- Published on 24.02.2021
- By Elena
- 788 comments
I visited Singapore at the end of January 2020. It was not my first visit to South-East Asia; I had travelled around Thailand in 2017 and Bali (Indonesia) in 2015.
I always tend to get nervous before travelling, not only because I am not a fan of flying but also because of my food allergies. And travelling to South East Asia when you are allergic to peanuts and nuts can be daunting. But this time, I felt a bit more at ease as I was going to stay with my friends at their apartment. As Spanish expats in Singapore, they had good knowledge of the city and its cuisine. Also, English is one of the official language in Singapore, which should, of course, make my life easier when eating out.
Gardens by the Bay
I travelled to the island city-state with British Airways, who have always dealt well with my food allergies. Since I must avoid food plane most of the time, I ensured I had a good meal at the airport before boarding. Fortunately, both the inbound and outbound trips were night flights, which means that there would be fewer meals served on board and less probability of having an allergic reaction if something went wrong. As soon as I boarded, I spoke to the hostess, who later made an announcement on board to refrain people from eating nuts and peanuts during the flight.
I got to Singapore around 5 pm local time. Despite being completely knackered from my 13-hour flight (after a long day at work in London), I could not resist walking for a few minutes around the beautiful Jewel Changi Airport, which is a tourist destination in its own right. Jewel Changi Airport is a nature-themed complex with top retailers, restaurants, and a paradise garden, known for its tallest indoor waterfall. Must-see if you visit Singapore or have a stopover at the airport!
It was getting late, and I had to head to my friend's apartment, so I booked a Grab, which is like Uber. Airport transfers can also be done using the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), which is the public electric train system of the city.
EATING OUT IN SINGAPORE WITH FOOD ALLERGIES
Singaporean cuisine is an excellent example of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country. In Singapore, around 75% of the population has a Chinese ethnic; 15% Malay; and 8% Indian.
So, what food can you find in Singapore? Curries, noodles, rice, seafood, meat, sweets, stir fry... You have a blend of all three primary cultures and the western influence reflected in their cuisine. For food lovers, this is paradise. But if you have food allergies, it can be overwhelming. Peanuts, nuts (and more specifically, candlenuts), fish, shellfish, soy, eggs, sesame, and food containing gluten are present in the Singaporean cuisine.
And we often forget that people are allergic to more than the main allergens everyone is aware of. For instance, I am also allergic to some fruits – and Singapore is famous for the durian, known as the "King of Fruits". Because of my allergies, I would always avoid eating any tropical fruits during my travels, but I would have loved to taste a durian, as it seems quite an experience! Fun fact: because of the strong smell it produces, durians are banned on public transports and some other public areas of the city!
Durian, the "King of Fruits"
But luckily, with clear communication, adequate preparation, and following your gut feeling, travelling to Singapore with food allergies should not be a problem. If something does not feel right, walk away. Always ensure you have some snacks with you, just in case. It is not ideal to skip a meal – but better this than having an anaphylactic attack thousands of kilometres from home!
Allergy Translation Cards
I was not planning to get my allergies translated – after all, English is one the official languages in Singapore. However, my friends advised that many Singaporean citizens adopt their own language of origin, and despite the fact that they would speak English, level standards would vary. Since it could get difficult to understand the accent, called "Singlish", I decided to translate my allergies into Mandarin Chinese.
You have a few allergy translations companies out there, but you can also opt for using some free templates or doing it yourself. In my case, I used Google Translation and sent it to my friend, who showed the translated words to her Chinese teacher for verification. If I had not had a resource in Singapore, I would have probably bought a customised translated card
Where did I eat?
Hawker centres are a conglomerate of permanent food stalls selling affordable food. People would eat in communal seating areas. But of course, with all "street food", when you have food allergies, you need to be alert all the time to ensure your food won't be contaminated with your allergen. I remember walking away from a couple of food stalls – either there would be peanuts/nuts all over the menu, or they would not really seem to understand how serious an allergy can be.
Food stall - Hawker Centre
In all cases, I used my translated card and would always look with 150% vigilant eyes when they would cook/serve my food. I opted for Chinese food, mostly chicken and rice and noodles. I also opted a few times for Nasi Goreng, which is an Indonesian and Malay dish consisting of fried rice, onion and other veggies, and very spicy. I travelled to Bali in 2015 and spent most of the trip eating Nasi Goreng, so eating it again five years later brought me back some good memories. The good thing about Hawker centres is that you see how they prepare and serve the food, which makes someone with food allergies feel way safer!
Traditional breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast
We had Kaya Toast every single day for breakfast – and I honestly miss it so much! Ya Kun Kaya Toast is a Singaporean chain located in many shopping centres across Singapore. I regret not having bought the Ya Kun Kaya Jar to bring home as a souvenir – it would not have lasted long, though! The typical kaya toast breakfast would consist of a toast with butter and kaya (coconut jam), half-boiled eggs with soy sauce and pepper on top, and iced kopi (coffee). There are options with peanut butter, too, so be extra careful when ordering and ensure you double and triple check before eating.
We had a couple of brunches, and in both cases, everything went smooth from a food allergy perspective. In both cases, I informed the restaurant in advance about my allergies. Their kitchens do have peanuts/nuts (probably like in all restaurants in Singapore), but they ensured my food would be safe – and I, of course, opted for safe dishes were cross-contamination would be a bit more difficult to happen.
We visited Botany restaurant, located in Riverside, Roberston Quay, where they have gluten-free options available, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. I ate the French Toast with Pork Bratwurst and eggs.
At Common Man Stan Restaurant, I opted for the eggs benedict (yes, loving eggs) and I remember not eating the bread as they warned me it could contain nuts.
There is a place I regret not going to that I had managed to find online: The Living Café. They have NF (Nut Free) sign in their menus, which is a big win already!
WHAT TO VISIT?
I had the chance to visit Singapore during the Chinese New Year, so I enjoyed some street celebrations and fireworks - and absolutely loved it. We were already wearing masks at the time, as coronavirus was starting to be a big thing in Asia (I would have probably not travelled there a week later)
First time wearing a mask - January 24th 2020
Singapore has some western vibes, but it is also a beautiful land of contrast. You cannot miss a walk around Little India and Chinatown. I also recommend Kampong Glam for Middle Eastern vibes. This is where Haji Lane is located, which is considered the "hipster" street/area of the city. For night drinks, I loved River Valley and, more specifically, Clarke Quay. Singapore is known for being very expensive, especially for alcoholic drinks, but we found some bars with good deals along the river.
Haji Lane in Kampong Glam
If you want to do some shopping, Orchard Road is the place to go. You will also find many malls across the city. For instance, in Marina Bay (another must-see), you have "The Shoppes", a well-known luxurious mall with an indoor canal, Venice-style. For amazing views, I recommend a little drink in the Marina Bay Sands Rooftop. The entrance costs around 20 Singaporean dollars, and you can purchase one drink using that same ticket, which makes the experience a bit less pricey.
Finally, you cannot miss the Gardens and Cloud Forest of the Marina Bay Sands and its light show, called Spectra.
Outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown
KEY TAKEAWAYS TO TRAVEL AROUND SINGAPORE WITH FOOD ALLERGIES
- Eat before boarding the plane - and try to fly overnight as fewer meals will be served.
- Get your allergies translated into Chinese and maybe Malay too - you'll be on the safe side!
- If something does not feel right, walk away. Never eat anything you are not sure it is safe for you.
- Always ensure you've got some snacks with you.
- Try to travel with people that know the country and their cuisine - I was very lucky to have friends living there but you can equally book a guide and ensure they're aware of your food allergies.
- Relax...and enjoy! Travel with a positive mindset. There is only so much you can control - ensure you are well prepared and enjoy the trip!
- And, of course, always carry two!
Let me know if you have travelled around South-East Asia with food allergies - I would love to hear about your experiences :)