Tips on following a FODMAP diet in Singapore

Noodles being made in Singapore market

Bridget Marr, Vidya Bhat and Jane Varney, 22 May 2019

The Monash FODMAP Team recently travelled to Singapore to deliver a 1 day workshop to dietitians on the clinical management of IBS and the FODMAP diet. The trip was a stand-out success, much of which was attributed to the organisation and hospitality of our wonderful hosts at the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association (SNDA). While we shared our knowledge about FODMAPs and IBS, we learnt (and thankfully experienced!) so much about the bustling food scene in Singapore, which rightly dominates day-to-day life and earns this small country its reputation as a gastronomical powerhouse.

Singaporeans, we learnt, eat many of their meals away from home, and often in the vibrant hawker centres and food courts that scatter the city. And once you eat at one of these hawker centres, there is no wonder why. The food is fast, fresh, flavoursome and cheap. There is also endless choice, as the mixing pot of cultures that make up Singapore are reflected in the fusion of cuisines available, including Chinese, Indian and Malay dishes.

Of course, our experience at the workshop and dining out here begged the question of how to adapt the FODMAP diet to the Singaporean cuisine.

Our colleagues at the SNDA (Bridget Marr and Vidya Bhat) have kindly provided us with their top 13 eating out tips to help you follow a FODMAP diet while living in or visiting Singapore.  

  1.  Many noodle stalls offer rice noodles which are naturally low in FODMAPs. Try “bee hoon” = rice vermicelli or  “kway teow” = wide rice noodles. If choosing dishes that are freshly prepared or assembled such as fried bee hoon or fried rice ask for no garlic and onion. Include egg, seafood, meat, taukwa (pressed tofu) chives, beansprouts, cabbage, lettuce, ikan bilis (dried anchovies), peanuts and soy sauce.

  2. Ask for no fried onions/ shallots or extra garlic to be added to your meal.  Instead request the green tops of spring onion or chives.

  3. Limit curries, laksa, soups as they contain onion and garlic. Have noodles ‘dry’ and use a little fresh chilli, soy sauce, cilantro/ coriander instead.

  4. Many hawker centres and food courts have Japanese and Korean stalls where plain grilled fish, seafood or meat can be chosen with steamed rice and low FODMAP vegetables (e.g. greens)

  5. If having dim sum/ yum cha, choose dumplings made from rice flour and plain fillings such as prawn, pork or spinach. Examples include chee cheong fun or har gow. Just note, there may be a little onion in some of the dumplings, so it can be worth knowing in advance whether you tolerate small amounts of onions.

  6. Rojak  (“mixed-up” in Malay) is a unique salad to try. Make it low FODMAP by choosing ingredients such as cucumber, pineapple, bean sprouts, tofu/tempeh and peanuts. Avoid adding apples dough fritters (you tiao) or shallots.

  7. Choose the following ingredients for flavour: soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil. You could consider taking your own low FODMAP dipping sauce out with you as well.

  8. Other suitable choices include:
    • Chicken rice with plain steamed rice. Avoid the chilli sauce as it contains garlic.
    • Char siew / BBQ pork and rice with steamed greens and oyster sauce (1 Tbsp).
    • Fish balls with bee hoon and a little chill, green part of spring onion, ikan bilis, soy sauce and coriander (avoid soup).
    • Rice porridge with minced pork/chicken fish and green spring onion tops, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, ground pepper.

  9. Chinese Buddhist vegetarian and Indian Jain restaurants have dishes that are onion/garlic free. These places can also customise the dishes for you.

  10. Fermented foods made from a combination of rice and lentils such as idli and dosa/thosai at Indian restaurants are generally well tolerated, as the amount of lentils used in comparison to rice is minimal. Coconut chutney served alongside is usually onion and garlic free.

  11. Local Coffee (Kopi) tends to be strong and is made with with evaporated or sweetened condensed milk – ask for just a tablespoon if you are sensitive to lactose or order black coffee/ kopi-o. To learn the art of ordering coffee (Kopi) and Tea (Teh) in Singapore see here.  Of course, caffeine can trigger IBS symptoms in some people, so drink according to tolerance.

  12. Local desserts may contain high FODMAP ingredients, so you could try and customise your own or check out the fresh fruit stalls in most hawker centres. These stalls often sell slices of dragonfruit, pineapple, honeydew melon and papaya (paw paw) – all of which can be eaten in a low FODMAP serve.

  13. Keep the Monash App handy as it is useful to check safe foods and safe serving sizes. If you are a visitor to Singapore, you can use it in offline mode and still have access to the Food guide.

For more tips on travelling and eating out on a FODMAP diet, check out the Monash FODMAP Blog

To find a Monash FODMAP Trained Dietitian in Singapore, check out our Dietitian Directory

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