by Felicia Chia
Ask any Singaporean where to go for the best choice of local food favourites and the East Coast’s Katong neighbourhood will often top the list. This historically Peranakan area doesn’t just offer good traditional cuisine however, it’s rapidly developing into one of Singapore’s more cosmopolitan eating destinations. Photos by Justin Eeles
Historically the Katong and Joo Chiat neighbourhoods, located in the south eastern part of Singapore, were residential areas favoured by both the wealthy straits Chinese and the Peranakan communities. The Peranakans are descendants of immigrants from China and India that married local Malay or Indonesian women and settled in Singapore during the 17th century, developing their own distinctive culture, customs and cuisine.
Much of this rich history can still be found in the architecture and cuisine of these colourful neighbourhoods, designated a national heritage conservation area by the Singapore Government. Walking the streets, visitors can admire the beautiful ornate shop-houses, adorned with hand-crafted colourful ceramic tiles and engraved statues of flowers, dragons and other animals. Many of these lovingly preserved houses have recently received a fresh coat of paint as the neighbourhood continues its cultural evolution with renewed vigour. Nowadays the legendary eateries that have attracted Singaporeans for decades sit side by side with a wealth of new creative cafes, restaurants and bars, injecting new energy into this fascinating part of the island.
Many of the businesses have been located off East Coast Road for generations and very little has changed in their appearance, which still holds true to the history of the area.
Madam Lee Kim Choo founded Kim Choo during the mid 1940s, selling her now famous traditional rice dumplings. Still sold today to the same recipe, these should not be missed – during the Dumpling Festival there are long lines of people waiting to get their dumpling fix. If the Nonya version doesn’t take your fancy, the traditional salty rice dumplings are also popular, as are a variety of other delicious homemade snacks like pineapple tarts, kueh lapis cake and ondeh ondeh. If you are looking for something less perishable to take home, visit the boutique gallery upstairs. Here you can pick up Peranakan treasures like porcelain crockery and hand-beaded slippers or even customise and purchase your own kebaya. Raymond Wong, Kim Choo’s in-house fashion designer, has been recognised internationally as one of Asia’s best Peranakan fashion designers, with his designs featured in fashion shows around the world.
Similar goodies can be found at Katong Antique House and Rumah Bebe. Both traditional Peranakan shop-houses, located further up East Coast Road, they are also dedicated to showcasing and preserving Peranakan traditions and culture.
Ask any local, and they will tell you that the Katong / Joo Chiat area is a foodie paradise. Other than the wide choice of Peranakan restaurants, the area is full of wonderful eating options, some of which have been around for decades. Start your day traditionally with kopi, egg tarts or kaya toast at Chin Mee Chin Confectionary – you might feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Then we would advise embarking on a food journey of the neighbourhood, sampling some of the many dishes that have made the area famous.
For lunch visit 328 Katong Laksa, an East Coast institution and certainly not to be missed. Katong laksa originated from this place and the dish has arguably made Katong famous across the island. The noodle soup has a perfect (and secret) blend of coconut, chilli and other fragrant ingredients. Even Gordon Ramsay on a recent visit to the eatery, couldn’t get enough of it.
If it’s chicken rice you are craving, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is the place to go. The Joo Chiat branch of the stall at Maxwell Food Centre offers the best Hainanese chicken rice in the area, whether you’re after the silken steamed or tender roasted variety. Celebrity chef and host Anthony Bourdain said that the rice here is so fragrant, it can be consumed on its own. I don’t deny it!
In the evenings you’ll see throngs of people at Sin Hoi Sai and for good reason. This restaurant offers great home-cooked local Chinese cuisine. For something a little different, try the Marmite chicken or the Guinness pork ribs. Equally busy is Long Phung on Joo Chiat Road, one of many Vietnamese restaurants catering to the Vietnamese community residents. The Pho is consistently good, but the lemongrass pork with rice noodles (Bo Bun Hue) or the spicy beef stew noodle soup (Hu Tieu Bo Kho) are the clear winners.
Further down Joo Chiat Road, the retro-inspired Sinpopo Brand successfully recreates the eateries of the 1970s – try the chicken curry or the Scissors Cut Rice before enjoying a bowl of traditional dessert like es kacang.
Beyond the old favourites, the food scene in Katong/Joo Chiat continues to evolve at pace, with the introduction of new cafes, bars and restaurants offering cuisine from around the world. Try Le Petit Paradis for classic home-cooked French food at a price that won’t break the bank, Full of Crab for shell-fish in a bag, bathed in a delicious Cajun style sauce or The Drinking Market for casual Thai bar bites. The trend for offering a choice of cuisines at one location is evident at Baa Baa Black Sheep on Katong Road and Lower East Side on East Coast Road, both recent openings. Here, Thai, Italian, Indian and western kitchens share a bar area, allowing guests to pick and choose. Similarly a traditional hawker stall the Ali Baba Eating House has transformed itself into AliBaBAR the Hawker Bar, ‘kopitiam by day, hawker bar by night’. Here burgers and pizzas are served alongside prawn noodles and hokkien mee, with over 70 craft beers available – certainly not your everyday coffee shop.
If you want to stay a little longer in the neighbourhood, there is a good choice of charismatic hotels on East Coast Road to choose from, all heavily influenced by the Peranakan theme. Try either the Santa Grand or Katong Village Hotel for a modern interpretation or Le Peranaken Hotel for something a little more rustic. Alternatively try Rabbit Carrot Gun for stylish bed and breakfast accommodation in a converted shophouse.
It’s this dynamic blend of historical charm and modern creativity that makes this part of Singapore a must-visit for those looking to explore the city’s diverse cultural identity. Bon appetite!
Peranakan food is a unique cuisine in its own right, although many describe it as the perfect marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisine. Local herbs and spices and fragrant ingredients such as coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass, candlenut and belachan (shrimp paste), are often used in Peranakan dishes, giving it a distinct aromatic and spicy kick.
Some of the best Peranakan restaurants in Joo Chiat/Katong include
• Immigrants Gastropub
Eurasian-Peranakan food served tapas style in a retro-modern setting. The old-school metal dishes give that warm feeling of nostalgia. A visit just to try the different types of chilli on offer here is worth it. The full bar, with a comprehensive offering of whiskies is also not a bad reason to visit too; Happy Hour starts from 5pm and ends at 9pm.
Address: 467 Joo Chiat Rd. Singapore, 427678 Singapore
Phone: +65 8511 7322
Opening Hours: 5pm to midnight (daily)
Located in the Santa Grand Hotel, this restaurant serves up all the Peranakan favourites, family style. The ayam buah keluak here often gets rave reviews.
Address: 171 East Coast Road #01-02/03, Santa Grand Hotel East Coast, Singapore 428877
Phone: +65 6346 4202
Opening Hours: 7am to 10:30am, 11:30am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm (closed on Mondays)
• Peranakan Inn
Located in a beautiful old shop-house, you might walk past without knowing you missed it. Food-wise, Peranakan Inn focuses on doing what it does best, serving up tasty and delicious dishes without frills or fuss.
Address: 210 East Coast Road, Singapore
Phone: +65 6440 6195
Opening Hours: 11am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm (daily)
• Casa Bom Vento
Casa Bom Vento is Singapore’s only Halal-certified Eurasian Peranakan Restaurant, serving up good value and quality Peranakan dishes.
Address: 477 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427683
Phone: +65 6440 0196
Opening Hours: 11:30am to 3pm, 5:30pm – 9:30pm (closed on Mondays)
peranakan cuisine outside joo chiat/katong
• Violet Oon’s Kitchen
Violet Oon’s Kitchen is a family-owned and operated bistro, serving up top quality Nonya cuisine with fine ingredients. This Singapore gem is run by true-blue Singaporean Violet Oon, who has a famed reputation as chef, food connoisseur and food ambassador.
Address: 881 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 279893
Phone: +65 6468 5430
Opening Hours: 11:30am to 10pm
(Tuesdays to Thursdays), 11:30am
to 11pm (Friday), 10:30am to 11pm
(Saturday and public holidays),
10:30pm to 10pm (Sunday)
(closed on Mondays)
• Blue Ginger
An oldie but a goodie, this restaurant is a sure-fire bet to get a delicious rendition of Peranakan classics.
Address: 97 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088518
Phone: 6222 3928
Opening Hours: 12pm to 2:30pm, 6:30pm to 10pm (daily)
This institution is located in a beautiful grand black and white colonial style building on Scotts Road, just off Orchard Road. Enjoy fragrant dishes executed with finesse in the charming and elegant dining room.
Address: 35/35A Scotts Road, Singapore
Phone: +65 6733 2656
Opening Hours: 12pm to 3pm, 6pm to 11:30pm (daily)
If you’re looking for a place that serves up Nonya dishes with a contemporary twist, try Candlenut. Buah keluak ice-cream anyone?
Address: 331 New Bridge Rd, #01-03 Dorsett Residences, Singapore 088764
Phone: +65 8121 4107
Opening Hours: 12pm to 2:30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 6pm to 10pm (Mondays to Saturdays) (closed on Sundays and public holidays).
• Chin Mee Chin Confectionary
Address: 204 East Coast Road, Singapore
Phone: +65 6345 0419
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 4pm (closed on Mondays)
• 328 Katong Laksa
Address: 51/53 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770
Phone: +65 9732 8163
Opening Hours: 8am to 10pm (daily)
• Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Address: 443 Joo Chiat Road,
Phone: +65 6345 9443
Opening Hours: 10:30am to 10pm
(closed on Mondays)
• Sin Hoi Sai
Address: 187 East Coast Road,
Phone: +65 6440 6956
Opening Hours: 5pm to 4am (daily)
• Long Phung
Address: 159 Joo Chiat Road,
Phone: +65 9105 8519
Opening Hours: 1pm to 2am (daily)
• Sinpopo Brand
Address: 458 Joo Chiat Road,
Phone: +65 6345 5034
Opening Hours: 12pm to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 12pm to 12am (Friday, Saturday and public holidays)
• Le Petit Paradis – Classic French food at a price that won’t break the bank.
Address: 95 East Coast Road
Phone: +65 6447 0710
Opening Hours: 12pm to 2:30pm, 6pm to 10pm (Monday to Friday), 12pm to 10pm (Saturday and Sunday)
• Full of Crab
Address: 195 East Coast Road,
Phone: +65 6348 8195
Opening Hours: 4pm to 10pm (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), 4pm to 10:30pm (Friday), 11:30am to 10:30pm (Saturday and Sunday), (closed Tuesday)
• The Drinking Market
Address: 226 East Coast Road, Singapore
Phone: +65 6440 8939
Opening Hours: 11:30am to 10pm (daily)
• AliBaBAR the Hawker Bar
Address: 125 East Coast Road,
Phone: +65 6440 6147
Opening Hours: 8am to 11:30pm (Sunday to Thursday), 8am to 1:30am (Friday and Saturday)
where to stay
Katong Village Hotel
Address: 25 Marine Parade,
Phone: +65 6344 2200
Santa Grand Hotel East Coast
Address: 171 East Coast Rd,
Phone: +65 6344 6866
Le Peranakan Hotel
Address: 400 East Coast Road,
Phone: +65 6665 5511
Rabbit Carrot Gun
Address: 49 East Coast Road,
Phone: +65 6348 8568
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