Joo Chiat: Explore Singapore’s hidden cultural gem
Located on the Eastern side of the island, Joo Chiat is known for being one of the first heritage towns in Singapore! A quick chat with the locals would reveal that the neighbourhood has always been synonymous with the Peranakan (Straits-born people with Chinese and Malay or Indonesian heritage) culture.
The Joo Chiat of today is a mix of old and new. From traditional heritage shophouses to hipster bars and shops.
Explore its rich history and modern influences with a stroll down the street. Here’s the ultimate walking guide for you to uncover the best gems hidden in this neighbourhood!
Fast forward to 2020 and Joo Chiat still remains a gem of the East. Ever lively and entertaining, the area has welcomed a couple of new cafes and attractions, solidifying its claim as the ‘go-to’ hangout spot in the east!
Klook’s Guide to Joo Chiat
1. Shop in Joo Chiat Complex, your not so typical mall
Being Singaporean, we sure do love us a healthy dose of shopping malls!
An old-school shopping mall, Joo Chiat Complex separates itself from the rest by offering a plethora of fabrics and textiles, Malay traditional clothing, food and jewelry. Located at the very tip of Joo Chiat Road, this mall is perfect to kick-start your introduction to this neighbourhood.
#KlookTip: Join our Muslim friends during Hari Raya (mid-May to mid-June) as they prepare to celebrate the festival of Eid! This is definitely a good opportunity to soak up the festivity and get some colourful pictures in for that gram.
#KlookFunFact: Joo Chiat Complex is one of the start/end points (depending on where you start) of the popular annual Geylang Serai Night Market, it also serves as a good landmark to meet up with your friends!?
Address: 1 Joo Chiat Road Joo Chiat Complex, Singapore 420001
Opening hours: 9.30am – 6.30pm daily
2. Indulge in Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Prata for breakfast
Probably one of Singapore’s best hidden gems that even East-siders might not know about (If you know, you know) is Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Prata. They have since moved to Tin Yeang Restaurant in Joo Chiat, but don’t worry, their prata still tastes as awesome as ever!?
The couple serves freshly made roti prata that attracts avid fans from around the country (no joke) for a hearty breakfast. It truly is the early bird catches the worm here as the shop often closes early if they sell out fast!?
There were several things we noticed from the get-go: Mr Mohgan flips the prata himself, which is a good indicator that the dish would be good as shops usually hire workers to flip the prata instead. While the size of the prata is smaller than usual, they definitely live up to their super crispy name!
#KlookTip: Order a Kosong (plain prata) for a truly authentic taste test. If you are craving for something “extra” crispy, we recommend getting the coin prata! This smaller and thinner variation would definitely deliver the crunch you are looking for.
The plain pratas are soft and fluffy on the inside, while extremely crispy on the outside. You can even hear the crisp of the dough as you tear into it! The onion prata gives off an extremely fragrant scent, while the cheese prata makes your taste buds go wild with its saltiness. An egg prata is also a classic that you must order!
Upon receiving your prata, Mrs Mohgan would serve you with curry – boy do their curries stand out! With three different curry bases to choose from (fish, mutton and dahl), take your pick and see which combination of prata and curry you like best.?
The dahl curry is the mildest of the lot and is perfect for those who can’t take much heat from the spice. The fish and mutton curry, on the other hand, is slightly spicier, but nothing crazy. Both are equally flavourful, with the fish curry being on the tangy side.
They also provide sambal, which is not typically served in prata shops. For those who are not able to take the spice, fret not as you can opt for sugar instead.
#KlookTip: Order classic prata dishes like a pro!
- Plain - Kosong (gor-song)
- Onion - Bawang (baa-wang)
- Egg - Telur (Te-lu-er)
- Egg & Onion - Telur Bawang
Address: Tin Yeang Restaurant, 300 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427551 (beside Dunman Food Centre)
Opening hours: 6.30am – 1pm
3. Receive blessings from the gods at the Joo Chiat temple
The Kuan Im Tong Temple is a Buddhist temple situated amongst private estates along the quieter side of Joo Chiat. The serene surroundings, coupled with the temple’s majestic architecture is definitely a sight to see. Founded in 1919, the temple is a unique combination of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism teachings. The “Xian Tian Sect” is a consolidation of these three religions. There are three religious beliefs that they go by:
- To cultivate the mind and body through Taoist philosophies;
- To accumulate merits and good karma through recitations of Buddhist mantras; and
- To apply Confucian etiquette in everyday lives
Despite visiting the temple on a Thursday afternoon, there were many devotees seen paying their respects. According to them, the temple has a large following as it shares the same founder as the famous Kuan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple at Waterloo Street.
If you are interested in paying your respects, do approach any of the friendly devotees. They would be more than willing to help you out!
Address: 62 Tembeling Rd, Singapore 423586
Opening hours: 5am – 6.15pm
#KlookTip: Walk a couple meters down to the junction of Joo Chiat Terrace and Everitt road and you will be greeted by a cool mural of jousting children by Ernest Zacharevic. A great backdrop for photoshoots!?
4. Perfect your #OOTD shot with a vibrant Peranakan? background
One of, if not the most representative icons of Joo Chiat would be these colourful Peranakan shophouses along Koon Seng Road. Built in the 1920s, these two to three storey residential houses are distinct due to their pastel hues and nicely designed exterior. Upon inspection, you would realise that there are recurring uses of flowers patterns, tiles and intricate detailing on its facade.
As an integral part of Joo Chiat’s history, these pre-war shophouses were gazetted for conservation in 1991 by the Urban Development Authority of Singapore. This act saved the shophouses from demolition and kept the heritage alive.
This place definitely adds a charm to the typical Singapore skyscraper skyline. Prep your OOTDs and get your insta boyfriend ready for this is a photo opportunity that cannot be missed!
#KlookTip: Remember to be respectful when you’re taking pictures outside as there are residents living in these houses!??
Address: Koon Seng Road (in between the junction of Pennefather Road and Joo Chiat Road and the junction of Lorong J Telok Kurau and Still Road)
5. Get inspired by local creatives
Opened in October 2017, the MOX at Katong Point fills up three out of four storeys of the entire building. MOX is a co-making space for creatives in Singapore. You can find experimental retail shops on Level 1, workshops and studios on Level 2 and a co-working space on Level 3.??
Get up close and personal when you try your hand at one of the many workshops that MOX offers. Workshops include art jamming, vinyl DJ-ing and upcycled woodworking.?
You can also make your own two-piece bifold wallet, bake a bunny hand-painted cake or craft your own STAR WARS lightsaber. The range of workshops offers something for everyone!
Address: 451 Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore 427664
Opening hours: 9am – 11pm
#KlookTip: If you’re looking for more vinyl DJ-ing, head over to Choice Cuts Goods at Level 1 of Katong Point. This concept store serves as a cafe and vinyl record score, meaning great tunes and great coffee while you're there!?
Address: 451 Joo Chiat Rd, #01-07, Singapore 427664
Opening hours: 11am - 9pm (closed on Mondays)
6. Collect local knick-knacks at an indie store
Hop across the street for Cat Socrates, an independent retail store which sells fun and quirky items with a Singaporean twist. You can find yourself laughing at the most random books about cats, pick up a durian plushie or start your air plant collection.
Founded in 2008, this store has been providing its customers with goodies for their daily needs. This would be a perfect place to purchase one-of-a-kind souvenirs for your family and friends back home.
Besides housing cat-related knick-knacks, the store also sources many goods from local designers, giving them a platform and opportunity to present their works to a wider audience.
Klook Tip: Needless to say, the store’s resident furball is too cute to resist. We would totally recommend coming down just for her! However, no photography is allowed in the shop, so do take note of that when you are whipping out your phones for that picture!??
Address: 448 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427661
Opening hours: 11am – 8.30pm (Tues - Fri), 11am - 9pm (Sat), 11am - 7.30pm (Sun), 11am - 6pm (Mon)
7. Try out the Gordon Ramsay approved Katong Laksa
Laksa is one of the national dishes of Singapore. Consisting of rice noodles served in a spicy soup flavoured with coconut milk, shrimps, fishcake and prawns, the 328 Katong Laksa is the most famous of them all.
Did you know that Gordon Ramsay was here in Singapore for a hawker cook-off back in 2013? Despite facing one of the world’s most decorated Michelin, 328 Katong Laksa emerged as the crowd favourite from the competition!
In our opinion (and Ramsay’s), the fragrant soup takes the slice of the pie. The spicy broth is balanced with the use of coconut milk, making the soup extremely flavourful without numbing the tongue. Do not be alarmed if you’re not given a pair of chopsticks because the dish is meant to be eaten with only a spoon. Noodles are cut into small strands so that one can consume it together with the broth, all in one mouthful.
The laksa is best accompanied with an otah, which texture is not overly chewy nor overly charred playing the perfect symphony in your mouth!
Address: 216 East Coast Road, Singapore 428914 or 51 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770
Opening hours: 10am – 10pm
8. Chill out from day till night at AlibarbaR
Photo by Jnzl's Photos on Flickr
If that doesn't satisfy your fix for a good cuppa local Kopi, take a 5-minute walk down to AlibabaR Hawker Bar for more local treats. This fusion hawker center also transforms into a bar at night, serving a wide variety of craft beers!
Address: 125 East Coast Rd, Singapore 428810
Opening hours: Sunday, Monday-Thursday - 8:30am-12:30am (last order 12am)
Friday, Saturday - 8:30am-1:30am (last order 1am)
9. Learn all about the treasures of Peranakan culture
Rumah Kim Choo is a Peranakan boutique shop and museum gallery all in one. Delve into the cultural products and get a better understanding of this beautiful culture.
Take a walk around the shop and be amazed by the beaded shoes (yes, it is all handmade!) and fascinating designs on tableware. You’ll be surprised to know how much work goes into hand sewing the individual beads onto each shoe!
Head up to the second level where you can walk around the museum, giving you a peek into the lives and homes of a typical Peranakan house.
The gallery also provides workshops teaching beading techniques to others, spreading the Peranakan culture far and wide. Mr Raymond Wong, a fashion designer and third generation Peranakan, helms the class.
#KlookFunFact: You know the quality of the outfits here are on point when people from the likes of former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama to the wife of former Singapore President Mr Tony Tan have donned on shawls and kebayas hand-designed by him.
Address: 109/, 111 East Coast Rd, Singapore 428801
Opening hours: 9am – 9pm
10. Munch on authentic Peranakan flavours
Founded by the same owner in the connecting boutique shop, you would find Kim Choo Kueh Chang. Named after Madam Lee Kim Choo, a first-generation Peranakan, the store is renowned for her famous Nyonya Chang (glutinous rice dumplings with meat filling).
You can also get a taste of tradition as the shop also sells a selection of mouth-watering Nyonya kuehs (bite-sized pastries or snacks) and cookies.
Some examples of kuehs include Ondeh Ondeh (chewy pandan rice balls filled with molten palm sugar and tossed in desiccated coconut), Kueh Lapis (colourful layered snack made with rice flour – a favourite amongst children!) and Wo Ko Kueh (colourful steamed rice cake served with orange sugar on the side).??
You can also purchase pineapple tarts, chili prawn rolls and almond sugee cookies which are packed in a container, making them the perfect souvenir to take home.
Address: 111 East Coast Road, Singapore 428801
Opening hours: 9am – 9pm
11. Indulge in gelato with a tropical twist
If you were attracted by the aromatic scent of thyme as you stroll along the streets, Birds of Paradise is where you should be headed to next! Serving botanical gelato flavours (think herbs, flowers and spices), there is something for everyone.
The smell of thyme can be attributed to the waffle cones which are handmade on the spot and infused with the aromatic herb. This makes your typical gelato experience more exquisite than usual. You can also choose to have your gelato in an environmentally friendly cup, made from sugarcane pulp!
The must-try flavour would definitely be the lychee-raspberry!?
#Klook Fun Fact: Small lychee trees can be found scattered around the Singapore Botanical Gardens. In fact, the National Parks Board has conserved a particular lychee tree (which is located along Mt. Rosie road) under the Heritage Trees Scheme!
The gelato is thick and creamy, bursting with flavour yet not jelak. Spend some time in this lovely pastel shop and enjoy the refreshing gelato while you take a break from the humid and sunny Singapore weather!
Address: 63 East Coast Rd, #01-05, Singapore 428776
Opening hours: 12pm – 10pm (Tuesday – Thursday, Sunday), 12pm – 10.30pm (Friday and Saturday), closed on Mondays
12. Live like a modern Nyonya princess
To enjoy the Joo Chiat neighbourhood in its fullest capacity, we recommend staying at Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong. Newly opened in 2016, this Peranakan themed boutique hotel is located just across the road from Birds of Paradise.
This hotel successfully balances the traditional Peranakan culture with modernity through its interior design. The rooms are beautifully decorated with Peranakan patterns and tiles and bombarded with washes of colour. The nyonyas would definitely be proud.
The attention to detail and use of traditional motifs like the use of a sewing machine as a vanity table and a bathroom basin are just some examples!
P.S the dragon embossed bathtub is something we would love to have in our own bathrooms!
The swimming pool is the hallmark of any good hotel. Hotel Indigo provides a rooftop infinity pool with an amazing view of the neighbourhood!?
Address: 86 East Coast Road, Singapore 428788
Price per night: From S$171
13. Visit a historic religious site
The history of the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple dates all the way back to the late 1800s. It is a significant religious institution for the Hindu community in Singapore. Over the last century, the temple has met several obstacles which required the reconstruction of the building at least five times.
This temple is particularly special as many non-Hindus have contributed to its rebuilding and is well-patronised by other ethnic communities in Singapore. The temple also hosts a large multi-purpose hall which people can book for their weddings, events, seminars or presentations.
#KlookTip: As you are entering a place of worship, the temple has a few guidelines regarding attire. Most notably, remove any form of caps or hats, shoes and socks before entering the temple. Remember to give your feet a quick wash too!
Address: 19 Ceylon Road, Singapore 429613
Opening Hours: 6am – 12pm, 6.30pm – 9pm
How to get to Joo Chiat Road
While Singapore is generally extremely accessible by public transportation, Joo Chiat does not have its own MRT station. The nearest MRT station to Joo Chiat would be Eunos (EW7) on the East-West line (or green line). Look out for Exit B after exiting the station. You should turn right after tapping your card on the reader.
The bus interchange is located at Exit B. You should be looking out for the bus bay area, which is simply found by walking all the way straight!
Your first stop on the map would be Joo Chiat Complex which is located at the beginning of Joo Chiat Road. Take buses 154 or 76 for two stops, you should alight at the stop called Joo Chiat Cplx.
Ta-da! You should be alighting at this bus stop – it is extremely easy to spot as there will be many people getting off and on. Look out for the 7-Eleven or the Geylang Serai Market across the road.
The entire journey should take not more than 10 minutes (including waiting time), all thanks to the efficient public transportation service in Singapore!
All that is left now is for you to go forth and uncover more awesome gems in Singapore!