For the most important meal of the day, head to Komala Vilas. They have been serving traditional South Indian fare since they opened in 1947 and regulars will argue that their crisp paper dosai, deliciously rich ghee (clarified butter) dosai and fluffy, soft idlis (steamed rice cakes) are the best on the island. All are served with a hearty sambhar (lentil curry) and coconut and tomato chutneys. Be prepared to queue up for a seat at this busy breakfast spot.
Komala Vilas, 76-78 Serangoon Road, tel: 6293 6980, komalavilas.com.sg
With breakfast taken care of, a poke around in the stores on nearby Campbell Lane will yield many surprises. The largest (two floors) among them, Jothi Stores, is a treasure trove of Indian prayer items in brass and silver. You could also score colourful diyas (tea candles), traditional Indian wall adornments, bangles, hair accessories and bindis (forehead jewellery). The rest of Campbell Lane, which is a pedestrian-only walkway, is dotted with stores that sell everything from overpriced pashmina shawls to well-priced sandalwood prayer altars. There is even a vegetable vendor that sells plump, fresh produce imported from India.
Jothi Stores, 1 Campbell Lane, tel: 6338 7008, jothi.com.sg
The shiny, new structure on colourful Campbell Lane is the four-storey Indian Heritage Centre (IHC). A good pit stop for those visiting the area, this offers visitors the chance to peruse five thematic galleries that tell the story and history of the Indian community in Singapore and South East Asia via ancient relics, stories about migration and more. Check out their website for events and exhibitions – you could time your visit to catch a dance recital or cooking demonstration. Overseas visitors need to pay an entry fee of $4.
Little India Heritage Centre, 5 Campbell Lane, tel: 6291 1601, indianheritage.org.sg
A few lanes over, Dunlop Street is the epicentre of Little India’s backpacker district. Hostels and inns are plenty, as are hip cafes and eateries catering to the crowds they bring. Amidst all this sits the achingly old-school Bismillah Biryani. The Pakistan-born owners watch over the hipster-ification of the street with bemused expressions, while beckoning you in for a plate of their authentic ‘dum cooked’ goat biryani. Tender fall-of-the-bone meat, that has been slow cooked with the rice, results in an all-round aromatic dish. No additional curries and gravies are needed to savour this, the accompanying raita (yoghurt dip) is enough.
Bismillah Biryani, 50 Dunlop Street, tel: 9382 7937
Settle down with a cup of coffee at the hip cafe ROUSE. The decor is on-trend, industrial chic, and the service is warm and welcoming. If you are tired from roaming the nearby streets, ROUSE has several caffeine-laced choices for a pick-me-up. Cappuccinos with latte art, iced lattes and even organic, bottled sodas will hit the spot.
ROUSE, 36 Dunlop Street, tel: 6292 2642
DRINKS, TAPAS & ENTERTAINMENT
If you choose to hang around Dunlop Street, by evening you will see it come alive with the backpacker crowd and the bars that host live performances, quiz nights, open mic nights and more. Regulars flock to spots like the Prince of Wales pub, where bands like ‘A Boy Named Sue’ play in the beer garden and drinks are cheap (by Singapore’s standards).
Across the road is Zsofi’s, with a breezy spot on the rooftop to settle down with a drink – each drink order gets you a free portion of tapas so if you drink enough, you will not go hungry!
On the second day I’d recommend exploring a different part of Little India, with Syed Alwi Street a good spot to begin. A breakfast of steaming hot idlis at Murugan Idli Shop, a popular chain of South Indian ‘tiffin’ eateries from Chennai, will fill you right up. Slopped onto a banana leaf are four kinds of chutneys (sauces or condiments) made with coconut, tomato, mint leaves and lentils, and a bowl of sambhar (lentil curry). These accompaniments are meant to be eaten with everything you order, and we recommend you try the idli (steamed rice cake), vada (twice-fried lentil doughnuts) and ghee pongal (rice and lentil porridge flavoured with clarified butter).
Murugan Idli Shop, 81 Syed Alwi Road, tel: 6298 0858, muruganidlishop.com
A hearty breakfast will arm you with all the energy you need to roam the labyrinth of buildings, floors and aisles of the 24-hour shopping centre, Mustafa Centre. Busy with shoppers at anytime of the day (or night), Mustafa is where you go for bargain electronic items, gold and silver jewellery, touristy knick knacks, kitchen and household items, clothes, shoes, groceries, sundry items and a very well stocked pharmacy. You could spend not only many hours browsing this huge shop but several hundred dollars too if you are not careful.
Mustafa Centre, 145 Syed Alwi Road, tel: 62955855
The wildly popular eatery Mustard serves both Bengali and Punjabi cuisine and we recommend you experiment with their lesser known dishes from the East Indian state of Bengal. Expect robust spices flavoured with smoky mustard oil. Make sure to try the Maacher Paturi – boneless marinated fish fillets pan-grilled within a banana leaf. Also good is the Chingri Maacher Malai Curry, prawns in coconut cream flavoured with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
Mustard, 32 Race Course Road, tel: 6297 8422, mustardsingapore.com
To work off a heavy meal, walk over to Serangoon Road’s Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. Admire the grand architecture and colourful temple carvings (these depict the different incarnations of Lord Vishnu) of this national monument. Visitors can also walk in to experience the rites and rituals taking place. A few doors down you can also visit the smaller Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple. If you time it right, you may get to participate in the evening prayers (6pm). Do dress modestly and remember to remove any footwear before you step in.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, 397 Serangoon Road, tel: 6298 5771
Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple, 555 Serangoon Rd, tel: 6293 5900
Back on Syed Alwi Road is Kailash Parbat, a vegetarian eatery that serves dishes popularised as ‘Mumbai street food’. Steer clear of the typical North Indian curries (although they have those on their menu) and order a Pav Bhaji (spiced potato and vegetable curry served with buttered buns) and the Chola Bhatura (chickpea curry served with fried, puffed bread).
Kailash Parbat, 93 Syed Alwi Road, Singapore, tel: 6836 5545, kailashparbat.com.sg
LATE-NIGHT BOLLYWOOD MOVIE
After 48-hours of walking the streets of Little India, entering a slick, air-conditioned mall may be a welcome respite. However the Little India experience does not have to end there. Make your way to level 5, where the Golden Village multiplex plays popular Bollywood movies. There is always a late night show, so settle down with some popcorn. For those who don’t understand the language – there are always subtitles!
Golden Village, City Square Mall, 180 Kitchener Road, tel: 6653 8100, gv.com.sg
With the recent explosion in the number of speakeasy cocktail