As a number of our initial immigrants were from South India, South Indian cuisine is hugely popular in food-obsessive Singapore. Purely vegetarian restaurants usually serve South Indian foods known collectively as ‘tiffin', which are consumed at breakfast or during tea time. They tend to go hand in hand with savoury crepes like dosai, rice cakes like idli, hot bread like poori, and lentil-based dough snacks like vadai.
These delights come in broad iterations and varieties so you're unlikely to ever get bored. If chilli is your thing, also be glad to know that you not only get to gorge on these Indian specialities, but also on their spicy accompaniments!
South Indian restaurants typically serve a set meal known as a thaali, which consists of a large stainless steel plate with rice in the middle surrounded by smaller containers of various curries, vegetables, side dishes and a dessert. Rasam, a peppery tamarind-based soup, is eaten towards the end of the meal with rice, followed by plain yoghurt with rice.
South Indian food also includes spicy meat and fish dishes served with rice and vegetables (often on a banana leaf) along with other regional varieties such as Chettinad cuisine (well-known for spicy, peppery chicken curries) and Hyderabad biryani, a steamed, fragrant chicken and rice dish.
Not to be forgotten, North Indian cuisine is also popular here. Tandoori chicken, fish and prawns are of course staples on the menu, as are favourites like butter chicken, paneer (curd cheese) grilled or in curries, and lentil dishes (known collectively as dhal). Sounds tempting? A visit to Punjab Grill will take you on an epicurean journey through India's Punjab region.
Breads such as naan are also cooked in the tandoor, a large clay oven that gives the dishes their distinctive, smoked flavour. For a lighter meal, also try chaat: savoury, and sweet-spicy dishes normally served at tea time and best enjoyed with rich, sweet masala tea.
If you're not in the mood for a full Indian meal, why not go for the next best thing: dessert? Pick your snack from a large selection of sweets available to go. Many Indian restaurants have a counter selling confectionary delights such as burfi and halwa, both of which look like squares of fudge, and laddoo, a round, sweet snack made of chickpea flour and semolina.
You can also try gulab jamun, fried milk solids in a sweet syrup, or the spiced saffron-infused kesari. A word of caution though: these sweets should only be taken on by the brave and extremely sweet-toothed warrior, and even then preferably with water or unsweetened tea handy.
Regionally-influenced Indian cuisine is usually the result of an Indian-Malay gastronomic fusion. Nasi biryani (nasi is the Malay word for rice) is one such dish, which consists of savoury rice served with chicken, mutton or fish curry with a side of papadams and a uniquely local salad (either cucumbers and pineapples tossed with onions, lime juice, vinegar and salt, or Nonya achar, a spicy mix of pickled cucumbers, carrots and sesame seeds.)
Fish head curry is another example of fusion cuisine. This classic favourite has Chinese, Indian and Peranakan versions and is often served at non-vegetarian Indian restaurants. And if it’s a hot day, there’s nothing like kulfi, the Indian version of ice cream to perk you right up.