Expats Can Have a Healthy Diet in Singapore

  in  Far East
Moving to a new country can be both exciting and challenging: the chance to experience new cultures can enrich one's life. But equally, after the initial excitement wears off, it can also be challenging to adapt, especially if the local way of life is in stark contrast to an expat's native culture.

Even something simple like cultural norms around eating and drinking can be a challenge; living in a new country can mean adapting to new flavors, ingredients, styles of cooking and new ways of using - not using - cutlery. Local dishes and diets will vary from what the expat is used to. It can just be a matter of getting used to new tastes, textures and smells. For anyone with specific dietary needs or preferences, the effects could be more serious. So, it's good to know what to expect and plan ahead; it could mean the difference between a smooth transition and a bumpy one.

With respect to Singapore, expats might find it reassuring to know that it has experienced a big increase in healthy eating over the last few years. There are now a number of quirky, internationally inspired, health-focused cafes and restaurants popping up around the city, some of which focus on serving up organic or even vegan food.

Types of food and drink in Singapore
Singaporean cuisine offers an intriguing mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese influences, both in its vibrant street food scene and many high-end restaurants. The national dish, Hainanese chicken rice, originates from southern China, and is a popular option for expats to try. The chicken is steamed and usually served with a ginger and chili sauce, and rice.

Healthy drinks are readily available and include barle ywater, sugar cane juice, lime juice, chin chow grass jelly (which is believed to stop indigestion and lower blood pressure) and milk mixed with rose syrup.

Eating customs and habits
Etiquette around dining in Singapore depends on the host. Most Malay Singaporeans are Muslims, so they will only eat halal meat (but will never consume pork), no alcohol will be consumed, and food will be eaten with either the right hand or cutlery. The left hand is usually reserved for hygienic activities.

If the host is an Indian Singaporean, they may be Hindu or Sikh, which means that dishes will either be free from beef or fully vegetarian, and eaten using the right hand. When dining with a Chinese Singaporean, alcohol might be served with the meal - though guests should wait for the host to drink first. Expect to eat using chopsticks, but expats should know that it is considered rude to leave chopsticks in food. That's why chopstick rests are provided.

Singapore is still an expensive place to live and as such eating out can be expensive. However, depending on how adventurous you are, there are always affordable options on offer if you look for them. Like any country, there are trendy restaurants serving haute cuisine and fast-food diners. Hawker centers also serve a variety of food and drink but there may be a lack of air conditioning to go with the lower price tag.

Food and drink events and festivals
The most popular food event is probably the Singapore Food Festival, which offers a variety of authentic Singaporean cuisine, local street food, sit-down restaurants, pop-up cafes, and innovative new cooking styles that expats can try.

Other food events include Savor (a fair with celebrity chefs, master classes, and markets) and the Singapore Coffee Festival (where expats can try a wide range of specialty coffees and delicious food from Singaporean cafes). Visiting events like these can also be a good way to discover healthy new dishes for those who are unfamiliar with the cuisine.

Singaporean cooking styles and ingredients
The influence of Malaysia, China and India is evident in many of Singapore's cooking styles and ingredients. The cuisine is made up of noodle soups, stir-fries, steamed dumplings and light, aromatic curries.

A lot of dishes are made with coconut milk and spices,which gives food an underlying sweetness and soft, watery texture that expats may not be familiar with. The fresh ingredients and methods of cooking mean that many of these dishes are reasonably healthy, and can be low in fat and calories.

Practical considerations of eating and drinking in Singapore
Expats may find that their eating habits change significantly while living in Singapore. Depending on the style of food expats eat in Singapore, it could be useful to be confident eating with chopsticks or with hands, rather than using cutlery. This has health benefits, as food is consumed slower, which aids digestion.

It is also quite common for Singaporeans to eat five to six meals a day, due to the clean and low-fat nature of the food. Meals are usually eaten at food courts (known as "hawkers"), and expats can look out for stickers on food stalls that show which dishes do not contain MSG or were cooked using less oil.

Common issues expats face with food and drink in Singapore
The high levels of hygiene and food safety in Singapore eateries mean that food poisoning and digestive problems are not too much of an issue, though expats might like to take care with washing their hands and checking for cleanliness when eating street food in hawkers.

While English is widely spoken in most areas of Singapore, expats may sometimes need to rely on a local or a friend to translate menus or food wrappers (particularly in Chinese districts). Better still, learning some basic words and phrases - names of food, ingredients and styles of cooking for instance - will always help.

Food and drink for expats with health conditions
Peanuts are a staple part of the Singaporean diet - from braised peanuts to peanut sauce - so expats with nut allergies may need to be extra vigilant when buying or ordering food. Expats can also consult with their doctor and make sure they carry any necessary medication.

Summary
With Singapore's growing focus on clean eating and emerging trends in organic and vegan cooking, expats should find that it is relatively easy to maintain a healthy diet in the country.

Culinary events such as the Singapore Food Festival are a fun way to experience the many influences on Singaporean cuisine, and can also help expats to discover healthy dishes that they may become favorites, regardless of where they call home.