Joo Chiat & Katong:
4 Great Ways to Discover Peranakan Culture in Singapore
As interest in Peranakan culture rises again, more and more people want to know where to go to learn more about it.
As it happens, there are several ways to do that in Singapore.
Here, we’ll take you on a tour of several amazing ways to explore this fascinating part of our heritage. We’ll even show you where else to go afterwards to get an even better picture of what the Peranakan identity truly is!
1. Visit the Peranakan Museum or National Museum of Singapore
Let’s start with the museums, because most people tend to go to those first when looking for more information about a culture.
There’s actually a Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street, which is a good place to start.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the museum was still closed for a major revamp to its facilities. Nevertheless, we’d strongly suggest keeping an eye on it to see when it will reopen to the public!
In the meantime, you can head to the National Museum of Singapore instead.
The museum covers Singapore’s history and heritage from the very beginning, so it has quite a few exhibits and presentations worth seeing for those curious about Peranakan tradition.
2. Indulge in Peranakan cuisine
Not going to lie: this is probably our favourite way to discover a culture!
Peranakan cuisine has had a definite effect on Singapore’s culinary traditions. In fact, you might not be aware of it, but a fair number of the classic Singaporean dishes you know and love are Peranakan.
Katong Laksa is a Peranakan dish, for example. Fragrant, warm, and rich with curry spice, this is one of the most iconic Peranakan dishes we know.
Rendang is another example. Hailing from West Sumatra, this spicy and aromatic dish is another local favourite that we get from our Peranakan roots.
There’s also Fish Head Curry, Nyonya Pie Tee, Babi Pongteh, Babi Keluak, just to name a couple more!
You can even visit Peranakan restaurants like Violet Oon to see as many Peranakan dishes as possible!
3. Try the kebaya and other Peranakan clothing
The kebaya is traditional Peranakan apparel for women and it’s actually pretty comfortable to wear.
It’s basically an embroidered blouse that you wear atop a camisole and sarong.
Ideally, you’d pair that with some classic Peranakan beaded shoes.
Peranakan beadwork is very intricate and can be very attractive, so it’s highly regarded even by modern fashionistas.
You can shop for things like shoes, bags, and accessories now with Peranakan beadwork, which is a great way to see the visual arts and crafts associated with the culture.
4. Watch a dondang sayang performance
It’s not uncommon for performance arts groups to do dondang sayang events nowadays.
If you don’t know what it is, it’s an art form that comes from the Peranakans. Basically, it blends poetry and music by using four-line verses known as “pantun”.
Most performances will feature two singers who will sing these verses to each other in a sort of dialogue, even seeming to compete with each other every now and then.
Their verses may be crafted to tease or even outdo each other in various ways, which makes dondang sayang very enjoyable to watch if you like good-natured competition.
It can involve myriad cultural references, which can be a delight if you’ve already learned enough about Peranakan culture to get the intertextuality of the verses you’re hearing.
What’s more, verses are often improvised spontaneously, which can make them even more difficult to do well - and thus, more impressive when done right.
Want to explore Peranakan culture further?
If this still isn’t enough to satisfy you, there are many other ways to learn more about the Peranakans and their traditions.
For instance, you can visit Joo Chiat & Katong, which many recognise to be a centre for Peranakan culture and conservation in Singapore.
Between its many Peranakan shops and the heritage shophouses, it’s a must-visit for enthusiasts.
If you’re interested in that, download our guide to the area! It lays out a clear and concise itinerary you can follow in order to do your own walking tour of that place.
Download our Joo Chiat & Katong Guide now!
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