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katong, shophouses
Photograph: Shutterstock

The ultimate guide to Katong and Joo Chiat

This charming neighbourhood is rich with Peranakan culture and heritage

By Cam Khalid
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Before being crowned Singapore’s first Heritage Town in 2011, Katong and Joo Chiat were known for something else. Short for Tanjong Katong, Katong was named after an exotic species of sea turtle, now extinct. Joo Chiat, on the other hand, was named after philanthropist Chew Joo Chiat. Both areas were once a small village of seaside retreats for the wealthy.

Today, this Peranakan enclave in the east is synonymous with Peranakan cuisine, particularly a spicy Straits Chinese noodle soup called Katong Laksa. It has also gained traction over the years for its blend of attention-grabbing shophouses, diverse dining options, and indie retail stores.

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Do

katong, shophouses
Photograph: Shutterstock

Colourful shophouses

Things to do

The main star of Joo Chiat and Katong? The charming two and three-storey shophouses, rich in heritage and culture. Take a jaunt down Koon Seng Road where you’ll find the popular eye-candies adorned in ceramic Peranakan floral motifs, geometrical tiles, pastel hues and even Chinese couplets which are said to bring good fortune. 

While you can’t photograph its interiors, Rumah Bebe has eye-catching cerulean exteriors and bright Peranakan tiles that your ‘gram desperately needs. For something less in-your-face, take a stroll down Lotus @ Joo Chiat, a stretch of 18 white conserved shophouses with green windows and doors with intricate carvings. Lace up and grab your camera – we’re going shophousing.

Medley Alley
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Street art

Art Street art

If you're strolling along East Coast Road – en route to ice cream parlour Birds of Paradise – remember to keep your eyes peeled. There is a myriad of Insta-worthy urban artworks that bathe the walls of shophouses and other buildings here. Lurking away at one of the small side laneways between two shophouses at 107 East Coast Road is a majestic masterpiece titled Medley Alley. It resembles wings made of colourful, Peranakan-inspired tiles, representing the metamorphosis between generations. For a colossal wall art, feast your eyes on Jousting Painters along Everitt Road. It brilliantly captures the playful imagination of children.

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Carpmael Park
Photograph: Ministry of National Development

Carpmael Park

Kids Playgrounds Geylang

Burn some energy at this long, narrow recreational area sandwiched between houses in Joo Chiat. Here, kids (and kidults) are welcome to take on one of the city's 15 vertical playgrounds: the Wallholla Playground. It's equipped with rope bridges, a rock climbing wall, and a fireman's pole to boot. However, note that the playground can only hold up to 30 kids.

Feet Haven
Photograph: Feet Haven

Feet Haven Reflexology

Health and beauty Spas Marine Parade

Take a break from exploring the Katong area and get your trotters kneaded into utter submission with the award-winning Feet Haven. Not your average spa, the cosy space is tricked out with hanging light bulbs, standing spotlights, and quirky furniture to make you feel at ease. At the hands of its experienced masseurs, the popular 60-minute foot massage ($42) will have your feet feel brand new once again.

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Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong

Hotels Marine Parade

For a staycay with Peranakan flavour, book a stay at this boutique-style hotel. It's splashed out in vivid colours and Peranakan touches abound: from floor tiles that mimic the mosaic pattern found in Peranakan abodes, to Singer sewing machine legs that form the base of in-room vanity counters and ornate display cases that double up as the minibar. Did we mention the enamel washbasin for you to have a foot soak in just like the matriarchs of old? But if that doesn't quite cut it, there's a rooftop lap pool, as well as a 24-hour gym, a lobby lounge/business centre stocked with local books, and an in-house restaurant that stays faithful to Nyonya flavours.

Eat

Baba Chews
Photograph: Baba Chews

Baba Chews

Restaurants Peranakan Marine Parade

Katong has no shortage of old-school Peranakan restaurants but Baba Chews is offering a twist on the traditional. The modern restaurant is housed in the old Joo Chiat Police Station, a designated heritage building, and serves reinterpreted local classics such as chilli crab tagliatelle ($20) with deep-fried soft shell crab and a luscious sous vide egg. Also popular on its menu is the chicken rendang lasagna ($18), spicy and creamy layers of pasta and fragrant dry curry that's made in limited quantities daily.

Sinpopo Brand
Photograph: Sinpopo Brand

Sinpopo Brand

Restaurants Singaporean Marine Parade

Sinpopo aims to emulate Singapore as it was in the '80s, with its grilled shophouse storefront, tiled floors and rattan chairs. Much of the furniture is also made by the owners of the brand, a testament to the effort put into this joint. Food here is prepared the traditional way – its nasi lemak rice is steamed in a muslin cloth, and its coffee is made Nanyang-style with the kopi sock. Dessert selections are also an ode to local culture, with gula melaka, pulut hitam and kueh sarlat cakes ($8 each) being some of its most popular offerings.

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328 Katong Laksa
Photograph: Ahmad Iskandar Photography

328 Katong Laksa

Restaurants Marine Parade

328’s laksa ($5.35-$7.50) lets you scoop all the good stuff into one spoonful – even the fishcake is thinly sliced so you’ll get a bite of it along with prawns, beansprouts and cockles. The broth itself is thick and coconut-y, which may to too jelak for some. But not us. And while you’re at one of its many outlets, don’t forget to order a slice of otah ($1.40) to accompany the dish. 

mr and mrs mohgan
Photograph: Supplied

Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata

Restaurants Indian Geylang

One of Singapore's best kept secrets, this small stall is only open on weekdays and even so, tends to run out pretty early so it might take you a few tries before you finally get to try it. It's all in the actual name of the shop, really. The prata kosongs here are super crispy on the outside and much fluffier on the inside. It may sound and look so simple but there's a reason why people keep returning to this gem in Joo Chiat. 

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Birds of Paradise
Photograph: Birds of Paradise

Birds of Paradise

Restaurants Ice-cream parlours Marine Parade

Beat the heat with freshly made gelato from Birds of Paradise. Delicately-perfumed and sophisticated, its botanical-inspired flavours taste like edible poetry. This tiny gelato nook along East Coast Road Road is standing-room-only and perpetually packed. Flavour, texture and colour are coaxed from flowers, herbs, nuts and spices for signatures like white chrysanthemum, strawberry basil, and lemongrass ginger (from $4.70 a scoop). Even their housemade waffle-cone ($1) is scented with thyme.

Drink

The 1925 Brewing Co
Photograph: The 1925 Brewing Co/Facebook

The 1925 Brewing Co.

Restaurants Global Geylang

Forget about your usual pub grub – this drinking den serves up modern Teochew dishes alongside its own craft beers. Wash it all down with four proprietary microbrews ($7/half-pint, $15/pint) which are on constant rotation: The Blk 6.22, a dark ale; The Yellow Van, a pale ale; The Manuka Stout, a honeyed stout; Small Monster, an IPA; and The General, which isn’t so much a beer as it is a ginger-flavoured shandy. Besides those, the bar also has craft beer the likes of Fresh Squeezed IPA, Fourpure Pale Ale and Hitachino Nest Pale Ale on tap.

Forty Hands
Photograph: Forty Hands

Forty Hands

Restaurants Cafés Marine Parade

It's always a treat when you order at Forty Hands' counter, which is decked with pop culture references (spot the iconic quote from Pulp Fiction) and shelves of literature. Plus, no matter your first order of the day – latte, cappuccino, or flat white (from $6.50) – the coffee connoisseurs here will serve up quality brews made with freshly roasted beans which you can bag home too. And if you're feeling peckish, the café also serves all-day breakfast including smashed avo on toast ($20), har cheong gai (prawn paste fried chicken) waffles ($19), and the popular big boy breakfast ($25).

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Alibabar the Hawker Bar
Photograph: Alibabar the Hawker Bar

Alibabar the Hawker Bar

Restaurants Kopitiam Marine Parade

Merging the coffee shop and bar bistro concepts, Alibabar the Hawker Bar features five stalls selling kopitiam staples like hokkien mee and prawn noodles, as well as Japanese cuisine, gourmet burgers, value-for-money French fare, and of course international beers, including upmarket brews like Belgian Trappistes Rochefort beers.

Shop

Rumah Kim Choo
Photograph: Rumah Kim Choo

Rumah Kim Choo

Shopping Marine Parade

You can't stroll down East Coast Road without making a pitstop at Rumah Kim Choo. The two-unit shophouse houses a heritage gallery upstairs, and a Peranakan shop downstairs. Under the banner Kim Choo Kueh Chang, it also sells the family's signature pyramid-shaped rice dumplings which come wrapped in bamboo leaves and stuffed with various savoury fillings such as chicken, and chilli prawn. That's not all – it also hosts walking trails, private boutique tours, Peranakan beading workshops, and nonya kueh sampling sessions. And if you're looking to own a bespoke kebaya, drop by its boutique gallery for a free fitting session.

Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee
Photograph: Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee

Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee

Shopping Music and entertainment Marine Parade

The brainchild of DJ collective Matteblacc, this music space is more than meets the eye. Besides offering stacks of records for music aficionados to browse through, the laidback store also invites customers to enjoy a cuppa specialty joe and craft beers while copping merch and accessories from your favourite artists, bands, and cult streetwear brands. Take note of its new sweet digs at 446 Joo Chiat Road, a stone's throw away from its former home.

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Cat Socrates
Photograph: Cat Socrates

Cat Socrates

Shopping Marine Parade

Like its OG store in Bras Basah, this east-side Cat Socrates outlet offers a cornucopia of unique home décor, books, trinkets, bicycle accessories, craft, and paper paraphernalia. It's cosy wonderland to discover lifestyle goods created by local brands and designers, as well as books and magazines published local writers and illustrators. Keep a lookout for the resident cat shopkeeper Zoo-Zoo – if he isn’t waiting to greet you by the door, he might be resting in his bed by the window. 

The AC
Photograph: The AC

The AC

Shopping Marine Parade

Browse Elyse and I’s collection of whimsical beach totes and pouches at this new multi-label boutique. Hand-embroidered designs of palm trees, pineapples and watermelons that scream summer adorn the front of these bags. Other brands in store include Australian gemstone jeweller Elverd Designs, menswear label Hanway and Louise Hill Design’s artworks. 

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Singapore Trading Post
Photograph: Singapore Trading Post

Singapore Trading Post

Shopping Marine Parade

Vintage lovers: behold Singapore Trading Post, a homeware emporium filled with memorabilia sourced from places that used to be the trade routes of Singapore’s colonial past. One-of-a-kind pieces to covet include large statement furniture like grandfather clocks and bronze statues to trinkets like vintage keys and an old pair of binoculars. Plus, there's a cool corner that pays homage to the Singapore of old, displaying nostalgia-inducing items like Sinalco trays and Kickapoo ads.

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