Tiong Bahru – Where classic and contemporary co-exist in perfect harmony
Did you know that the name Tiong Bahru means “new cemetery” (thióng 塚 – Hokkien for “cemetery”, bahru – Malay for “new”)? Despite the area surrounding the neighbourhood once being dotted with graves, Tiong Bahru is now one of Singapore’s most sought after residential areas. A modern relic frozen in time, it is one of the last few standing areas that have any resemblance of Singapore’s unique heritage.
Located near the heart of the city and just a 30 minutes MRT ride from Orchard MRT, take a trip down to Tiong Bahru to experience something different. While “Old” and “New” are conflicting concepts, our trip down to this charming neighbourhood has proven to us the impossible. From eateries, a barber, and even an air raid shelter cum art gallery, these establishments have managed to inject fresh vibes while preserving their former glory. Coincidence or not, the name “Tiong Bahru” by itself already aptly translates to old and new!
Follow us as we walk down memory lane and explore this cultural gem and all its hidden spots!
1. Tiong Bahru Market – home to great local fare
Visit the landmark of Tiong Bahru – Tiong Bahru Market. Many of the vendors here have been around for decades and they continue to keep the tradition alive by passing their family business to the next generation.
While modernization and development has taken the streets of Singapore, little has changed when it comes to grocery shopping for the freshest finds. Even on a weekday, the market continues to be bustling with activity.
The Kampung spirit is very much alive in this market and everyone knows each other here! More than just special discounts, the patrons and stall vendors share a special bond and often chit-chat about their children. This unique relationship cannot be easily replicated elsewhere – much less in a supermarket setting.
Tiong Bahru Market has one of Singapore’s best hawkers and having breakfast here is a must! Have a slice of traditional Singapore and try these local breakfast items:
- Jian Bo Shui Kueh (Stall #02-05),
- Tiong Bahru Fish balls (Stall: #02-20)
- Tiong Bahru Pau (Stall: #02-18/19)
Have fun goat hunting around the market too! The goats of Tiong Bahru are all within the vicinity of the market and were hand-painted by local artist Ernest Goh in 2014 as part of his animal series for the lunar zodiac year of the goat.
Address: 30 Seng Poh Road, 168898
Opening Hours: Daily, 9am to 8pm
2. Get a confidence boost at We need a Hero barber
Set in a retro-themed setting, We Need a Hero barber brings back memories from your parent’s era, back when the dreaded electric razor ruined generations of haircuts for men. This barber is a modern revival of your good old-fashioned techniques and no hairstyle is too difficult for the talented barbers here – whether you want David Beckham’s classic slick-back hairstyle, a pompadour or undercut.
Every boy’s childhood dream is to be a superhero and We Need a Hero Barber strives to groom the hero in you. From hairstyling, shaving, brow threading and even waxing, fulfil all your grooming needs here!
They take grooming very seriously and offer a wide range of grooming products for sale for every hero to replicate his experience at home!
This barber resembles a superhero hideout and is the ultimate man cave. They serve every man’s drink – Whiskey. After your treatment, enjoy a glass of fine whisky on the house! If you are driving or need that extra shot of caffeine, they serve a good cup of coffee too.
Address: 57 Eng Hoon St, Block 57, Singapore 160057
Opening Hours: Weekdays, 11am to 9pm | Weekends, 10am to 8pm
3. Pre-war flats and geometric art deco shophouses
Singapore is a concrete jungle but you’ll be surprised to find that most housing in Tiong Bahru are low rise unlike your conventional HDB Flats. Although built in the 1930s, the buildings were inspired by our modern transport system and resemble automobiles, trains, and aeroplanes.
The buildings here have gone through several facelifts but much of its low-rise pre war buildings have been honored and preserved. Just like everything else in Tiong Bahru, there is a story behind these establishments. The architecture is a blend of local and foreign and take inspiration from public British housing. Designed in a unique horse-shoe shape and accompanied by spiral staircases and courtyards, these buildings make an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for your #ootd. You can find architecture like these at every corner of Tiong Bahru – this photo was taken in Lim Liak St!
4. Hua Bee Coffee Shop/Bincho – dual concept traditional coffee shop & hipster bar
Not your run-of-the-mill diner, Hua Bee Coffee Shop is a Mee Pok (Local flat noodle dish) stall by day and yakitori bar at night. To the unsuspecting public, the last thing anyone would expect to find hidden in the traditional Hua Bee Coffee Shop is a bar. Located right at the back of the coffee shop, Bincho shares the same premises as the coffee shop but is nicely camouflaged and out of plain sight.
As a Japanese bar, they serve interesting dishes such as Hokkaido Tofu – a tofu dish in the shape of the Hokkaido island and the usual yakitori sticks. Some drinks that can compliment your food are their seasonal Yukishibori Sake, Raspberry cocktail and Cinnamon cocktail.
Bask in the Kopitiam experience and order a cup of Kopi Gu You (which literally translates to Coffee with Butter in Hokkien) as it is one of the last few standing coffee shops to serve Kopi (coffee) the old school way – with a slice of butter in it!
Address: #01-19, 78 Moh Guan Terrace, 162078
Hua Bee Coffee Shop Opening Hours:
- Tuesdays to Sunday, 7.30am to 2.30pm | Monday, closed
Bincho Opening Hours:
- Tuesday to Sunday, 12pm to 3pm | Monday, closed
5. The Tiong Bahru murals – a visual museum of Tiong Bahru’s heritage
Home: Blk 74 Tiong Poh Road
Enjoyed your trip down to the Trick-Eye Museum? The murals in Tiong Bahru make a budget-friendly alternative and are an interesting way to see how life in Singapore was 40 years ago. There is also an interesting side story and poem that comes with each mural for those who like to soak up in a cultural experience.
Inspired by artist Yip Yew Chong’s own home in Chinatown, this mural includes personal items owned by family members – his father’s ash tray and grandmother’s cigarettes!
But what’s more interesting is that if you look closely, you will notice Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on the frontpage of the newspaper. This scene is one of him promoting the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979 and includes his good friend, Margaret Thatcher!
Singing Bird Corner: Blk 71 Seng Poh Road
This mural was painted after a favourite pastime in Tiong Bahru – sipping coffee in bird singing competitions. Although no longer a common sight, bird singing competitions used to be a weekly ritual in this neighbourhood.
Pasar & the Fortune Teller: Blk 73 Eng Watt Street
Pasar and the Fortune Teller showcases the Tiong Bahru Market in its former glory – from stalls selling local favourites such as curry chicken noodles to fortune tellers that once occupied the streets of the market.
Although not featured in the photo above, the fortune teller in this mural was drawn based on a real-life person in a photograph owned by the artist. Unfortunately, the fortune teller had passed on before the artist could invite him to view this mural.
If you enjoy taking photos like these and haven’t already visited the trick-eye museum, grab your friends and head down to enter a world of optical illusions!
6. Books Actually – read about Singapore’s culture from the eyes of Singaporeans
Do history books bore you? Littered with books written by local authors, Books Actually carries the widest range of local author publications. It is worth the visit to read about Singapore’s culture without getting bored out of your mind! If you are a book collector or just looking for an interesting souvenir to take home, you’ll be sure to find a title that interests you.
Too many interesting titles and can’t decide for yourself which book to bag home? Situated right outside the bookstore is a vending machine of books wrapped in paper. Each only has a short description or title to pique your interest. What a way to not judge a book by its cover.
Books Actually is actually a souvenir haven – from posts cards to local publications and items, pick something to bring home for your loved one, or simply as a keepsake for yourself.
Address: 9 Yong Siak St, Singapore 168645
Opening Hours: Sunday to Mondays, 10am to 6pm | Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 8pm
7. Tiong Bahru Bakery – an amalgamation of French and local flavours
When Tiong Bahru Bakery opened their first outlet here, it drew crowds with unique creations and their signature Croissant. It is so good that it is coined the “Best Croissant in Singapore” by many.
Infused with Asian flavours and ingredients, the pastries here combine local and french flavours. Local ingredients such as curry, pandan, pineapple and coconut can be found in their pastries. We tried for ourselves their afternoon tea set, and it came with an amalgamation of local and French pastries.
While Tiong Bahru Bakery is an artisan and hipster bakery, they also whip up cakes with childhood flavours. You will find flavours like Kaya (jam made from coconut milk) and Ondeh Ondeh (rice cake coated with coconut flakes). Try their coconut cheesecake, an interesting rendition to the local Ondeh Ondeh!
If you prefer the classics, opt for their original Croissant, Almond Croissant or the Kouign Amann, some of the best and most buttery and flaky pastries we’ve tried in Singapore. Pair yours with a cup of coffee or their speciality Teh Tarik and you’ll leave with very satisfied bellies.
Address: 56 Eng Hoon Street, #01-70
Opening Hours: Daily, 8am to 8pm
8. The Tiong Bahru Club – Delectable local dishes in a vintage themed cafe
If pastries and cakes weren’t enough to keep your hunger at bay, head down to The Tiong Bahru Club Singapura. This heritage-style bistro serves dishes unlike the other cafes in the area. The menu here pays tribute to local favourites, and serve a wide variety of Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes.
With their vintage marbled tables, tall stools and posters plastered on walls, the interior of this restaurant will remind you of Singapore in the 90s.
Address: 57 Eng Hoon Street, #01-08 Block 57, 160057
Opening Hours: Daily, 9am to 11pm
9. Curated Records – for music in its original format
On our trip down to curated records, we were lucky to have a quick chat with the owner, Tremon Lim. While many come to Tiong Bahru for the food and cafes, Curated Records draws its own crowd of vinyl collectors.
While most record stores only sell classics, vinyl lovers have the best of both worlds here. Old school classics and the latest hits. Apart from vinyl collectors, this record store also attract tourists who visit Singapore for concerts. For locally produced work that can’t be found elsewhere, they can be found here and make the most befitting souvenir for music enthusiasts.
Address: 55 Tiong Bahru Rd, Singapore 160055
Opening Hours: Daily, 1pm to 8pm
10. Air Raid Shelter – a time capsule of Singapore’s past
Not your usual hipster art gallery or for the faint of heart, this air raid shelter embodies memories of Singapore’s dark past. The air raid shelter is a time capsule and aptly encapsulates Singapore’s war-troubled past. Built in the 1930s to shelter residents, they were used when the Japanese forces conducted air raids during the WWII bombings. Left physically untouched since then, the shelter finally opened to the public in 2018. It was then transformed by 8 local artists into an art gallery. With its pitch-black corridors and wall scribblings of former occupants, the art gallery showcases ominous themes of war and destruction.
To experience this art gallery, it is only accessible through a guided tour or with permission from the Tanjong Pagar Town Council.
Address: Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street
Bonus: One Olive – artisanal floral boutique hidden amongst Tiong Bahru’s housing estate
As a little bonus to this post, an interesting find in Tiong Bahru is One Olive. A quaint little Floral arrangement boutique that adopts modern techniques of styling and floral arrangements. They inject vintage vibes through vintage wares and handmade decorative vases.
Uncover the beauty of Singapore
While Tiong Bahru has been rapidly gentrified in the last few years, you will find a reflection of Singapore’s past in each of these establishments. We have to remain cautious to stay rooted in our rich traditions while remaining relevant to the future. The Tiong Bahru neighbourhood perfects this and combines the best parts of modernization and history.
This is inherently the beauty of Tiong Bahru.