice flour skin with a sweet filling of bean or peanuts. It is molded to resemble a tortoise shell and is traditionally considered auspicious as it symbolises longevity and good fortune.
Apom : (also appom or appam) Indian pancakes made from rice flour, with a soft, billowy bum in the centre and soft thin crispy edges. The plain version is usually eaten with sugar and desiccated coconut.
Arancini : Italian deep fried stuffed rice balls that are coated with breadcrumbs.
Arrabbiata Sauce: A spicy sauce for pasta made from garlic, tomatoes and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil.
Ayam Buah Keluak : A Peranakan (Straits-Chinese) dish made with chicken (ayam) braised in a thick, spicy tamarind gravy with buah keluak (the black nuts of the Pangium edule found in mangrove swamps).
Ayam Penyet : Smashed fried chicken; a Javanese dish where fried chicken dish is smashed with pestle against mortar to make it softer, and served with sambal, slices of cucumbers and fried tofu.
Bak Chor Mee : A noodle dish served with minced meat or pork slices, with other ingredients such as pork liver, stewed sliced mushrooms and bits of deep-fried lard. An important component of the dish is the sauce which consists of chili, vinegar and other condiments such as soy sauce and pepper. see post Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle – one of the Must Try Bak Chor Mee.
Bakwan Kepiting : A Straits Chinese pork and crab meatballs soup dish. Meat balls of minced pork mixed with crabmeat and crunchy bamboo shoots are boiled and served in a light soup (usually chicken & fish stock).
Ban Chang Kueh (or Ban Jian Kueh) : Crispy pancakes made from flour, and filled with crushed peanuts and sugar.
Béarnaise Sauce : Traditional French sauce made from a reduction of vinegar, wine, egg yolk and butter, and flavoured with herbs.
Beef Rendang : A Malay dish made by simmering beef in coconut milk and spices until the the meat is coated with a thick sauce; sometimes described as caramelised beef curry.
Bingsu (Patbingsu 팥빙수 ) : A Korean shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings such as sliced almonds, fruits, condensed milk and red bean paste.
Blinis (or blintz) : Blinis are light pancakes , traditionally from Russia, made from buckwheat flour and raised by yeast.
Borscht (or borsch) : A soup made with fresh beet and garnished with a dollop of sourcream, originally from Russia and Poland. It can also be prepared with an assortment of vegetables or meat or combination of both.
Bruschetta : Italian antipasto (starter dish) consisting of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Bundt Cake : A cake that is baked in a Bundt pan, shaping it into a distinctive ring shape.
Burrata : A fresh buttery Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.
Caramelise : To cook (something, such as a fruit or vegetable) slowly until it becomes brown and sweet; or to change sugar into caramel (a beige to dark-brown confectionery product) by heating it.
Carpaccio : A typical Italian dish made of thinly sliced raw meat or fish garnished with a sauce.
Carrot Cake : It is also known as “fried carrot cake” or “Chai Tow Kueh” but it not made of carrot. It is in fact stir-fried cubes of radish and flour cakes. There is a “white version and a “black” version with sweet soy sauce.
Casserole : A large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel.
Chap Chye : A mixed vegetable stem comprising mainly cabbage stewed with timchok (sweet beancake) and bean curd skins.
Chapati : An Indian unleavened flatbread made from wholewheat flour.
Char Kway Teow : Fried flat rice flour noodles. The dish is stir-fried with soy sauce and common ingredients include eggs, slices of Chinese sausage, cockles and fishcakes.
Char Siew : Roasted seasoned pork which is sweet and savory and sliced into thin pieces. Char Siew is usually served with with steamed white rice or noodles.
Char Siew Soh : BBQ pork pastry- a dim sum item.
Charcuterie : A branch of French cooking devoted to prepared meat products such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, pâtés and confit, primarily from (but not limited to) pork.
Chendol : A traditional South-East Asian dessert made from shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar and jelly noodles made from rice flour with green food coloring (usually derived from the pandan leaves).
Chee Cheong Fun : A rice noodle roll filled with shrimp, pork, beef, vegetables, or other ingredients; or without filling and eaten with soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet sauce, chilli or a combination of sauces.
Chicken Cotoletta : An Italian dish of boneless chicken coated with flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs, and then fried.
Chicken Rice : Cut pieces of chicken, served with fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth.
Chilli Crab : A Singaporean dish where the crab is stir-fried in a sweet savoury thick gravy created with a base of chilli and tomato sauces, thickening flour and eggs.
Chorizo : Spanish smoked pork sausages.
Chwee Kueh : Literally means water rice cake; it is a saucer-shaped steamed rice cake topped with diced preserved radish and served with chilli sauce.
Congee : Rice porridge or gruel which can be plain or cooked with various ingredients. Also Juk in Korean.
Consommé : A classic French clear soup made from flavored stock.
Creme Fraiche : Thickened cream with smooth rich texture and which has a slightly tangy and nutty flavour.
Crêpe Suzette : A French dessert consisting of a crêpe with a sauce of caramelized sugar and butter, tangerine or orange juice and liqueur on top. The most common way to make Crêpe Suzette is to pour liqueur (usually Grand Marnier) over a freshly-cooked crêpe with sugar and ignite it.
Devilled Eggs : Also known as stuffed eggs or angel eggs, are hard-boiled eggs, shelled, cut in half lengthwise, and filled with the egg’s yolk mashed and mixed with other ingredients such as minced herbs, mayonnaise and mustard.
Dolmades : A Greek appetizer made with grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs and seasoning. Read our post here.
Eggs Benedict : An American breakfast dish that consists of two halves of an English muffin, with ham or bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce (an emulsion of egg yolk and liquid butter, usually seasoned with lemon juice, salt and pepper)
Espuma : Spanish word for foam or froth and is the descriptive word for the cooking technique where a dense mousse type foam is created by a cream whipper to incorporate air into fluid. Cappuccino foam is an example.
Foie Gras :It has a
Fish Ball Noodles : Local street food consisting of noodles, a savoury soup and fish balls. The noodles could be served in the soup or separately with a chilli seasoning.
Fried Hokkien Mee : Literally Fried Fujian Noodles, a dish of egg noodles and rice noodles stir-fried with egg, slices of pork, prawns and squid and garnished with vegetables small pieces of fried lard.
Fried Mee Suah : Fried Chinese Flour Vermicelli.
Galette : A French savoury buckwheat flour pancakes which is generally larger and thinner than the regular crepe made from white flour. It is commonly served with cheese or garnished with various combinations of egg, meat and vegetables.
Garganelli : A type of egg-based pasta formed by rolling a flat, square noodle into a tubular shape.
Gelato : Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. In today’s cafes, gelato is usually used to mean ice cream made in a traditional Italian style, which has less fat and less air churned into it during the freezing process compared to American style ice cream.
Gratin : A cooking technique in which an ingredient is topped with a browned crust, often using breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg or butter.
Gremolata : A chopped herb condiment classically made of lemon zest, garlic and parsley.
Gyoza : Japanese dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables and wrapped in a thin dough; can be prepared steamed, boiled, deep-fried or pan-fried.
Har Kau : Prawn dumplings with translucent skin; a dim sum staple.
Hollandaise Sauace : Traditional French sauce made from egg yolks,lemon juice, salt and butter. Light yellow in colour, the taste of the smooth creamy sauce is rich and buttery, with a mild tang.
Hor Fun : A stir-fried rice noodles dish where the noodles are first pan-fried and a thick sauce with various ingredients (like seafood or beef) is then poured on top of the bed of noodles.
Ice Kachang : means “ice beans”; a dessert of finely grated ice with fillings consisting of red beans and other ingredients like corn and attap seeds and drizzled with coloured sugar syrups and condensed milk.
Jacket Potato : A British dish of baked potato served with the skin on.
Josper Grill : A kind of combination charcoal grill and oven, which enables the inside of the meat to be cooked with a charring of the exterior at the same time. see post FYR Cycene Ond Drinc restaurant, featuring the fantastic Mr Josper Grill
Laksa : A spicy soup noodles dish consisting of rice noodles in a spicy gravy of coconut milk, with toppings of prawns, cockles and slices of fishcake. There are different varieties such as Curry Laksa, Penang Assam Laksa and Katong Laksa.
Lamington : A dessert consisting of cubes of sponge cake coated first in a layer of sauce( traditionally chocolate), then in desiccated coconut.
Lontong : A Malay dish made of ketupat (compressed rice cake) cut into small pieces in a vegetable stew with coconut milk.
Macaron : French sweet meringue-based confection made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food colouring.
Mascarpone : Italian cheese from the Lombardy region, made by curdling milk cream with citric acid or acetic acid.
Mozzarella : A sliceable curd cheese originating in Italy, traditionally made from milk of water buffaloes.
Mee Rebus : Literally means boiled noodles in Malay. A yellow egg noodles dish with a thick, spicy, slightly sweet gravy made out of potatoes, curry powder and dried shrimps. It is often garnished with boiled eggs, sliced green chilies, spring onions, , fried tofu (tau kwa), fried shallots and bean sprouts.
Mee Siam : A noodle dish where a slight sweet-tangy gravy is poured over a plate of fine rice noodles (bee hoon) which had been seasoned. The dish is often garnished with boiled eggs and spring onions.
Meringue : A type of dessert, often associated with French and Italian cuisine, made from whipped egg whites or aquafaba and sugar.
Miso : A traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus known in Japanese as kōji and sometimes rice, barley, or other ingredients.
Murtabak : An Indian stuffed pancake or pan fried bread, where the filling is a mixture of beaten eggs, minced meat, diced onions and spices.
Nasi Goreng : Malay fried rice.
Nasi Lemak : A Malay dish that comprises rice made fragrant with coconut milk and pandan leaves, often served with chilli, fried crispy anchovies, peanuts and cucumber.
Nasi Padang : Padang-style rice meal which originated from Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, Indonesia. Steamed rice is served with various pre-cooked dishes of meats, fish, eggs and vegetables.
Ngoh Hiang : A roll of meats and vegetables with five-spice powder wrapped in beancurd skin – eaten with sweet sauce.
Oeufs Cocotte : Egg baked in an individual cup (French cuisine).
Okowa : A Japanese rice dish in which steamed sticky glutinous rice is mixed with different types of ingredients like beans, chestnuts, vegetables or seafood.
Or Luak : Oyster Omelet, Teochew style. Tapioca flour is mixed into the egg batter, giving the resulting egg wrap a thick gooey texture.
Or Nerng : Another version of Teochew oyster omelet, same as Or Luak but without any flour.
Orzo : “Barley” in Italian and also refers to a tiny rice-shaped pasta.
Osmanthus Jelly : Chilled dessert commonly served in Cantonese restaurants. It is a jelly made from an infusion of dried sweet Osmanthus flowers which have a delicate fruity aroma .
Pad Thai (or Phat Thai) : A Thai stir-fried rice noodle dish.
Parmesan : A type of hard cheese which is pale yellow; commonly used as a seasoning added to dishes like spaghetti, Caesar salad and pizza.
Pasteis Bacalhau : Portugese cod fish cakes.
Papadum (also Papadam) : A thin Indian crispy cracker or flat bread, typically served as an appetizer to an Indian meal.
Peking Duck : A Chinese delicacy dating back to the twelve century. Specially bred ducks are roasted until evenly golden brown. The whole duck is usually served at the table. The crispy skin and meat (sometimes skin only) are eaten with sweet sauce, cucumber and spring onion in a thin flour wrap. See our post here.
Pesto : A sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy and traditionally consisting of crushed garlic, basil and pine nuts blended with olive oil and cheese.
Pimentos de Padron : A Spanish tapas dish of grilled or fried peppers. Padrón peppers are a variety of small peppers from the municipality of Padrón in northwestern Spain.
Pintxos : Small finger foods served at bars in the Basque region. Similar to tapas, but traditionally pierced with a cocktail stick, to attach it to the piece of bread that they usually came attached to.
Polenta : A cornmeal boiled into a porridge, and eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled.
Popiah : A Spring Roll where the popiah “skin” is a soft, thin paper-like crepe or pancake made from wheat flour and main filling for the popiah is a complex mix of many ingredients which turnip, carrot, French beans, bamboo shoots, fried tau kwa, prawns and pork. Toppings may include chinese sausages, bean sprouts, omelette strips, hard-boiled egg, chilli paste, sweet sauce, garlic and lettuce.
Porcini : A wild mushroom, with a meat-like texture, commonly used in Italian dishes like pasta and risotto.
Praline : A sweet confection of nuts and sugar, and sometimes cream, covered caramel or chocolate.
Prawn Mee (or Hae Mee) : Prawn Noodles is a noodle soup dish topped with large freshly cooked prawns. The soup is a rich shrimp or seafood stock often with pork bones added to enhance the flavour.
Profiterole : cream puff, or filled French pastry ball with a typically sweet filling of whipped cream, pastry cream, custard or ice cream.
Proscuitto Ham : Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham and is almost always used for the uncooked, dry-cured ham served thinly sliced.
Putu Mayam: A South Indian snack of plain white noodles made of rice flour mixed with salt and water. The steamed noodles are eaten with coconut shavings and brown or red sugar.
Putu Piring : A steamed rice cake with a filling of melted gula melaka (palm sugar), topped with slightly salted grated coconut to add a savoury touch. A Malay delicacy.
Quiche : A baked opened face pie with a savoury filling (such as cheese, ham, spinach, mushroom, or seafood) thickened with eggs.
Ragu : In Italian cuisine, a ragu is a meat-based sauce which is commonly served with pasta.
Ratatouille : A traditional French stewed vegetable dish.
Reduction : In cooking, reduction is the process of thickening and intensifying the flavor of a liquid mixture such as a soup, sauce, wine, or juice by simmering or boiling.
Rempeyek Craker : A deep-fried savoury Indonesian cracker made from flour with cripsy bits like peanuts and ikan bilis (anchovies).
Ricotta : Italian cheese made from sheep milk using reheated whey. It is white, moist and smoother than cottage cheese and has a slightly sweet flavour.
Rigatoni : A form of tube-shaped pasta; associated with the cuisine of southern and central Italy.
Risotto : An Italian rice dish cooked in broth to a creamy consistency.
Rojak : Malay for “mixture – it is essentially a vegetable and fruit salad dish. The typical rojak consists of cucumber, pineapple, bean sprouts, taupok (deep-fried beancurd), youtiao (Chinese-style fritters) and sometimes raw mangos and green apples. The dressing is made up of belacan (shrimp paste), sugar, chili, and lime juice.
Roti John : Sliced halves of a local bread loaf fried with a topping of minced mutton (or beef, chicken and sardine) onions and egg. It is usually served with tomato sauce and sweet chilli sauce on the side.
Roti Prata : Literally means Flat Bread. A fried flour-based pancake that is cooked over a flat grill. It is most commonly served plain with curry but egg prata is also popular. It can also be eaten just with sugar. In Malaysia it is called Roti Canai.
Sauteed : A cooking technique using a very hot pan and a small amount of oil or fat, so the food browns and cooks quickly.
Soba : Japanese for buckwheat. Soba (そば) noodles are noodles made of buckwheat flour and prepared in various hot and cold dishes.
Satay : A Malay dish of seasoned, skewered and grilled meat, served with a sweetish peanut sauce.
Scotch Egg : A boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and baked or deep-fried.
Shepherd’s Pie : Meat pie with a crust of mashed potato.
Siew Mai: Pork dumpling; a dim sum staple.
Sous-vide : French for “under vacuum”; a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times.
Soufflé : A lightly baked cake made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients; often served sweetened as a dessert.
Spaghetti alle Vongole : An Italian classic pasta dish where spaghetti with clams are cooked with oil, garlic, parsley, and sometimes a splash of white wine.
Spaghetti Bolognese : Spaghetti served with a thick sauce of minced beef, tomato and herbs.
Spatchcock : also known as “spattlecock”, is a cooking term describing the preparation of poultry for roasting or grilling by removing the backbone, splitting the bird and and flattening it out before cooking.
Tagliolini : A pasta that is somewhat thicker than spaghetti, cut into long strips about 3 mm in diameter. The dough used to make this pasta typically includes eggs.
Tapas : Savoury snacks or finger food that originated in Spanish bars and can come in many different forms; such as cubes of ham, stuffed peppers and mini open sandwiches.
Tarte Flambée : German dish composed of bread dough rolled out very thin and topped with fresh cheese or soured cream and, traditionally, thinly sliced onions and savoury pork.
Tau Kwa Pau : Bean curd crisply fried and stuffed with a filling of chopped crispy fish cake, egg, cucumber and fried yam. Served with gravy and chilli sauce.
Ter Kar Bee Hoon : Fried bee hoon (rice vermicelli) with canned stewed pork trotter.
Thosai : A South Indian savoury thin pancake made from a batter of fermented pulses and rice flour, cooked on a flat griddle. The dish is usually eaten at with accompaniments such as vegetable stew, curry and chutney. It is also called “dosa”.
Tiramisu : A coffee-flavoured Italian dessert made of light and sweet sponge cakes dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar and cheese and flavoured with cocoa.
Tonkatsu : Japanese breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet.
Truffle : Edible, fleshy, irregularly rounded fungi that grow underground on or near the roots of trees and are valued as a delicacy. White truffles is from Northern Italy and black truffle is commonly from France.
Unami : According to the official Umami Information Center, “umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.” There is no precise English translation for the Japanese word, but loosely interprested it can mean delicious “savoury” or “meaty” taste.
Waffle : A crisp cake of batter baked plates
Wok Hei : The flavour, taste and essence imparted by a hot wok on food during stir-frying at high tempreture; a smoky flavour resulting from caramelization, Maillard reactions and the partial combustion of oil that come from ccooking the food at high heat.
Wonton Mee : Thin yellow noodles with Chinese dumplings, originally from Guangzhou, China. In Singapore, there is the soup version and the dry version – the dry version is served with char siew and deep-fried wontons or the wontons in a separate bowl of soup.
Xiao Long Bao : Its name means dumpling in a small bamboo basket. A steamed dumpling with a thin skin enveloping a meat filling and broth. It is usually eaten with cut ginger and vinegar dip.
XO Sauce : A spicy sauce made of chopped dried seafood, including dried scallops and dried shrimps, red chill pepper, garlic and spices. It is an all purpose condiment and often used in Southern Chinese cuisines.
Yong Tau Foo : (also spelled yong tau fu, or yong tau hu) A dish consisting mainly of beancurd that has been filled with either a ground meat mixture or fish paste. Fish balls, vegetables and mushrooms stuff with ground meat may also be added.
You Tiao : (also called Yu Char Kueh) Dough fritters or Chinese crullers – long and golden brown and often eaten with porridge or soya milk.
Zhi Char : (also spelled Zi Char) literally means “Cooked and Fried” and refers to home-styled Chinese food cooked to order at coffee shops or hawker stalls.