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All you need to know about Peranakan Culture in Singapore: Katong / Joo Chiat


Katong Joo Chiat
Photo Credit: Time Out

Known among the locals for being one of the top destinations for the best food and Instagram worthy OOTDs location in Singapore, Katong Joo Chiat is located at the eastern part of Singapore and is also known as the Peranakan enclave.


Part of District 15 with tons of heritage landmarks dating back to before World War II, Katong and Joo Chiat are 2 different areas that are often combined into one as they are “virtually interchangeable”.


Katong (also known as Tanjong Katong) is a residential neighbourhood, meaning “turtle point” in Malay. It was named after “Katong”, a species of sea turtles that are now extinct.


Joo Chiat is an arterial road and residential conservation area that was named after Chew Joo Chiat, a famous Peranakan businessman and philanthropist that owned most of the land in the Joo Chiat and Katong districts.


Read on to find out more about this Peranakan enclave, its history, and the recommended places to visit!


History


Katong

Katong in the past
Photo Credit: Katong Guide

With history as far back as 1822, Raffles set aside the stretch between Sandy Point and Deep Water Point as a Marine Yard, providing compensation to the Chinese settlers that moved out, which led to the area being a thriving boatyard by 1860.


Katong used to be known for its boathouses and beachside retreats, with buildings such as hotels, mansions and recreation clubs owned by wealthy Peranakans, Europeans, and Jews. Many roads in the area were also named after English seaside towns, such as the Boscombe road.


During the Japanese occupation that lasted from 1942 to 1945, the shophouses that spanned the area were used to house women from Korea and Indonesia that were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military, otherwise known as “comfort women”. Today, these shophouses host coffeeshops and retail shops that reminds people of the past through its architecture.


Joo Chiat

Joo Chiat
Photo Credit: Street Directory

Formerly known as the Confederate Estate Road, by 1917, it was renamed to Joo Chiat Road after the act of Chew Joo Chiat handing over the coconut plantation land that he owned to the authority, with no compensation needed, in order to improve the area with road infrastructure. However, this renaming was not done without any opposition from the residents of the area, with them writing into the press.


The colourful row of shophouses is located at Koong Seng Road, which was named after Cheong Koon Seng, a wealthy first-generation Straits-born merchant and well-known real estate agent hailing from Malacca. He was also initially one of the first 13 students of Anglo-Chinese School.


Present


Today, Katong / Joo Chiat is known for their food choices and is famous for their Katong Laksa, colourful shophouses, a mix of old and new stores and for being one of the first heritage towns in Singapore.


Though Joo Chiat doesn’t have its own MRT station, the area is still quite accessible through public transport.


Nearest MRT Stations:

  • Eunos (East-West Line)

    1. Bus: Look for Exit B at the MRT station and head to the bus interchange, take bus 154 or 76 and alight at Joo Chiat Complex (2 stops away).

Est arrival time: 10 mins

  1. Walk: Take Exit A and head west. Walk along Sims Ave, turn right towards Changi Rd and walk along it before taking a right towards Joo Chiat Rd and take the overhead bridge to arrive at Joo Chiat Complex.

Est arrival time: 12 mins

  • Paya Lebar (East-West Line / Circle Line)

    1. Bus: Look for Exit B at the MRT station and take bus 154, 155, 24, 28 or 76 and alight at Blk 416. Walk for about 320 meters before arriving at Joo Chiat Complex.

Est. arrival time: 10 mins

  1. Walk: Look for Exit D at the MRT station and head east. Walk along Eunos Rd, turn left onto Sims Ave before turning right at Geylang Serai. Walk along it until Joo Chiat Rd and turn left to arrive at Joo Chiat Complex.

Est. arrival time: 12 mins


What to Visit or Do at Katong / Joo Chiat


Food


328 Katong Laksa

328 Katong Laksa
Photo Credit: Eat Diary By Rach

An iconic local dish, Singapore’s Katong laksa is a dish that both locals and tourists alike can enjoy. Defined by the thick white vermicelli, its hot and spicy yet rich coconut laksa broth, it is a highly recommended dish to try if you are in the area.


History of dish

Beginning in the 1940s, the Katong laksa began with Ng Juat Swee selling his family heirloom’s curry laksa around the area as a street hawker. It was the only laksa sold in Katong back then, thus resulting in the name, Katong laksa. In 1950, Ng Juat Swee and his brother, Ng Chwee Seng opened their first laksa stall at Hock Tong Hin coffee shop, located at 49 East Coast Road.


328 Katong Laksa
Photo Credit: 328 Katong Laksa

About 328 Katong Laksa

Ms Nancy Koh, the founder and owner of the stall, used to work for Ng Chwee Seng at their first laksa stall. Due to an increase in rent, she would then take over the stall after the original owners left, selling her own version of the Katong laksa that took her 6 months of trial and error to perfect.


Ms Nancy moved to the current location after the landlord decided to further increase the rent in 1998. Fame only hit in 2013 after she won a cook-off with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay for a Hawker Hero challenge, competing to make a better bowl of laksa. From then on, multiple celebrities around Asia such as the internationally recognized Hong Kong actor, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, flew here to try the newly famed Katong laksa.


Aside from the well-known Katong laksa, dim sum and otah are also sold. A small bowl of Laksa would cost $5.50 and can be upgraded to a larger bowl with an additional $2. 328 Katong laksa also has 3 other branches located at United Square Shopping Centre, Queensway Shopping Centre and Westgate.


Address: 51 East Coast Road, S4289770

Opening Hours: Daily, 9:30 am to 9:30 pm



Petit Pain Bakery

Petit Pain Bakery
Photo Credit: The Ordinary Patrons

Known for having one of the best croissants in Singapore, Petit Pain is a small batch bakery run by Mark and Regina.


With their bread baked from scratch, they use quality ingredients and a long fermentation period of about 18 - 24 hours to deliver fresh, quality bread that is free of improvers, preservatives, and additives. Despite the great effort needed to bake the bread, it is of affordable pricing as they aim to reach out to the local community while upholding their quality and the tradition.


Their bakes range from $2.70 - $7, with their classic croissant priced at $3.20. As their bread are backed in small batches, prioritising quality over quantity, several of their products would be sold out before 2pm.


One thing to note would be that walk-in patrons are limited to 8 viennioseries (breakfast pastries that are typically made with yeast-leavened dough) and 3 loaves due to the limited quantity. There are also 3 batch timings, allowing customers to grab their picks before it gets sold out.


Address: 315 Joo Chiat Road S427566

Opening Hours:

Wed – Fri: 11am till SOLD OUT (usually 5pm)

Sat & Sun: 10am till SOLD OUT (usually 4pm)

Three batches daily timing: Opening Time, ~12pm-12:30pm, ~2pm-2:30pm


*There may be special hours that needs to be referred to on their monthly calendar on their official website, Instagram or Facebook.



Awfully Chocolate Bakery & Café

Awfully Chocolate Bakery & Cafe
Photo Credit: Daniel Food Diary

Being the one and only flagship store, this is Awfully Chocolate’s first bakery & café. Awfully Chocolate, a local brand, has expanded from their one small shop in Katong to having multiple outlets across the country and overseas.


History

In 1998, fancy French pastries dominated the scene and Lyn Lee, the founder, wanted to bring back cake and its relevance but threw an Awfully Chocolate spin on it, making it chocolate. The reason for her choice of chocolate was because she could not find the ultimate chocolate cake.


Their first store sold nothing but their one simple and round six-inch dark chocolate cake that has dark chocolate fudge between, known as the “All-Chocolate Cake”.


Awfully Chocolate Bakery & Cafe
Photo Credit: Awfully Chocolate

About

All their products are handmade daily, from scratch, even with the wide variety that they offer. Ensuring a premium quality, both the taste and visuals have to be good and are thus handmade using eco-friendly practices. Each outlet also has its own unique characteristics and is a sustainable space that showcases its space and simple design.


Their extensive menu has reasonably priced options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ranging from mains priced $16 to course meals worth $28. The café also offers scrumptious brunch plates and a specially curated menu for 2: The Bakery Club Brunch.


Address: 131 East Coast Rd, Singapore 428816

Opening Hours:

Mon – Thurs: 8am – 10pm

Fri – Sat: 8am - Late

Sun: 8am – 10pm


Kim Choo Kueh Chang

Kim Choo Kueh Chang
Photo Credit: Trip Advisor

Famous for its Nyonya Rice Dumpling, a variety of other dumplings are also sold and handcrafted here. Since 1945, Madam Lee Kim Choo has been making and selling these triangular rice dumplings daily, using their freshest ingredients, leading to multiple people becoming a fan of its rich taste and becoming loyal patrons. Madam Lee Kim Choo has been preserving the traditions of how they make their rice dumplings and seeks to revitalise the Peranakan heritage. She is so well-known that her name is also highly associated with Peranakan culture and her Nyonya rice dumplings.


The art of the dumpling making, and recipes are now being preserved by Kim Choo Kueh Chang’s third generation, mostly those that would regard Madam Lee Kim Choo as their grandma. Due to their immense popularity among both locals and foreigners, they also manage a Singapore Visitor Centre for Katong / Joo Chiat. In addition to their famed rice dumplings, Nyonya pastries and kuehs, Peranakan porcelains and souvenirs are also sold at their store .


One thing to note is that Kim Choo Kueh Chang is often mistaken for being related to Joo Chiat Kim Choo Traditional Rice Dumplings and selling instant packed rice dumplings under the brand of Kim Choo Kid. These are false and their only mode of sales are through their online store and 4 outlets (Joo Chiat, East Coast, Century Square and Bukit Merah).


Address: 60 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427784

Opening Hours: Daily, 9am – 9pm


Micro Bakery & Kitchen - Red House

redhouse bakery
Photo Credit: micro bakery & kitchen

Known for its sourdough breads, Micro Bakery & Kitchen is a small batch bakery that uses sustainable whole grain flour for their daily bakes. With the iconic red exterior, this building is one of Singapore’s most conserved heritage buildings.


History

Initially built as a private residence with a bakery in 1925, it was once famous for its Swiss rolls and curry puffs. During the 1960s, the red two-storey shophouse was also a hot spot for local bands to hang out at while being a space for casual matchmaking meetings. This shophouse ceased operations in 2003 but later reopened in 2016 as a heritage gallery and bakery.


About Micro Bakery & Kitchen

Their very first shop is located at Serene Centre, serving customers with their small batch of fresh food and coffee. They then expanded to the Red House after an increase in customer demand, especially with the Red House’s heritage as the go-to bakery in Katong.


The Red House shop offers a bigger space and larger variety of bakes and cakes, especially with the inclusion of a chiller, allowing the shop to store chilled desserts.


The brownies ($5 - $6 each) are a must-try and come in different flavours, with options even for vegans. Their menu typically offers breakfast items, with their food ranging from $7.50 - $25.


Address: 63 East Coast Road, #01-06, S428776

Opening Hours:

Wed - Fri: 8:30am to 4pm

Sat - Sun: 8:30am to 5pm

- kitchen’s last order (weekday & weekends): 3:30pm

- coffee’s last order (weekday): 3:30pm

- coffee’s last order (weekend): 5.00pm


Guan Hoe Soon

Guan Hoe Soon
Photo Credit: The Ordinary Patrons

Known as Singapore’s oldest Nyonya restaurant, Guan Hoe Soon was one of Lee Kuan Yew’s favourite place to dine at.


History

Since 1953, this restaurant has been serving authentic Peranakan cuisine at Joo Chiat. Yap Chee Quee, the founder of Guan Hoe Soon, is actually of Hainanese descent and the restaurant was named after Yap’s 3 sons (Know Guan, Know Hoe and Know Soon).


When Yap Chee Quee came to Singapore from Hainan Island, he started working for Chew Joo Chiat’s family and that was where he learned how to cook Peranakan cuisine. Currently run by the third generation of the family, the restaurant is now managed by Jenny Yap and her husband.


About the food

The most popular dish, the Ayam Buah Keluak, is a must-order dish for Peranakan cuisine. The dish basically consists of chunky pieces of chicken cooked in rempah (a spicy sauce) together with buah keluak (black nuts) that are stuffed with blended minced pork, fish and the pulp of the buah keluak. The rempah at Guan Hoe Soon tastes mild, with a savoury sweet and spicy taste.


Other dishes include (but not limited to) the Nyonya chap chye (cabbage), otak otak (fish cake mixed with spices and wrapped in a leaf parcel), udang sambal (spicy shrimp dish) and itek tim (Nyonya duck soup). Their full menu can be viewed here .


Address: 200 Joo Chiat Road, #01-01, S427471

Opening Hours: Daily, 11am – 3pm, 6pm – 9pm (closes at 9:30pm on weekends)


Five Star Kampung Chicken Rice

Five Star Kampung Chicken Rice
Photo Credit: Five Star Kampung Chicken Rice Facebook

Unlike other chicken rice stalls, five star restaurant’s chicken rice uses kampung chicken that are less in fat and rich in flavour, uses less oil and cooked in the traditional Hainanese style. Their rice and sauces are also made in-house with recipes that was perfected over decades.


Aside from the signature chicken rice, five star restaurant also offers other dishes such as yang zhou fried rice, braised pork belly, black pepper crab and hor fun (wide rice noodle). The menu can be viewed here.


Their other locations include Cheong Chin Nam Road (opposite beauty world) and river valley (nearest to orchard), with different opening hours for each location.


Address: 191 East Coast Road, Singapore 428897

Opening Hours: Daily, 10am to 2am


Shops


Cat Socrates

Cat Socrates
Photo Credit: Visit Singapore

An indie retail shop founded in 2008, Cat Socrates provides local designers and makers with a platform to sell their work while constantly discovering new foreign brands and designers that want to sell their products in Singapore.


Their products range consists of books, home décor, garden accessories, bags, and local souvenirs. Bulk and wholesale purchases can be enquired, and logo customization will be offered should the enquiry meet their quantity requirements. Aside from the physical store, their online store also offers a variety of items that you may possibly need or want.


One thing you can look forward to are the cat shopkeepers that can be found at each location. Zoo-Zoo is the meownager of the Joo Chiat store and was previously from the Cat Museum before Cat Socrates.


Address: 448 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427661

Opening Hours:

Mon: 11am – 6pm

Tues – Sat: 11am – 8pm

Sun & Public Holidays: 11am – 7pm


The AC

The Attaby Collective
Photo Credit: TheAC Facebook

The Attaby Collective, better known as The AC, is a multi-label lifestyle boutique with over 40 local indie brands. The store first opened at Joo Chiat in 2017 with 8 brands and continued to grow till present day.


Their products can be sorted into 5 different categories: fashion, home décor, kids, beauty & wellness, and pantry (food and drinks), with the price ranging from $2.50 (hairclips) - $1,298 (basin). Their brand collections are always changing so you can always look forward to your next visit to the store, be it online or in-store.


Address: 420 Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore 427641

Opening Hours:

Mon – Sat: 10am – 6pm

Sun & Public Holidays: 12pm – 5pm


Rumah Bebe

Rumah Bebe
Photo Credit: Rumah Bebe Facebook

Home to everything Peranakan, Rumah Bebe is a heritage boutique shop, museum gallery and in-house bake-cook shop that offers beading classes, tours, and traditional Peranakan wedding services.


History

In 1995, Bebe Seet, a Nyonya, was motivated to learn about the art of Peranakan beading slippers after failing to get her hands on one. This artform was initially passed down generationally, from mothers to daughters however after the second world war, beading became a dying craft as no one was interested in it anymore.


Bebe learnt the basic skills and techniques from her friend’s mother and gained the rest of the knowledge on her own through research. After learning about it herself, she decided to share the joy with other passionate people through beading classes. These beading classes would then become famous in 1999, which led to her setting up a boutique in Katong to hold the classes at. The current location was chosen 4 years later, after she moved from the initial Katong location to a bigger one in the same area.


Rumah Bebe Beading Classes
Photo Credit: Rumah Bebe

Current

Beading classes are usually 2 lessons that are two hours long. There are 4 types of classes to choose from: Peranakan beading for shoes, Peranakan bead-weaving, beading on velvet and 3D relief beading.


The tours are private and are strictly only for adults, requiring an advance booking. This guided in-house tour would allow the visitors to learn about the history of the shophouse and Peranakan traditions in both the past and present.


The boutique would feature traditional arts and Peranakan fashion. Products such as batik, porcelain and beaded products can be bought.


Nyonya Nosh is the in-house bake-cook shop that sells home-made Peranakan dishes prepared in the traditional way, from scratch. There is not fixed menu but instead they have daily menus (that can also be catered) and weekend signature eat-in menus. Examples of the dishes that they cook can be seen as images here.


Address: 113 East Coast Road Singapore 428803

Opening Hours: Tues – Sun: 9:30am – 6:30pm


A Vintage Tale

A Vintage Tale
Photo Credit: A Vintage Tale

With iconic designer pieces from the 50’s to 90’s, A Vintage Tale offers a wide selection of representative models with unique printing/patterns or even hard to source fabric. Aside from the designer archives, their boutique also includes ready-to-wear vintage items from the 60’s to 80’s, jewellery & accessories from the 40’s to 80’s and a collection of fancy bags. Their store features local vintage furniture hand-picked by the pair as well.


Beginnings

Founded by partners Azzurra La Mantia and Jasmine De Brauwer, this is the pair’s first physical boutique since the store used to solely online. Before the boutique, they participated in different events and vintage fairs. Before opening the boutique, Azzurra was from Italy, working in Milan while Jasmine had already been living in Singapore for 12 years but was originally from Belgium’s Antwerp.


About the products and store

Their goods are mainly sourced from Belgium and Italy but often sourced from other European Countries and the United States. The vintage products typically range from $45 (bag) and $75 - $300 for clothing.


A first for Southeast Asia, a unique concept their store has is the Kilo Vintage, which was even featured on the New York Times. The idea is to buy unique pieces for a cheap price and the collection is updated with new items every month. Pick anything from their kilo vintage selection for $100 / kilo and there is no minimum spend.


Address: 277 Joo Chiat Rd, #01-01, Singapore 427531

Opening Hours: Tues – Sun: 11:30am – 6:30pm


Places to Visit


The Intan

The Intan
Photo Credit: TGH Photography and Travel Portal/Blog

A Peranakan home museum, it features items and artifacts that the collector, Alvin thought represented the Peranakan culture. Nostalgic objects such as tingkats (enamel food containers) can be found displayed in the house.


These things that Alvin has kept and treasured over the years are now displayed at his private modern home, which is now a heritage space that can accommodate up to 40 guests and is able to host events such as photoshoots, weddings & private, celebrations & anniversaries. The collection that he has are acquired from multiple locations including Singapore, and as far as England.


Alvin’s home is an award-winning home museum and is also Singapore’s smallest museum. Offering on-site tours, virtual tours, and masterclasses, gain insight on the Peranakan culture and listen to the stories told regarding the collection. Merchandise are launched under the new Raffles x The Intan Atelier Collaboration and can also be purchased as a souvenir at their shop.


Do note that all visits are strictly by appointments only and can be booked here.


Address: 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore 427231

Opening Hours: Daily, 7am – 10pm


Murals

A History of Healing Mural at Katong Joo Chiat
Photo Credit: The Wacky Duo

Murals and street art may remind you of places like Chinatown but apart from the shops and food available at this Peranakan enclave, certain backstreets and alleys are decorated with art and murals by various artists.


Katong Joo Chiat Art Circuit
Photo Credit: The Admin

Most of these murals and street art can be seen on Katong Joo Chiat Art Circuit which also leads you to walk past certain shops and landmarks that are also included in this blog.


List of Murals


Part of Katong Joo Chiat Art Circuit

  • History of Healing by Tell Your Children

  • Medley Alley by Nicia Lam, Yullis Lam, Novena Angela and Valerie Neo

  • Style Wars by Ernest Zacharevic

  • High Tide by Helene Le Chatelier

  • Dumpling Girl by Dyn

  • Turtle Cape by Ink and Clog

  • Kway Guan Huat Popiah by Jaxton Su

  • Rumah Bebe (Dancing Peranakans)

Others

  • The Pheonix by Boon

Address: 321 Joo Chiat Road, S427572

  • Jalan Jalan by Jaba

Address: 359 Joo Chiat Road, S427604 (side of Astons Specialities)

  • The Ferryman by Ink and Clog

Address: 333 Joo Chiat Road, S427588 (side of Braseiro)

  • Home Grown by Ink and Clog

Address: 1 Joo Chiat Road, S420001 (Joo Chiat Complex, next to Joo Chiat Food Court)

  • Moonchild by Anacathie and Freakyfir (Studio Moonchild)

Address: 451 Joo Chiat Road, S427664 (Behind Katong Point)

  • Children and Cat by Alvin Mak

Address: 208 East Coast Road, S428907

  • Katong Antique House by Alvin Mak

Address: 208 East Coast Road, S428907 (Back of Katong Antique House)

  • Animals for Life by Oak & Bindi

Address: 330 Tanjong Katong Road, S437106

  • Sunbird by Alvin Mak

Address: 190 Tanjong Katong Road, S436992


Colourful Shophouses

Colourful shophouses at Katong Joo Chiat
Photo Credit: The Vanderlust

A famous OOTD spot, the pastel row of two and three-storey shophouses are all unique, with no one shophouse being the same as the other. With a blend of Asian and Eurasian architecture styles, these colourful shophouses are part of Katong Joo Chiat’s identity.


History

Built in the 1920s, the area was inhabited by the Peranakan Chinese from Malaysia.


However, gang / triad fights were a frequent occurrence as their hideouts were nearby, leading to many of the initial families moving out in the 1950s to relocate to safer residences. These fights however do not involve the public and were limited to the gangs / triads themselves.


In 1991, these shophouses were marked for conservation.


Note: If you spot any Chinese couplets, it is said that these motifs bring good luck!


Address: Koon Seng Road, Singapore 427008


Eurasian Heritage Gallery

Eurasian Community House
Photo Credit: Time Out

Launched in 2019, it was set up by President Halimah Yacob, with 3 different galleries introducing the visitors to the Eurasian community that has helped build the nation since the 1800s. Eurasians referred to those that were of mixed European and Asian lineage, with most local Eurasians having Portuguese, Dutch or British ancestry or Danish, French, German, Italian or Spanish descent while also having Chinese, Malay or Indian ancestry.


Though it is one of the smallest communities in Singapore, making up about only 0.5% of the total local population, it was also one of the earliest communities in Singapore and Katong was a place many of them called home. Though the Eurasian enclaves in Singapore are mostly at Queen Street and Waterloo Street, many relocated to Katong due to the seaside resorts and beaches.


About the gallery

The 3 different galleries (or zones) are titled Tracing Roots, which covered the origins of Eurasians and the Eurasian enclaves; Eurasians in the Spotlight, which talked about the prominent figures in the community; and Taste of Tradition, showing the customs, traditions, and achievements that the community abided by or got.


Address: 139 Ceylon Rd, The Eurasian Association, Singapore 429744

Opening Hours: Tues – Sun (including Public Holidays): 10am – 6pm


Carpmael Park

Carpmael Park Wallholla Playground
Photo Credit: Little Day Out

A small and quiet neighbourhood park in Joo Chiat, it features one of the 15 vertical playgrounds in Singapore.


The Wallholla Vertical Playground was made in 2005 by Carve, a Dutch company as a task to design a play area for climbing and play activities.


The playground at Joo Chiat includes a fireman’s pole for kids to slide down from, a rock-climbing wall and a rope bridge. It is only able to hold 30 kids at once.


Though it is a kid’s playground, it is also an Instagrammable spot that you can visit! Many fun shots can be tried out while also unleashing the kid in you.


Address: 166 Ceylon Rd, Singapore 429728


Conclusion


With these recommendations, I hope that you will be able to explore Katong / Joo Chiat, feast your senses while understanding more about its history as a Peranakan enclave and a trendy spot that features cafes, restaurants, murals, and indie stores.


If you would like to learn more about Singapore and its other enclaves, do check out our free walking guide!

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