As befits a country whose Indian community is largely Tamil, Indian food in Singapore tends to be synonymous with South Indian cooking, which is generally spicy, makes heavy use of coconut and tamarind and emphasizes starchy and vegetarian food. The classic southern Indian dish is the dosai or thosai, a thin rice-flour pancake. It’s usually served accompanied by sambar a watery vegetable and dhal (lentil) curry; rasam, a spicy clear soup flavoured with tamarind; and perhaps a few small helpings of vegetable or dhal curries, plus coconut or mint chutney. Also very common are rotis – griddle breads – plus the more substantial murtabak, thicker than a roti and stuffed with egg, onion and minced meat. The latter is a particular specialty of Indian Muslim kopitiams and stalls, which form a sideshoot of the South Indian eating scene and tend to place much more emphasis on meat.
One endearing aspect of South Indian restaurants is that they often serve food on a banana-leaf “platter”, the waiters dishing out replenishable heaps of various curries along with mounds of rice. In some restaurants you’ll find more substantial dishes such as the popular fish-head curry (don’t be put off by the idea – the “cheeks” between the mouth and gills are packed with tasty flesh).
South Indian restaurants tend to be very reasonably priced. North Indian food is usually pricier (though some cheap South Indian places will offer attempts at northern cooking) and tends to be richer, less fiery and more reliant on mutton and chicken. In Singapore, tandoori dishes – the tandoor being the clay oven in which the food is cooked – are the most common North Indian offerings, particularly tandoori chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices and then baked. Breads such as nan also tend to feature rather than rice, though just about every restaurant has a version of biriyani.