If you have just three days to spend in Singapore this October, make the Deepavali celebrations and Little India the cornerstone of your itinerary. The yearly festival – which falls on 24 October in 2022 – sees the neighbourhood light up with dazzling lights, serving as a backdrop for your jaunts through colourful shophouses and bustling marketplaces. Beyond Little India, there are also plenty of opportunities to explore the city’s other sights, including river safaris and temple visits. Here’s how to get the most of your three days in the Little Red Dot.
Day 1: Foodie hotspots
Given Singapore’s humid climate, it’s important for visitors to stay well-fed and hydrated. Start your morning at one of the island’s most beloved hawker centres, Maxwell Food Centre, which is located between Chinatown and the financial district.
Start the day like a local and order a spicy teh halia (black tea with evaporated milk and ginger) or a thirst-quenching cup of freshly squeezed sugarcane juice from the drink stalls. With such a packed itinerary, you’re going to want to fuel up with something substantial so opt for a piping hot and fiery red plate of mee goreng (fried noodles) from Maxwell Food Centre’s line of Indian-Muslim stalls. After a hearty breakfast, take a short stroll down Maxwell Road to the Singapore City Gallery at the URA Centre. A highlight of the recently upgraded gallery is the large model showing past, current and future developments on the island. You can also see the progress of the Little India enclave as it grew over the years.
To work up an appetite for lunch, take a stroll to the nearby Duxton Hill neighbourhood where you’ll come across Duxton Reserve. Housed within unified former 19th-century heritage shophouses, the hotel celebrates its Chinatown location through dramatic gold fans, Oriental screens and calligraphy wallpaper set against bold hues of black and gold. Practically next door, the delightfully kitschy Xiao Ya Tou offers a unique mod-Sin menu which highlights contemporary takes on classic Singaporean dishes like Hokkien mee and beef kway teow.
After lunch, pay a visit to the nearby Thian Hock Keng, the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore. Built in 1839 to honour a sea goddess, its location was once at the waterfront before land reclamation left it further inland. The temple is known for its traditional architecture and pavilions arranged around a central courtyard. Explore its interior before taking a short walk to Yixing Xuan Teahouse to sample and buy premium Chinese and Taiwanese teas.
Once you’ve explored the temple, it’s just a short walk to the charming Keong Saik Road where you’ll find Thevar, a modern Indian restaurant helmed by Penang-born chef Mano Thevar that clinched two Michelin stars in 2022. While the menu here remains anchored on traditional Indian flavours from the Malay Peninsula, the presentation is undeniably modern. For the full experience, spring for the chef’s tasting menu that starts at $288. Finally, round off the day with a night cap at Elephant Room which offers a range of intriguing cocktails inspired by India’s various states.
Day 2: Cultural immersion
The Hindu festival of Deepavali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Here, the kaleidoscopic event is marked by a public holiday (24 October 2022) and sees parts of the city festooned in pretty lights. After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, head to Tekka Centre at the bottom end of Little India. This pastel building with shops and a hawker centre also houses one of the city’s best wet markets and offers a dazzling array of Indian food at remarkable prices.
After this, head up Serangoon Road to Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, known for its colourful entrance gopuram (tower). The temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali, the destroyer of evil, chosen by early Indian settlers to help them feel safe in their new homeland.
Have lunch at the nearby Ananda Bhavan – also open 24 hours – which specialises in South Indian idli, dosa and appam. Alternatively, head to Mustard at Race Course Road where you can get a taste of authentic Bengali food. The restaurant also claims to be the first in Singapore specialising in the cuisine.
Walk off all that food at the Indian Heritage Centre. The angular four-storey glass and concrete structure examines the heritage of the Indian diaspora, tracing its origins and influences through a series of thematic galleries. Little India’s sole cinema showing Indian films – Rex Cinema – sadly closed a few years ago, but if you want to catch the latest Bollywood and South Indian blockbusters, you can take a quick cab ride to Carnival Cinemas in Shaw Tower or Golden Mile Tower.
After your flick, get a taxi back to Serangoon Road after dark to enjoy the festive lights strung above the 1.5km stretch of road (the lights will remain until 13 November 2022). If you visit on or before 24 October, browse the festive markets at Campbell Lane and Hastings Road and on Serangoon Road.
For dinner, take another short cab ride to ADDA, a modern Indian restaurant in Singapore with a menu that puts contemporary renditions of classic street food at the forefront. Standout dishes include the Bombay-vada pav sliders, potli samosas and the Singapore-Indian fusion dish charred laksa salmon.
Day 3: On the water
In this island nation, seas and rivers are inescapable, offering novel ways to take in the sights of the city. The morning presents you with two options, depending on the kind of adventure that floats your boat. Your first choice is to wake up leisurely and take a taxi to the River Safari, a wildlife park that focuses on river habitats and fauna and is home to 11,000 animals including 40 threatened species.
Alternatively, fuel up with coffee, pandan pancakes and more at the casual Tolido’s Espresso Nook. Suitably charged, head over to the Singapore Sports Hub water sports centre to rent a kayak and paddle around the Kallang Basin; certified kayakers can venture further down alongside Gardens by the Bay, affording views of the gardens’ glass domes and otherworldly Supertrees, with Marina Bay Sands and the business district beyond (everyone must bring photo identification for registration).
As a reward for your exertion (or exhaustion) hop on a cab and make for Yantra at Tanglin Mall. This contemporary Indian restaurant is led by chef Pinaki Ray as well as culinary historian Pritha Sen and boasts a menu that showcases niche ingredients from across Southeast Asia. In addition to well-executed classics like the Kerala fish fry and the murg ka sula (charcoal barbecued chicken), you’ll also find modern creations like the butter chicken kulcha (mild chicken curry stuffed in puffed tandoori bread).
After a hearty meal, make a return to Little India to do a little shopping and pick up some souvenirs. The stretch of Serangoon Road closest to Little India MRT is replete with saree and tailor shops that offer ready-to-wear items as well as custom-made Western-Indian suits. If you’re flummoxed by the options, Dakshaini Silks is a great place to start thanks to their helpful and knowledgeable staff.
Of course, no shopping trip in the neighbourhood is complete without a visit to its most famous 24-hour shopping destination: Mustafa Centre. If you’ve been inspired by the Indian cuisine you’ve tried so far, the department store’s spice section is one of the best places to stock up for culinary experimentation at home. In addition, you’ll find a wide variety of products including watches, fountain pens, electronics and sports equipment.
End your three-day adventure with dinner and drinks at Firangi Superstar, one of the city’s buzziest new restaurant openings (reservations are essential). Step in and it’s immediately apparent that it takes a maximalist approach to its cinematic portrayal of India. The restaurant features four themed spaces that invoke different facets of the country’s history.
The menu offers elevated takes on Indian classics like tandoori lamb, grilled snapper and even a vegetarian rogan josh made with jackfruit. After dinner, sink into the plush chairs at the “Officer’s Lounge” and sip on unique Indian-inflected cocktails like the Fenugreek Manhattan which is crafted with a spiced vermouth and ghee-infused cognac.
Feature image: Pete Burana/ Shutterstock.com
This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine