With its colourful shop houses, long-standing eateries doling out all manner of delicious cuisines and quirky retail boutiques, the Peranakan enclave of Katong in Singapore’s east offers a charming respite from the hubbub of downtown. Katong was once filled with rural villages and coconut plantations, stretching from the Geylang River all the way to Siglap Road, while also functioning as a weekend seaside retreat for the wealthy. Then, in the 1920s and 1930s, many Peranakan families in particular relocated here, infusing the neighbourhood with their cultural and culinary traditions. Katong was crowned the city-state’s first Heritage Town in 2011, in recognition of the community’s efforts to preserve its past.
Home to over 800 conserved buildings, including plenty of iconic, eye-catching shop houses, Katong is a must-visit for architecture and design buffs and Instagrammers alike. You can also soak up street art along East Coast Road; sample delicacies from laksa and kueh to artisanal bakes; and shop at the many indie stores that litter the streets. And if you feel the call of the sea, East Coast Park is just a short stroll away.
Comforting local dishes at Sinpopo Brand
Situated in a gorgeous shop house, this is where you can get your fill of gourmet local food in a beautiful setting. Founded as a tribute to the heritage area it’s located in, Sinpopo Brand specialises in traditional dishes that have stood the test of time. A must-try is the Nasi Lemak, the brand’s rendition of the classic coconut rice dish that includes prawn paste chicken wings, pork belly, sambal fishballs, rojak slaw and onion relish. Also recommended are the Muah Chee Salad (crispy, chewy glutinous rice cubes with frisée and romaine salad) and Gula Melaka Jelly. Do check out their holiday Christmas range, which offers 25 new gifting ideas including kueh-inspired cakes, artisanal food gift hampers and delicious cookies.
All-day dining at Ninethirty by Awfully Chocolate
For contemporary comfort fare in a laid-back setting, look no further than Ninethirty by Awfully Chocolate, the brand’s flagship restaurant along Joo Chiat Road. Their extensive range of dishes incorporates fresh ingredients and creative twists on classics. The menu includes items such as The Works, which offers the best of a traditional full English breakfast; Crab Meat Slaw (hand-cut slaw with crab meat and a drizzle of caramelised lemon); and the velvety and gooey Dark Chocolate S’more, which is exclusive to the restaurant. Be sure to drop by this festive season to check out their collection of seasonal classics – including hampers, gift sets and assorted desserts – which make for ideal gifts for your loved ones.
Colourful shop houses along Koon Seng Road
A favourite of Instagrammers, culture vultures and architecture buffs alike, the vibrant shop houses along Koon Seng Road are a must-visit if you’re in the area. Most of the two- and three-storey builds were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s and functioned as living quarters for members of the area’s Peranakan community. They were subsequently gazetted for conservation in 1991 and underwent various levels of restoration over the next few decades. Besides the pastel hues, the shop houses’ exteriors are also adorned with plenty of intricate detailing and tile work. As many of them are now residential homes, do be respectful and keep your volume down as you’re snapping your shots for the ‘gram.
Fuel up with coffee at Homeground Coffee Roasters
Need a morning caffeine boost or an afternoon pick-me-up? You’ll find beloved speciality coffee shop Homeground Coffee Roasters along Joo Chiat Road. The calming minimalist interior features whitewashed walls; table and bench seating; and a rotating selection of specially curated work from local artists. Besides standard espresso-based beverages (which come in black and white versions), there are single-origin filter brews and seasonal specials such as a zippy and refreshing cascara soda served with a slice of fruit. If you’re feeling peckish, peruse the pastry cabinet or order one of their more filling dishes: the menu includes truffle cream tagliatelle, a Wagyu beef burger and pancakes with peaches, berries and ice cream.
Sun, sand and sea at East Coast Park
Just a short stroll away from Katong is East Coast Park, a scenic beachfront park with over 15km of picturesque coastline that looks out on to the expansive Singapore Strait. To get there, simply make your way to Parkway Parade and follow the signs (and crowds) to the underpass that runs under the East Coast Parkway. Exit at Parkland Green – where you’ll find a convenience store, various restaurants and lifestyle venues – and keep walking until you reach the shore. You can have a picnic along the beach, go for a long walk under the shade of the coconut palm trees, rent a stand-up paddleboard at one of the water sports centres or even cycle all the way to Gardens by the Bay in the downtown area. Just be sure to adhere to safe-distancing measures when you’re out and about.
Shop for adorable trinkets at Cat Socrates
One of the most popular independent retail stores in the area is Cat Socrates. Founded in 2008, it boasts an eclectic, yet thoughtfully curated, collection that encompasses everything from books, homeware, puzzles, stationery and greeting cards to snacks, plants and (true to the shop’s moniker) accessories for your feline friend. While Cat Socrates endeavours to support and bring in local designers and makers, they also stock international labels that fit in with their ethos of well-made and well-designed goods. There’s plenty to choose from, but we suggest picking up a puzzle designed by a Singaporean artist to keep you occupied at home on a rainy day; a woven plant holder made with cotton rope; or a new scratching post for your cat.
Find out about Peranakan culture at The Intan
The Intan is one the best places in Singapore to discover more about Peranakan culture. Helmed by owner and avid collector Alvin Yapp, the two-storey shop house along Joo Chiat Terrace functions as both a private residence and an award-winning Peranakan museum housing all manner of antiques and memorabilia. You’ll find plenty of treasures (purportedly over 1,500 in total), from beaded slippers and ornate wooden furniture to enamel tiffin carriers and colourful porcelain trinkets. Yapp runs guided tours of the establishment, offering his personal insight into the priceless collection he’s amassed over the years. Visits are strictly by appointment only, so be sure to make a booking before you head down.
Some of these images were shot before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With thanks to our advertisers Sinpopo Brand and Ninethirty by Awfully Chocolate.