Last Updated on 2023-04-03 , 12:06 pm
Unless you’re born not knowing what shiok or syok means, you’ll know that despite the similarity in the culture between these two countries, years of separation and geographical differences have surreptitiously altered the traditional hawker food.
While the name remains the same, our grandparents have somehow amended our foods with their itchy hands and each of them believe that they’ve perfected them—not knowing that years later, their grandchildren would be fighting over whose food is better.
After all, talk to a Malaysian and he’ll proudly claim that his bak kut teh is better, when you (if you’re a Singaporean) firmly believe that theirs taste like a failed “chao ta” herbal chicken soup instead.
So, to end this feud once and for all, we’ve decided to pen a historic article that will end this century-old hostility once and for all, inspired by how Trump and Kim have decided to end their decades-old hostility.
May I present you the 10 foods that taste different in Singapore and Malaysia, and the winner among the two.
Terms and conditions
Of course we’ve got to be fair. For a start, I’ve made an oath to be as impartial as possible, letting my tongue do the talking instead of any patriotic spirit I might have.
As a Singaporean, the foods mentioned here are based on those I’ve tried in Malaysia (except #8, which you’ll understand if you read it), and not from foodcourts like Malaysia Boleh! or Malaysia Chiak!
Also, I’ll be talking to my Malaysian friend, and also a colleague who was born in Malaysia but is now a true-blue NS-serving Singaporean.
Foods that are “shiok” mean a Singapore’s victory, while foods that are “syok” mean a Malaysia’s victory. Lest you’re not aware, Singaporeans use “shiok” while Malaysians use “syok”, though both have the same meaning that foreigners won’t understand.
Without further ado, let the epic summit – I mean, the article, begin.
We’ll of course have to start with this, don’t we? Prided as Malaysia’s national dish, the Malaysia version is usually much more traditional: it often comes with banana leaf and the rice isn’t overpowering with coconut milk. Unlike the Singapore version, the rice is much drier with an aroma that can be smelled from miles away. The dishes are usually pre-selected with fish, ikan bilis and chicken wing, much like those banana-leaf-wrapped version we find selling in Singapore bus interchanges.
Some Singapore versions retain its traditional form, but it’s usually slightly oily with its rice being more overpowering with coconut milk. The Chinese even has a version with green pandan rice, a further deviation from its traditional form.
While the Singapore version has variety, some things are better left purism. I still prefer the Malaysia version – the plain, simple rice, together with sambal chilli, still kick asses after so many years.
My Malaysian friend and colleague both agree wholeheartedly, though one claims that Boon Lay Nasi Lemak wins every stall hands down (FYI that is more Malaysia style, especially the rice).
Verdict: Syok (though I don’t endorse Nasi Lemak Burger, and will never do so)
Bak Kut Teh
You can’t survive a day without a Malaysian claiming that their bak kut teh is better. Now, if you’ve not been to Malaysia, you might not know that the bak kut teh soup in Malaysia tastes completely different.
Unlike the Singapore version, which is much more peppery and would make you thirsty AF if you down the entire bowl, the Malaysia version tastes like herbal soup mixed with a slight kick of pepper and black soy sauce. Basically, it’s like sweetened herbal soup.
I’ve always liked Singapore’s bak kut teh until I tried a real Malaysia bak kut teh. It won me like how South Korea won Germany – yeah it’s that goody.
The herbal taste just trumps (geddit?) the peppery version hands down, and it’s usually so addictive that after downing the entire bowl, I’d be going for a second. My Malaysian friend and colleague agree, though they explicitly mention that it all boils down to the stall: get a shitty stall and they might as well go for the Singapore version. Or even an US version, if there is any.
There’s no challenge in this: Singapore’s version win. Without doubt.
You see, the Malaysia version is usually not deboned: ask for chicken breast from the hawker and you’ll still see traces of bones everywhere. While some people might like it as it’s supposedly softer, I absolutely abhorred it.
Also, the Malaysia version, which some would call 芽菜鸡饭, is filled with bean sprouts, a turn-off for some who don’t like them. The Malaysia version has rice that is drier as well – not something I prefer (doesn’t matter if it’s healthier because chicken rice is supposed to be unhealthy, yo).
However, the Malacca version is distinctly different – the chicken rice is rolled into small balls instead…
…though the chicken is still filled with bones.
Everyone agrees with this: Singapore’s chicken rice wins. Heck, like what I’ve said, it’s not even a challenge #justsaying
This is a tad tricky: generally, Singapore laksa is curry laksa (the one we’re familiar with) while Malaysia laska is assam laksa. Some Malaysians got confused when they ordered “laksa” in Singapore as they received curry laksa instead (come on, Malaysians, admit it lah).
It’s tricky because Singapore do sell assam laksa as well, and Malaysia do sell curry laksa, too.
But moving on, which is better?
Singapore laska is sweet, and its overpowering coconut milk might be a turn off for some. On the other hand, the sourness of Malaysia laksa might not be that mainstream. So it really just boils down to individual: when you’re in a Thai restaurant, do you order green curry or do you order tom yam?
But if I were to choose, it would be Singapore laksa, primarily because I don’t really like my soup to be sour. But that’s just me.
Verdict: Shiok & Syok (or if you can’t take spicy food, siam)
Ipoh Hor Fun
Ah, this might be new to you. Singaporeans know Ipoh hor fun as the hor fun with chicken slices, like an upgraded version of zi char hor fun.
However, go to Malaysia and their Ipoh hor fun is completely different: it’s smooth and QQ kway teow in clear soup, almost like ban mian. It’s unclear why Ipoh hor fun evolved so much, and why the name “Ipoh” is still in the dish (lest you’re not aware, Ipoh is a city in Perak, Malaysia, and it has nothing to do with iPod).
The Ipoh hor fun in Malaysia is pretty tasteless, perfect for people who like light stuff. However, having tried it in Ipoh itself, I still think the Ipoh hor fun in Singapore suit our taste better – I mean, the traditional version tastes like an atas Maggi Mee.
Surprisingly, my Malaysian friend prefers the Malaysia version and my colleague still doesn’t believe that Ipoh hor fun in Ipoh has clear soup. His exact words: “Hor fun and kway teow are two different things!”
Yong Tau Foo
Bet you didn’t know there’s a difference for this Hakka dish, eh?
Over in Malaysia, most of the items are fried items, compared to the boiled ones in Singapore. Both versions would re-fry those fried items, and both have almost similar sauce.
Unlike the Singapore version, the Malaysia version has one more variety: the chee cheong fun as its main dish (yeah, having yong tau foo with chee cheong fun is cool AF).
However, claiming that the Malaysia version is “unhealthy” might not be a good representation, simply because people usually choose more fried items than the boiled ones. Then again, we’ve got to admit it all boils down to selection lah: even in Singapore, you can go apeshit and choose all the fried items, effectively upping the calories to rival a KFC meal.
This is pretty subjective because it really depends on whether you’re looking at a healthy Yong Tau Foo or a TAF-Club Yong Tau Foo. However, my personal preference is still the healthy one because hey: it has been ingrained in me since young that Yong Tau Foo is supposed to be healthy. If I want fried stuff, I might as well go Old Cheng Kee.
Also, to be honest, yong tau foo really doesn’t go well with chee cheong fun. Maybe I’m just not used to it.
As for the soup, it really varies. I mean, it even varies in Singapore, not to mention the stalls across the causeway.
Verdict: Shiok (unless you’re a fried freak, if there’s even such a term)
WHAT. WERE. THEY. THINKING.
While my Malaysian friend swear by the Malaysian version, commonly known as Penang rojak, I beg to differ – greatly. The paste is almost identical in terms of taste and everything is nearly similar except for one key factor: the Malaysia version has no youtiao.
It’s just fruits (got mango wor) and cucumbers.
What’s this: a salad?
Oh, wait, it’s really called a called a fruit salad dish (according to Wikipedia):
But still, cannot lah. A rojak without youtiao and taupok really CMI leh. What were they thinking?
Just like chicken rice, there’s no competition here, though I’ve got to highlight that my Malaysian friend still prefer Penang rojak #theworldisstrange
No, it’s not that I’ve run out of foods. In fact, I’ve more than enough to choose from, but I die-die have to include this, especially since this Jianhao Tan video.
Despite the similarity in culture which lead to many same permanent items, fast-food chains in Singapore and Malaysia just have to split us apart by introducing seasonal items that are different. Why can’t they just release Nasi Lemak Burger in both countries, instead of causing a causeway jam with its introduction in Singapore?
While there has been hits and misses in Singapore, the success of Nasi Lemak Burger seems to indicate a clear winner here.
But you know why I’d have to concede defeat? Because even our dearest Nasi Lemak Burger (which I still don’t endorse BTW) has bought a passport and crossed over to Malaysia.
Let’s face it: we lost.
(Update: D24 Durian Ice Cream is coming to Singapore. Our life is complete.)
The Hokkien Mee in Singapore and Malaysia has multiple personality disorder: our version is yellow, oily and sinful, while the Malaysia version is soup-based, pretty similar to the prawn noodles in Singapore.
It’s actually quite easy to imagine how Malaysia’s hokkien mee tastes like: just think of it as prawn noodles. In fact, this point should be a difference between hokkien mee (Singapore) and prawn noodles (Malaysia). It’s so confusing, people buy “hokkien mee” instant noodles that’s made in Malaysia only to realize it’s prawn noodles.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, my impartiality lies in my tongue, and I’ve always preferred prawn noodles than hokkien mee. So screw the Singapore hokkien mee, I’m giving this point to the Malaysia hokkien mee, although I’m technically giving it to prawn noodles.
Char Kway Teow
Of course we’ve got to leave the best for the last, right? This sinful dish depends a lot on the skills and anger of the hawker: the more skilful and angry he is, the better it tastes.
The key differences between the Singapore version and Malaysia version is the sweetness, and its noodles: Singapore’s version has both noodles and kway teow, while the Malaysia version is usually just kway teow.
The Singapore version is sweet: it’s drenched with so much dark soy sauce, it turns the noodles soggy. And that is precisely the way I like it: yeah, much more sinful, but that’s how char kway teow should be, right?
The Malaysia version is less sweet and a tad drier, a little like those fried kway teow sold together with nasi lemak and bee hoon for breakfast in hawker centres. Even with the high-SES ingredients like prawns or cockles, it just doesn’t attract me.
So I’ll go with the Singapore version. I didn’t ask my friend and colleague because I’m pretty sure I know their answers, ‘coz this is one dish in which the answer is within the colour of the identity card #justsaying.
Now, there are many other dishes that have different versions as well – I’ve just listed the more popular ones.
Do you agree, or do you disagree?
Still, it doesn’t matter. Because this is one feud that will last forever.
Just like the feud between Boon Lay Nasi Lemak and Chong Pang Nasi Lemak (and BTW, I prefer Chong Pang’s version, and it has nothing to do with Yishun).
Featured Image: Freedomkim / shutterstock.com & Eunice Yeung / shutterstock.com
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