Restaurant-quality Singapore Cereal Prawns is easy! How to make this buttery, crispy classic prawn dish in less than 30 minutes.
Cereal Prawns are a unique dish that only Singaporeans and Malaysians would be familiar with. It sits right there on the menu with Singapore Chilli Crab, except it’s heaps more addictive (and easier to eat).
These are battered prawns stir fried in plenty of butter, curry leaves, chillies and the most important (albeit unusual) ingredient – instant cereal. The result is a plate of buttery prawns buried in a sweet and savoury, crispy goodness that is a textural delight!
Cereal Prawns is one of the most popular dishes to order at a zi char or tze char restaurant. Zi char is a Hokkien term meaning “cook and fry”, and familiar to Singaporeans and Malaysians. It’s basically a restaurant where you order a bunch of dishes for the table family-style, and everyone gets a bit of everything. There are zi char stalls at hawker centres as well, which is why for the sake of simplicity I will also refer to this as a hawker dish.
Cereal prawns are not as cheap as other hawker classics such as say, Char Kway Teow or Hainanese Chicken Rice. Considered a premium dish, it’s usually reserved for special occasions, as opposed to a daily meal.
Cereal prawns are in fact incredibly easy to make, and cheap if you make them at home.
Why you will LOVE Singapore Cereal Prawns
- UNIQUELY SINGAPOREAN: The dish is known for its deliciously seasoned cereal mix, flavoured with which curry leaves and chili padi (bird’s eye chili). This is an irresistible combination of ingredients to creates a fragrant, spicy, and savoury flavour profile that you simply can’t find outside of Singapore and Malaysia!
- TEXTURAL CONTRAST: Cereal prawns offer a delightful textural experience. Fried prawns that are stir fried in a crunchy cereal mixture… this is the ultimate combination to create that satisfying contrast!
- QUICK & EASY: Singapore Cereal Prawns is deceptively easy to make! With just a few key ingredients, you can whip up a restaurant-quality dish is less than 30 minutes.
- COMFORT FOOD: This is hands down my favourite dish growing up! We never had them at home, but I look forward to that special dinners out to zi char restaurants so I can have cereal prawns a sa treat.
Key Ingredients to make Singapore Cereal Prawns
Singapore Cereal Prawn is easy and quick to make, and the ingredients required are minimal. These are the key ingredients we’ll be needing:
- Prawns or Shrimps
- Instant Cereal
- Curry Leaves & Chillies / Bird’s Eye Chillies
Scroll to find out more about these ingredients, and any alternatives (if there are!).
1. Prawns / Shrimps
The zi char restaurants tend to leave the prawns whole, with the shell on. You can leave the shells on as well, but I always peel off the shells when I make this at home! I don’t eat prawn shells, so peeling the prawns after cooking the dish would mean peeling away all of that yummy cereal coating.
Which is why I deveined, deshelled and plucked the heads off my prawns so I can get all the flavours on the prawn meat itself – the best way to eat this!
Of course, if you’re a prawn shell/prawn head eater, feel free to leave it on whole.
Shallow Frying the Prawns
At home, I prefer shallow frying as much as possible, as opposed to deep frying. It’s a lot more practical that using up so much oil to cook this one item. If you want to deep fry, of course feel free to.
Pan fry the prawns on one side. You should be able to see the bottom half turn orange, and the batter crisping up. Note that you will not get an ultra crispy batter, in fact, you’re not suppose to. The use of the egg introduces a lot of moisture so what you’ll get instead is a slightly crispy, but an almost spongy coating. This is good, because this is what’s going to help the cereal to stick on to the prawns later.
I’ll be honest, when I’m making this for myself I skip this pan frying process! I would cook the prawns in the butter itself, and pour the cereal mix over the prawns. That works too, tastes good, and I get to skip a step and a bunch of extra ingredients.
2. Instant Cereal
Which Instant Cereal to Use?
The brand that is widely used is the Nestum instant cereal brand. Look out for its full name: NESTUM All Family Cereal Original. It might also be called Nestum Multi-Grain Cereal Original – it is the same thing.
The Nestum brand of cereal is what the local zi char restaurants and hawker stalls use. If you cannot find this brand, then any instant cereal that is accessible to you should work. The cereal should be crispy and crunchy right out of the pack already.
Singaporeans and Malaysians would recognise the old school orange packaging of the Nestum Cereal. I remember having it as a kid occasionally! My mom would have these in a tin, and she would scoop some up in a mug, pour in hot water and that would be one of our breakfasts for the day. I say occasionally, because oats were more commonplace in my household! Speaking of, absolutely do not use oats. It simply is not the same, and will not work. I know, from experience!
The Cereal Blend
Instant cereal already has a milky flavour to it, especially since it has sugar and creamer premixed in. You CAN use the instant cereal straight out of the packet, but I like to season it with some pantry staples just for a boost of flavour.
I seasoned mine with just:
- Ground Pepper
Some recipes call for extra addition of milk powder and chicken seasoning powder. You can add these as well if you’d like.
For milk powder, you can use those milk creamer sachets that coffee places would give you.
As for the chicken seasoning powder, you can use chicken stock cubes as well. Simply pinch off a corner of the cube and sprinkle into the mix.
I very rarely include the additional ingredients, even when I already have them on hand! Adding the extra ingredients does add an extra layer of flavour, but I personally find the taste difference to be too minimal to care much about.
While I love the prawns, I love the buttered cereal even more! I would also scoop up the excess cereal, and mix it in with my rice. If this s you as well, feel free to add more instant cereal to the mix. Make sure to also add more butter.
Butter is an essential ingredient in Singapore Cereal Prawns! Not only does it add flavour, the cereal prawns will absorb the butter and keep it crisp, and golden brown.
Salted or unsalted butter can both be used, simply adjust the salt levels accordingly for the rest of the recipe.
4. Curry Leaves and Bird’s Eye Chillies
This recipe requires very little ingredients, but you can’t skip on any or else it just tastes different! The curry leaves and bird’s eye chillies combination is a common fixture in Singapore and Malaysian hawker or zi char restaurants. Other recipes that use this combo include Salted Egg Yolk Calamari and Butter Crispy Chicken.
Curry leaves add a very unique flavour, akin to… well, curry. I would describe it as somewhat citrusy, although I cannot say it is replaceable with any other citrus such as lime or orange. Curry leaves are easily available throughout Asia, and I actually grow these at home. They are a hardy plant that grows quick.
You can grab curry leaves online, or visit your Asian grocer. Indian grocers would definitely have them. Fresh ones are best for this, but if you can only find dried curry leaves you can use them too.
Curry leaves are not replaceable with any other herb in terms of flavour. However, I know that some people have used basil leaves in place of curry leaves for this recipe, and had delicious results. The ultimate flavour will not be the same as what you get in restaurants, but it will be delicious nonetheless.
Thai bird’s eye chillies are also a must! I have about 2 stalks here, chopped up, adjust according to your spice tolerance. These can be replaced with regular chillies if you really cannot find these. If you don’t do spice at all, then just omit this.
What about garlic? You can include minced garlic, but I rarely do for Cereal Prawns. Some restaurants would include it, others do not.
Watch how to make Cereal Prawns:
More Recipes Like This:
- Kung Pao Chicken (improved recipe!)
- Salted Egg Yolk Calamari
- Sweet & Sour Shrimp (with puffy, crispy coating!)
- Singapore Chilli Crab
Singapore Cereal PrawnsCourse: Recipes
500 grams Prawns, de-shelled, peeled and de-veined
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Ground White Pepper
2 tbsps Corn Flour
1/4 cup Cooking Oil, for frying
- Cereal Mix
60 grams Nestum Instant Cereal
1 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Ground White Pepper
- Everything Else
2 cloves Garlic (optional)
1 stalk or 20 grams Curry Leaves
2 Bird’s Eye Chillies
1 tbsp Cooking Oil (use remaining oil from pan frying the battered prawns)
- Combine ingredients for the instant cereal mix and keep to one side.
- Stir together the ingredients for the prawn coating (except for the oil) to create a batter. Add the prawns to coat evenly. If needed, gradually add cornstarch until prawns are coated. Batter should be thick, but able to slowly drip off prawns.
- To a pan, add enough oil to cook the prawns. Heat to a medium, and once oil is hot, add the battered prawns. Work in batches to not overcrowd the pan. Once the bottom of the prawns turn bright orange, and batter is cooked, turn over to the other side and let it finish cooking. Take it off the pan, and keep to one side. Turn off the heat.
- Using the same pan, remove the residual oil, until about a tablespoon is left.
- Turn the heat back on to low to medium, and once hot, add butter. Stir, allowing the butter to melt and bubble. Option to add garlic.
- Add in the curry leaves and stir fry. Once fragrant, add the bird’s eye chillies.
- Add the instant cereal mix, and stir fry. The cereal will start absorbing the butter. The cereal should turn into a toasty, golden shade. Continue stirring the cereal until all of the cereal is a uniform golden colour.
- Add back the prawns, and stir through. The cereal will start to stick on to the prawns. Cereal prawns are done and ready to serve!