Explore the cultural heritage hidden right in central Singapore
Most know Singapore as a modern metropolis, but not many know about the country’s history as a city of immigrants – the customs and traditions of which permeate everyday life.
The Central Business District or CBD is the last place one might think they’d find any semblance of culture, but you just need to know where to look. Bordered by Chinatown, Duxton and Outram Park, the area is home to butter-roasted coffee made from a four generational secret recipe, cheeky remnants of a red light district and even the tomb of a daughter of a 19th century saint.
With so many exciting sights all within walking distance, this is the perfect place to dive straight into local culture. Start your journey at Chinatown and explore the secret histories even the locals might not know of!
1.?Experience?70’s push-cart style dining at Red Star Restaurant
Source:?jeeheng on Instagram
Red Star Restaurant is the only?restaurant?in Singapore that features?dimsum pushcarts. Witness how the keep the tradition of dimsum alive and be transported back in time. With its authentic Cantonese offerings and 70’s style decor, you?won’t?be disappointed during your visit here.
Source:?NUSfatclub on Instagram
Go crazy with the usual?dim sum?delights such as?xiao long bao?(soup dumpling),?pork ribs?har gow?(shrimp dumpling) and?cha siu bao(roast pork steamed bun)! End the meal with a pot of Pu’er chinese tea to cleanse?your palate and help with digestion.
Address:?Red Star Restaurant,?#07-23, Block 54, Chin Swee Road, Singapore 160054,
Opening hours:?Monday to Saturday, 8am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm | Sunday and Public Holidays 7am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm
How to get there:?A 8 minute walk from Chinatown MRT Station
2. Savour traditional and modern desserts under one roof at Mei Heong Yuen
The weather can get hot and humid in Singapore so head to?Mei Heong Yuen?and cool off with modern and traditional desserts! Located at a shophouse in Chinatown, this eatery is named as a “Singapore Chinatown Heritage Brand”.
The perfect place to cool off from the heat, get their shaved ice desserts that comes in a variety of flavours such as?Mango (SGD5.50),?Almond and Sesame (SGD6.50)?and even?Green Tea (SGD5.50)! You can even choose from traditional treats such as Cantonese paste desserts with flavours such as?Walnut, Sesame and Almond pastes (SGD3)?or?Glutinous Rice Balls in Ginger soup (SGD2.50)!
Address:?63-67 Temple Street, Singapore 058611
Opening hours:?Tuesday to Sunday 12pm to 9.30pm
How to get there:?A 1 minute walk from Chinatown MRT Station
3. Visit Jinrikisha Station, Singapore’s first public transport depot
The?Jinrikisha Station?was first built in 1903 as a registration center for rickshaws. Also an old central depot for one of Singapore’s earliest form of public transports, its name reflects the utility of the building. In Japanese, Jinrikisha means “human-powered vehicle” thus the apt name!
Although rickshaws have been long replaced by the buses and MRTs, you can still spot a few in Chinatown once in a while. This building is currently owned by Jackie Chan, the famous Hong Kong martial artist cum actor. He bought the building in 2007 for a hefty sum of $11 million! Today, the Jinrikisha Station houses various offices and establishments.
Address:?1 Neil Rd, Singapore 088804 Neil Rd, Singapore 088804
Opening hours:?Open 24 Hours
How to get there:?A 9 minute walk from Outram Park MRT Station
1. Pop by the First?Tiger Balm?Factory
Built in 1924, this three-storey building at 89 Neil Road used to house the Eng Aun Tong factory where home-brand,?Tiger Balm?was made! Known for its healing properties, this tiny wonder balm is a menthol-based formula that reportedly cures everything from headaches to sprains and discomfort.
The building was also used in advertisements for this precious commodity back in the 1920s!
Today, Tiger Balm is somewhat of a national treasure with bottles being sold overseas for as much as $10, and is revered as one of the many Singaporean products that many travellers bring home.
Snap a few instaworthy shots for your followers and share the little fun fact about this colonial building that has withstood through time.
Address:?89 Neil Rd, Singapore 088849
Opening hours:?Open 24 Hours
2. Trace the footsteps of Singapore’s?Butter?Coffee at Tong Ah Eating House
Spot the bright yellow canopy from afar that marks?Tong Ah Eating House?from the row of shops along Keong Saik Road. A four generational coffee shop, this eating house was founded in 1939 when the owners then discovered the secret of roasting three kinds of coffee beans with sugar and butter. Formerly housed at the iconic red building in between Teck Lim Road and Keong Saik Road, this was also the place where the art of mixing butter in coffee was founded!
Famous for their traditional Singaporean breakfast, they have four different combo sets to choose from, with their best selling being?Combo B – Crispy Thin Toast Kaya served with half boiled eggs and a drink of your choice (SGD 4.90)*.
If you’re adventurous with food, give their French Toast with Kaya a try! With coffee being a morning staple to help wake you up, don’t miss out on their coffee with butter. Just like in the 1920’s, the traditional coffee making process is still in practise with the beans roasted and brewed using a coffee sock filter.?The strong flavour of the coffee stained our taste buds, with the butter enhancing the smoothness of it’s texture.
*prices of combo varies depending on the drink that you’re ordering.
Address:?35 Keong Saik Rd, 089142
Opening hours:?Daily 7AM – 10PM, Wednesday 7AM – 2PM
How to get there:?A 5 minute walk from Outram Park Mrt
3. ?Visit the Lee Kuan Yew Memorial tree at the Duxton Plain Park
Source:?lkkben on Instagram
Just round the corner of The Pinnacle @ Duxton is the?Duxton Plain Park. Not just like any other park in Singapore, this park holds a significant heritage that the area stands for.
Previously a railroad reserved for the rail line to Pulau Saigon, a small island on the South side of the Singapore River – it was demolished and replaced by the park.
Apart from that, this area was where the Late Lee Kuan Yew started his political career thus a memorial plaque in honour of him stands at the park. Know as Singapore’s founding father, he played a huge role in securing Singapore’s independence as a country. Sealed with the plaque are beads that incorporate flower petals from flower tributes during the national mourning period which were made by grassroots leaders and residents from the area.
You can even check out the last surviving tomb of a former cemetery, a?Muslim tomb – said to be the tomb of Sharifah Rogahyah, the granddaughter of Habib Noh – A famous 19th century saint. With various benches and shady areas, this park is perfect for reading, lazing around on the benches or even a cool evening stroll during your visit to Duxton!
Address:?Duxton Plain Park, New Bridge Road, 089140
Opening hours:?Open 24 Hours
How to get there:?A 2 minute walk from Outram Park MRT Station
Bonus:?If you like parks, why not head to?Gardens by the Bay?and admire flora and fauna from all over the world. Plus, you get to experience the world’s tallest indoor waterfall!
4. ?Hit?Foong Kee Coffee Shop?for the Best Roast in the Area
Established recently in 2003,?Fong Kee Coffee Shop?has not just one of the best wonton mees in town but the best?char siew?(roasted pork) and?sio bak?(roasted pork belly) in the district!
Be prepared to savour the chewy meat with a perfectly caramelised charred surface! Well paired with a special sauce made out of oyster sauce, soy sauce, pork lard oil and chilli, the springy noodles are perfect for this dish.With meaty and flavourful wantons, it is no wonder that this is one of the best places to get your wonton noodle fix.
If Wonton Mee is not your thing, don’t miss our on the house made roasted meats! The?sio bak?(roasted pork belly)?meat is well seasoned and tender, with a crispy skin that gives it a crunch. The roast duck meat goes well with their special house chilli that gives it a sour spicy kick. Big groups could consider ordering a mixed platter of different roasts as it’s more value for money.
Klook’s fun fact:?Brothels used to be located along shophouses at Keong Saik, 2 remaining brothels located beside the shop (House 8 and 6A/B)
Address:?6 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089114
Opening hours:?Monday – Friday: 11AM – 7PM; closed on Saturday, Sunday
1. Master the Art of Tea Brewing and Tasting at?Tea Chapter
Source:?jibijeab on Instagram
Chinese culture is one that is strongly etched into the country’s identity thanks to the?large community of Chinese migrants contributing to Singapore’s population in the 1800s. This resulted in the culminating of various tea houses like Tea Chapter, the largest and oldest teahouse in Singapore still around today!
Indulge in Chinese tea culture aka Chayi (茶化), also known as “the art of drinking tea” and get your fix of chinese teas at?Tea Chapter. This place is so famous that even Queen Elizabeth II made a trip down in 1989 and savoured the Golden Cassia oolong tea! ($25 per packet). Brewed in the most traditional way, learn the authentic way to brew chinese to best enjoy it!
Source:?violentelle on Instagram
Apart from the wide selection of teas, take a bite out of their snacks that compliment your tea drinking experience. Get some tea eggs (SGD1.50), lychee tea jelly (SGD4) or even oolong sweet potato (SGD4) that is great for tea time!
Address:?9 Neil Rd, Singapore 088808
Opening hours:?Sunday to Thursday 11am to 10.30pm | Friday, Saturday, eve of Public Holidays and Public Holidays 11am to 11pm
How to get there:?A 7 minute walk from Outram Park MRT Station
2.?Enjoy?a bird’s eye view of the area at?The Pinnacle @ Duxton!
At the historically significant site where the first two ten-storey HDB blocks in the Tanjong Pagar area was constructed,?The Pinnacle @ Duxton?now stands in its place. Initiated by Lee Kuan Yew in 2001, the redevelopment of the area commemorates the?historical significance of the previous blocks.
Currently the world’s tallest public housing building and longest sky garden,?The Pinnacle @ Duxton?is the best place to catch panoramic views of the area. Be transported to the top of the 50th floor to not just get a bird’s eye view over the quaint neighbourhood of Duxton but also the surrounding area which includes Chinatown and even the seaview of the Singapore strait. A perfect spot to chill and enjoy the breeze, sit on the benches and look out at the marvellous view.
To access the sky garden, head to level 1 at Block 1G to purchase a ticket. Don’t forget your CEPAS card (eg EZ-Link Card) as it is required for entry at the sky deck! Head up lift A or B to get to the 50th floor for entry to the Sky Garden.
Address:?Blk 1G, 1 Cantonment Road, Level 1, 080001
Opening hours:?Daily, 9am to 9.45pm (Last purchase of entry is at 9pm, exit points auto locked at 9.45pm)
- $6 for a one time entry
- A CEPAS card (eg. Ez-Link Card)?
Bonus:?If you love admiring the city from up above, check out the?Marina Bay Sands Skypark?for terrific views over the Bay area! For the best view, come in the evening to watch the city light up as the sunsets.
3. Take a sip at?Xiao Ya Tou, a spot reminiscent of Duxton’s forgotten Red-Light-District
A major stand out for the cafes along Duxton Street, is?Xiao Ya Tou?– an Asian restaurant known for their unique dishes with a twist!
Previously known as “Jinrickshaw Place”, Duxton used to be a neighbourhood of?gambling dens, brothels and opium dens.?Back then,? it was uncommon to hear cries of “Xiao Ya Tou “or “Chou Ya Tou” through the bustling streets. Known to mean little imp or rebel, thus came the name of the restaurant. Complete with a logo that fits it’s location – a little girl smoking an opium pipe.
Enter the beautifully furnished restaurant and be amazed at the little intricate vintage details! Look out for the collectible toys on the shelf or even the retro Swatch watch collection hanging on the wall.
With a wide offering of cocktails that are all inspired locally such as the?Milo Dinosaur,?Yuan Yang?and even an?Opium?mix,?this is a perfect place to come chill out for drinks!
The Milo Dinosaur features a mix of Stolichanya Red, Chocolate Liquer, Sugar and Evaporated Milk, poured over a huge milo ice ball! If it sounds too heavy for your tastebuds, go for their signature Xiao Ya Tou cocktail. A mix of Beefeater, Berries Lychee, Citrus and Rose syrup, this sweet cocktail is almost perfect!
Don’t miss out on their best selling item on the menu,?XYT Hokkien Mee?(Stir-fried prawn noodles)! A common dish found in hawker centres, it is a popular go-to item for all Singaporeans. Typically stir fried with sliced pork, prawns and squid –?Xiao Ya Tou?takes it to the next level with the addition of clams. Not to mention the huge prawns served with it and the rich broth that even Hokkien Mee purists swear by.?Best with a dash of lime and chilli, don’t miss out on this specialty while here!
Address:?6 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089592
Opening hours:?Monday to Thursday 12pm to 11pm | Friday 12pm to 12am | Saturday 10am to 12am | Sunday 10am to 5pm
How to get there:?A 8 minute walk from Outram Park MRT Station
And if you’re around the area, don’t miss out on these Singapore activities that will complete your holiday here!