Chinatown is the most prominent of the neighbourhoods in Singapore and several of the most famous tourist attractions in the city are located here. This means that this is a great place to start your exploration because there are a lot of things to do in Singapore’s Chinatown that will provide background to the rest of your trip.
Centrally located at the fringe of the Central Business District and the Marina area, Singapore’s Chinatown is more than just a location where ethnic Chinese live and trade, it is also where it all started for Singapore. The first Chinese migrants to arrive settled along the coast of what is today Chinatown, and developed the area with the help of the British and Indians who arrived after.
Today, the neighbourhood I have been calling home for almost a decade is a cultural melting pot where all races, religions and cultures live in harmony. Here is where Singapore’s most famous and largest festival of Chinese New Year takes place, and it is also where the oldest Hindu Temple and Mosque in the city are.
While these are all important places to see in Chinatown, the best way to enjoy it is by exploring this confluence of cultures through food, important landmarks, historical shops and buildings.
- The history of Chinatown Singapore
- Things to do in Singapore Chinatown
- Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
- Sri Mariamman Temple
- Admire Chulia history at Masjid Al-Abrar & Masjid Jamae Mosques
- Party on Club Street and Ann Siang Hill
- Go on a free walking tour
- Capture the iconic People’s Park
- See antiques at the Musical Box Museum
- Chinese Methodist Church
- Fairfield Methodist Church
- Visit the Majestic, a historic cinema
- Try Bak Kwa pork
- Go on a street food tour
- Visit a Chinese Traditional doctor
- Learn more about shophouse architecture
- Instagram beautiful shophouses
- Explore Thian Hock Keng, a temple built without nails
- Chinatown Heritage Centre
- Relive your childhood adventures at the Tintin Shop
- Explore the history of Telok Ayer
- Search for Yip Yew Chong’s murals
- Siang Cho Keong Temple
- Kong Chow Wui Koon Cultural Centre
- Walk the longest sky garden in the world
- Have a tea appreciation workshop
- Best Places to eat in Chinatown, Singapore
- Best cafes in Singapore Chinatown
- Best restaurants in Singapore Chinatown
- Best bars in Singapore Chinatown
- Best Hawker Centres in Singapore Chinatown
- Best Hotels in Chinatown, Singapore
The history of Chinatown Singapore
With close to 75% of Singapore’s population being of Chinese descent one would think that the Chinese always inhabited the city-state. Yet, the earliest evidence of ethnic Chinese traders and merchants in Singapore dates back to the Song Dynasty, as early as 1225. Further records from 1330 show that the Chinese lived side by side with Malays.
After the invasions of 1377 (by the Majapahit Empire) and 1391 (by the Thai Kingdom) where Singapore was destroyed there is little documentation of Chinese occupation in the country, only Chinese tombs were found.
The arrival of Chinese descendants living in Malaysia (Peranakans) into Singapore start at around 1819, after Sir Stamford Raffles landed in the country. Many of these Peranakans were multi-lingual and could communicate in English with the British and were more Westernised than their fellow immigrants from Macau, Guangdong and Fujian.
Together with other enclaves like Little India, Chinatown developed as a “native division” or kampong through Sir Stamford Raffles’ plan of Singapore suggested in 1822, also known as the Jackson Plan. His Plan was to segregate the city by ethnicity. The major Asian divisions included Bugis, Arabs, Indians, Malays and Chinese kampungs.
By 1824, there were some 11,000 immigrants in Singapore due to the opium, spice, ivory, ebony, and Chinese tea and silk trade. After the Raffles Plan of Singapore was established, Chinatown, originally the land southwest of the Singapore River, stretched inwards from the Telok Ayer Basin. Telok Ayer Street was actually close to the ocean.
There was also a European division in the Plan. While most Asians were placed in their ethnic quarter, wealthy Asians could choose where they wanted to live, either in the European or ethnic quarters.
As the Chinese population in Singapore grew, Raffles understood that they consisted the largest ethnic portion of Singapore and appropriated all the land southwest of the Singapore River for them. He also insisted that they be divided by their different classes and provinces of birth. This resulted in each dialect group occupying distinct areas and creating social institutions.
Raffles was also strict in the architecture of the accommodation, or shophouses, with the masonry tiled roofs for harsh rain and the “five-foot way”, which was a continuous covered passage on both sides of the street to shelter pedestrians from rain or sun.
And with this the idea of a Chinatown in Singapore was born. Yet it was only after 1843 when land was leased or granted to the public that the physical Singapore Chinatown we know today started development.
One interesting fact to note is that the majority of Chinese immigrants were male as females were discouraged from emigrating. A census in 1826 showed that there were 5,747 Chinese males but only 341 females, the majority being Straits-born Chinese known as Nyonyas.
One of the most beautiful temples in Singapore, Thian Hock Keng, was constructed in 1840 out of respect to the Sea Goddess, Mazu. This was for the migrants who wished for a safe journey from China to Singapore.
Many of the Chinese that entered the country were “coolie” laborers, trying to escape poverty in their home and in search of a better life. Coolie is an often pejorative term used to describe indentured (contracted, often forcefully) day laborers usually from South Asia, Southeast Asia or China. The Chinese coolies worked mostly in British colonies. The coolie trade was abolished and banned in Singapore in 1914 by the then Chinese protectorate William Pickering.
The Chinese population grew exponentially over the next few years and by 1849, around 53% of the total population were of Chinese descent. The number of ethnic Chinese reached 70% in 1901 and has stayed in this region ever since, going up to 74.3% in 2016.
According to the Jackson Plan, as well as cultural ease, the Chinese immigrants would group themselves according to the dialect that they spoke. A total of five dialects were formed, known as Bangqun. This consisted of the Hokkien Bang, Teochew Bang, Cantonese Bang, Hakka Bang and Hainanese Bang.
As the quarters were divided by dialect, different institutions formed to address the needs of the people. Institutions like the Hokkien Huay Kuan, Ying Fo Fui Kun (Hakkas), Wak Hai Cheng Bio (Teochews) Clan Associations were created during that time. The Cantonese formed a cluster around Smith, Temple and Mosque streets.
While Chinatown was officially cordoned off for ethnic Chinese covering Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh, some formed communities nearby, like the Hakkas in Bugis.
Yet even though the majority ethnic group in Singapore was of Chinese descent, many were only there to make money, returning back to China once they had made enough. It was only in the 1920s that they started to settle in the Lion State. This meant that women started to actually emigrate with their husbands thereby normalising the gender ratio.
Due to the increasing population of Chinese immigrants, Singapore saw the establishment of a large number of Chinese associations, schools, and temples. But there was a split in the Chinese population, those that paid loyalty to the British Empire known as “Laokeh” (Old Guest) or “Straits Chinese”; and those that paid loyalty to the Chinese Empire known as “Huaqiao” (people of ethnic Chinese birth or descent who reside outside China). The Huaqiao came mainly from Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan province.
After Singapore’s independence in 1965, a patriotism of sorts began where many Singaporeans saw themselves as such and not foreigners living in Singapore. It transformed into a racially harmonious society and the Huaqiao started to consider themselves as Huaren or Han, people of Chinese descent living in another country, but adopting that country as their home.
Chinatown became overcrowded and many residents would relocate after the initiation of Singapore’s governmental Housing Development Board in the 1960s where high rise buildings were created including one of Singapore’s most iconic buildings, People’s Park, which was completed in 1973.
On July 7, 1989 an amount of 1,200 buildings were given conservation status. Chinatown’s four sub-districts including Bukit Pasoh, Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer and Tanjong Pagar were also given conservation status in the 1980s. While Chinatown has become a hotspot for visitors and trendy expats, it still has its lively and colorful culture where celebrations such as Chinese New Year are celebrated with much fanfare.
Apart from these festivities, there is still so much culture, heritage and history to explore, at any time of the year.
Things to do in Singapore Chinatown
Singapore Chinatown today is a mix of old and new where you’ll find hipster cafes and trendy bars right next to ancient temples and historic shophouses with a host of authentic Chinese sights, smells and tastes.
If you’re looking for what to do in Singapore Chinatown, you’ll find a wide array of activities from tasting artisanal treats to Instagramming beautiful architecture, from seeing one of Buddha’s teeth to tasting the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred dish.
This list of the best things to do in Chinatown Singapore is exhaustive and promises to be the only guide you’ll need. I will keep it updated, checking in from time to time to add and remove as necessary.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
When you see an image of Chinatown in the media, you’ll most likely be looking at the The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. This iconic red four storey structure is a Buddhist landmark and one of the most famous places to visit in Chinatown.
As the name suggests, the temple houses what is believed to be Buddha’s actual tooth which was found in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar in 1980. It may seem like a centuries old structure with its Northern Chinese Tang Dynasty style, but the majestic building was only completed in 2007.
The idea sprouted in 1998 when the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) approached the current president and abbot of the temple, Ven. Shi Fa Zhao, to develop a proposal. He was told that the temple design needed to be “traditional” while containing modern facilities that both locals and tourists could use. After nine different proposals, they settled on a design that was not too contemporary, but still had modern facilities.
The interior of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple has intricate patterns with images and statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas surrounded by golden and red hues and there is actually a lot to see in the multi-layered temple.
The first floor houses the massive prayer hall surrounded by hundreds of golden Buddhas. Find the Aranya Reference Library, BTRTM History Gallery and the Aranya Buddhist Culture Shop on the second floor.
There is a Buddhist Culture Museum on the third floor where visitors can find an array of Buddhist artefacts. On the fourth floor in The Sacred Light Hall, visitors can find the temple’s centrepiece, Buddha’s Tooth. There is also a space on the sides for meditation.
On top is the roof garden, a slice of solace in busy Singapore Chinatown. There is a beautiful Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda and a large Buddha prayer wheel on the roof that is surrounded by greenery.
The temple also offers tours, meditation classes and even one day retreats. Go down to the basement to get a free vegetarian meal (although a donation is welcomed).
For more information, visit their website.
Sri Mariamman Temple
Standing as a true testament to Singapore’s multicultural and multiethnic society there is a Hindu temple right in the middle of Chinatown. In fact, Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and dates all the way to 1827, several years after the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.
Originally a created by Penang government clerk Naraina Pillai as place of refuge for South Indian Tamil Hindu migrants, the temple was a sort of midway house providing shelter until the immigrants found permanent employment and homes.
The temple today serves as a place of worship for the Tamil community and is a working temple with ervices starting as early at sunrise every morning. I used to live a block away from it and this time is the best to see the temple workings without any tourists.
Sri Mariamman Temple was gazetted as a national monument in 1973 and has become a favourite tourist attraction in Singapore Chinatown among visitors thanks ot its colorful tower, typical of South Indian Hindu temples.
The temple follows the Dravidian style, so expect a beautifully intricate and large six tier gopura, or gatehouse, at the entrance which can be seen from afar.
Gazing at the gopura really is one of the most interesting things to do in Singapore Chinatown. Try to spot thesculptures of Murugan on the right and Krishna on the left with seated cows surrounding the walls.
Inside is equally as beautiful with a large mandala painting and various shrines depicting important deities, gods and scenes from the Hindu epics like the five Pandavas from Mahabharata.
While anytime is a good time to visit Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore, visit during the annual timiti (firewalking) festival for a cultural journey. Watch devotees walk on piping hot coals with their bare feet. The festival is held roughly a week before Deepavali or the Festival of Lights.
Visitors can also choose to take free Thevaram (poems of the Tirumurai) classes or avail of homeopathy services. Provide a small devotion if you like as the temple provides bursaries to Hindu students from low-income families.
For more information visit their website.
Admire Chulia history at Masjid Al-Abrar & Masjid Jamae Mosques
Staying with the theme of cultural integration, very close to both the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Thian Hock Keng and Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, there is Masjid Al-Abrar Mosque. Also known as Kuchu Palli (hut mosque in Tamil) and Masjid Chulia, this is one of the oldest mosques in Singapore.
Chulia derives from the Chulia immigrants who came to Singapore from the Coromandel Coast of South India, where Chennai is, and were among the earliest immigrants in Singapore. The mosque was originally a makeshift thatched hut used as a place of worship when it was constructed in 1827.
In 1829 it was granted a 999-year lease held in trust by Hadjee Puckery Mohamed Khatib after which more trustees were appointed. The trustees of both were also responsible for the other Chulia mosque Nagore Durgha.
Further construction commenced between 1850 and 1855 as the hut transformed into a brick building.
The building was gazetted as a national monument in November 1974 and major renovations were carried out between 1986 and 1989. This turned the small one storey prayer into an 800 people capacity two-storey religious institution. In 1998 the adjacent shophouse became a madrasa and prayer hall for women.
Masjid Al-Abrar was built along a row of shophouses, and without the Islamic crescent moon on top of the high minarets you might even mistake it for one. There are no other decorative elements on the building’s facade other than the onion dome and doric columns. As such, it’s more a place of historic relevance than an Instagrammers dream.
It is also easy to walk past everyday and never notice it, like I did for years until I decided to explore Chinatown more consciously. In fact, for two years I used to live in the condo right behind.
An even older Chulia mosque in Chinatown Singapore is Masjid Jamae along South Bridge Road that was built in 1826. It stands right next to Sri Mariamman along the street that was named after it, Mosque Road, and while not as popular as next door Hindu temple, this is still one of the most important historical places to see in Singapore.
While there was a smaller mosque in the location in 1826 constructed by Ansar Saib, the current mosque that stands there today was built between 1830 and 1835. While repair work proceeded in 1996, the building has basically remained unchained since 1835, although plans have been proposed, and rejected, for complete reconstruction, and you can see the designs and floor plans if you visit.
Similar to its sister property, Masjid Jamae has two tall minarets topped by onion-shaped domes. Each minaret has seven tiers with intricate miniature mihrab motifs. The facade is four-storeys high and has ornate doors and windows. The design is a mix of South Indian and Neo-Classical styles, which makes it a popular building to photograph.
The mosque occupies an entire block and has a huge backyard. You can go in, borrow a long tunic to cover, leave your shoes outside and visit it. The main carpeted prayer area is of limits to non Muslims but the rest can be visited. Outside prayer times this is a very calm and quiet place despite being the oldest mosque in the country.
Party on Club Street and Ann Siang Hill
Chinatown in Singapore has actually become one of the trendiest spots in the city and a favorite place to go in Singapore for expats with some of the top expat hangouts located right in it. Two of the most happening places, where expats mingle with locals in a jovial party atmosphere, are Club Street/ Ann Siang Hill and Duxton Road.
By day, visitors can explore the rows of colorful restored shophouses, boutique stores and cafes. There are also some historic spots hidden on Ann Siang Hill like the pioneer’s trail and the old well.
Perhaps the nicest part of Club Street are the shophouses, many of which are or were former Chinese clan building. You can look up from under the shophouses on one side and see the facades and roofs of some of the buildings. Pretty much all five shophouse architecture styles are represented there.
If you watched Crazy Rich Asian, one of the last scenes where the girlfriend is playing mahjong in a shophouse clan association was filmed here. I lived in Club street for two years and used to love the atmosphere of the area, so bang in the middle yet so quiet during the days.
But this all changes at night in the weekends when the streets become pedestrian and closed off from traffic from 7pm to the next morning on friday and Saturday.
The electric vibe ignites with the trendiest of Singapore visiting their favorite watering holes. Tables are taken out onto the street and the area becomes a party.
All the bars and restaurants are within walking distance from each other, so it’s the perfect place to bar hop in Singapore. Party-goers will find everything here from British pub Oxwell and Co to French diner Les Bouchons, long standing Italian L’Angelus, casual Da Paolo, LAtin American Tiger’s Milk which is on the rooftop of Ann Siang Club Hotel and meaty Yen Yakiniku. There’s even a movie theater cum bar The Screening Room & La Terraza Rooftop Bar.
Visit Japanese Izakaya IZY for authentic donburi or Mercy Marcel for a more relaxed and laid-back French atmosphere. There are refined dining options like tapas bar Lolla or Italian Senso, and ones that won’t break the bank like Drinks and Co where you can buy bottles and keep them there for the next day.
For bars, the majority are casual affairs and a lot of the restaurants turn into bars too, but underground speakeasy and mixologist heaven Operation Dagger is a must, as is Nutmeg & Clove.
If you are visiting Ann Siang Hill, you might like to know a bit more about its history and origins. The area is actually named after Chia Ann Siang, a wealthy Hokkien merchant who was born in Malacca in 1832.
After acquiring his fortune in the trade of timber, he purchased the area where Ann Siang Hill now stands as well as Mount Erskine and Mount Wallich. These were collectively known as the Telok Ayer Basin.
In the 1890s both Mount Wallich and Mount Erskine were levelled, leaving Ann Siang Hill to stand alone. This made Ann Siang Hill the tallest geographical point in Chinatown. It is however quite small and low so you may not even notice you are going up a hill.
Go on a free walking tour
The best way to explore Singapore’s Chinatown is to by foot on a free walking tour of Chinatown Singapore. This is a great way to meet the locals and residents that call the Little Red Dot home, learning about the history of Chinatown in Singapore along the way.
Indie Singapore, for example have their Chinatown Tuesdays where participants get to explore the area with a local. Paid personalised tours are also available.
Their “Footsteps of our Forefathers” expedition is a tasting walking tour where participants can savor Chinatown’s food while learning about its heritage (Saturdays, from 9:30am to 11:30am).
Capture the iconic People’s Park
Singapore Chinatown’s most iconic landmark is the monolithic People’s Park along Eu Tong Sen Street. The faded green, yellow and red 31-storey building was the first of its kind Southeast Asia and stood as the blueprint for many other malls in Singapore.
The part residential space, part shopping mall stands on top of what used to be the former popular People’s Park Market. After a devastating fire in 1966, the site was redeveloped by Singapore’s first Urban Renewal Department Sale of Sites who were focused on creating urban regeneration.
It was initially a 6-floor shopping mall that was built in 1970 and 25 more floors were added in 1973 as residential spaces. The change from low-rise shophouses to high-rise buildings transformed Singaporean landscape.
The most groundbreaking design of this building was its interior that had a central atrium (or “city room”) in the mall section. This was designed as a sort of public living room for social gatherings, much like the market that preceded it.
Once you’ve captured the block-like brutalist architecture, either from the crossing between North Bridge Road and Cross Street, or from Smith Street in core Chinatown, head on inside. The atrium is always busy with loads of foot traffic.
Note: I haven’t yet confirmed with the building’s management, but the car park area where many IGers and fashionistas would take their #picoftheday is apparently now closed to the public. You will have to get a permit in order to take pictures on the car park rooftop.
See antiques at the Musical Box Museum
One of the cutest places to visit in Singapore’s Chinatown is the Musical Box Museum in Telok Ayer Street adjoining Thian Hock Keng Temple. The double storey shophouse is inviting with its pale beige and blue paint and there are multiple treasures inside.
You may think that a museum filled with musical boxes might be a bore, but it’s a fascinating look into Singapore’s past. The museum’s founder, Mr Naoto Orui, shares his personal collection of the melodic receptacles and when there, will tell you all about the history of these items in general and in Singapore.
When he is not present, the enthusiastic tour guides will do as good a job of explaining the origins of this beautiful sound maker. Book a tour on their website.
Chinese Methodist Church
The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church has humble beginnings as a makeshift tent on a vacant plot of land. But before there was any talk of a Methodist church, two missionaries, William Oldham and James Thoburn, arrived in Singapore in 1885 to spread the gospel.
The community started to grow and moved from a Amoy Street to a shophouse in Nankin Street in Chinatown (today’s Jong Lim Park). The Church moved onto Boon Tat Street in 1905 and found its final destination in 1913 at the junction of Telok Ayer Street and Cecil Street. It wasn’t until 1924 that the foundation was erected by local Methodist bishop, George. H. Bickley. One year later the structure was complete and open to worshippers.
The Church was a haven for parishioners, where those in need of assistance could find respite, for example, illiterate Hokkien who wanted to send letters home could come here and get help.
Today’s eclectic building was designed by Denis Santry of Swan & Maclaren, so you can see a play between both European and Chinese architectural designs, like the European arches and the Chinese roof.
The interior also brings a mix of both cultures, where the panels hold the letters “上帝是爱” which is read “Shangdi shi ai” and means “God is Love”. The walls are also lined with six Chinese characters that represent both Christian virtues and Chinese values. They include gong (恭, ‘reverence’ or ‘respect’), qian (虔, ‘piety’ or ‘sincerity’), sheng (圣, ‘holiness’), xin (信, ‘faith’ or ‘trustworthiness’), ren (仁, ‘benevolence’), and ren (忍, ‘tolerance’).
A buffer wall was erected in 1941, thickening the five-foot way, to protect the Church Building from stray bullets and bombs during the Japanese Invasion of Singapore. Being the first home to Methodists in Singapore, the Church is still the heart of the faith although another location has opened up on Wishart Road.
Fairfield Methodist Church
Back in the heydays there were three major theatres to catch an old school flick in Chinatown, the Oriental, the Majestic and the Metropole.
Today, all three theaters have had facelifts where the Majestic became a shopping mall (more on this in the next section), the Oriental (also known as the Palacegay and Toho Gekizyo) turned into the Oriental Plaza and the Metropole (or the Jing Hwa Cinema) transformed into the Fairfield Methodist Church. Seeing these transformation of buildings is still one of the best things to do in Chinatown.
Fairfield Methodist Church modernist design by local architect Wong Foo Nam still stands out today but is filled with worshippers instead of movie-goers. The renovations in 1986 saw the addition of rooms, church fixtures and an alter.
Visit the Majestic, a historic cinema
This shopping mall on busy Eu Tong Seng Road has loads of history behind its gorgeous facade. It actually started out as an opera house when it opened in 1928 by the businessman that the road was named after, Eu Tong Seng. He named the theatre Tien Yien Moh Toi Theatre or “Tin Yin Dance Stage” after his wife. A little known fact is that it was designed by Swan and Maclaren, the very same architectural firm that designed the Raffles Hotel.
The building was transformed into a movie theatre a decade later after the Shaw brothers from Hong Kong rented it out and changed its name to Queens Theatre. During Japanese occupation in World War II the theatre showed Japanese propaganda movies.
After the war ended, the cinema was tenanted by The Majestic Film Company, which gave it its current name. In 1983 The Cathay Group bought and renovated the theatre into the current three floor shopping mall that stands there today.
The building was deigned using both Western and Chinese architectural styles. You will instantly notice the building’s beauty from its intricately designed green and pink tiled facade illustrating opera scenes, with flying dragons and other animals.
Try Bak Kwa pork
If you love meat, especially jerky, then you’re in for a delicious surprise. Bak Kwa is the Hokkien (or Fujian) word for dried meat. Even though the name suggests that it’s dehydrated, the pork is actually barbecued over a charcoal fire, so it maintains its oily goodness.
There are actually two versions of this snack. The first is a chewier as it contains thinly sliced pork in it. The second is more tender as its made from minced pork. The wafer thin pork jerky is a staple at the Chinese New Year celebrations.
There are several places in Chinatown to purchase this sweet and chewy meat. Bee Cheng Hiang is probably the most well known Bak Kwa retailer in Singapore. They also make a scrumptious gourmet Bak Kwa.
There are two outlets in Chinatown including 69 Pagoda Street and 189 New Bridge Road. Another popular chain includes Fragrance Bakkwa on New Bridge Road or Pagoda Street. Their bacon Bak Kwa is delicious. Neither brand contains preservatives.
Trying Bakkwa is definitely a must do in Chinatown Singapore and if you have been to Macau you might have already tried it as it is one of the best foods to try in Macau too.
Go on a street food tour
While you can go on one of the free walking tours of Chinatown Singapore, some tourists may enjoy a more personalised experienced and nothing talks about Singapore Chinatown like a food tour, trust me, I have been on a few.
My favorite tour guide company is Context Travel because the guides are all either locals or are extremely knowledgeable on their topic of choice. They provide a walking foodie tour of all the major Hawker Centres in the area including the Chinatown Complex, Maxwell Food Centre and Amoy Street Food Centre.
Context Tour guides are all incredibly knowledgeable. I have been on a lot of tours in Singapore and while the guides usually know the script, there is a huge difference between someone who has learned something and knows about it vs. someone who has lived it.
The food guides from Context are amazing. She not only could tell us about each dish but also where it came from, how it found its way to Singapore, if it had been adapted locally from its original, how it is cooked (she was able to make most of the 25+ dishes we tried) and all along added splashes of childhood memories which only a Singaporean who grew up in Chinatown would know.
I went on this tour after more than 8 years living here and I learned so much that the insights have remained as some of the most valuable anecdotes I have. I highly recommend this tour. And don’t at breakfast, there will be more food than you can eat in a day.
There are a few other tours that I would recommend beyond Context Travel that include:
Visit a Chinese Traditional doctor
Most Singaporean Chinese still combine traditional Chinese medicine with Western medicine. It is not usual for the same person to visit and use both methods. Traditional Chinese medicine practises abound in Chinatown and you can easily spot them as you walk around as the smell of the many herbs, roots and desiccated animals used is pungent and can’t be compared to anything else.
But perhaps one of the most interesting things to do in Singapore’s Chinatown is to make an appointment with a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor and get a second opinion on your ailment.
One that I have tried is Professor Zhang Mao Ji of Long Zhong Tang with a clinic on Duxton Road. The doctor hails from Beijing and has been living in Singapore for 15 years, however he does not speak English but has a translator and assistant that helps in every consult.
He will read your palm and face and detect any ailments you may have and you can also share anything you want help with. He will then prescribe some medicine, which he will prepare directly and you can go collect later. The medicine is prepared for your specific needs so it’s not like in Western medicine where we have standards pills to take, these are specifically made for you.
Learn more about shophouse architecture
Viewing shophouse architecture is one of the top attractions in Singapore Chinatown, especially for artists, designers and history buffs. Viewers with an attention to detail will note that not all shophouses are made equal. Some for instance have will have fewer windows than others, while others may have more intricately designed facades.
You can see the evolution of the shophouses from the mid 19th century to today through four marked periods. In some places, like Craig Road, you can even see three different styles right next to one another.
The first style, which was built from the 1840s has no particularly lavish design on the two floors. The two window, one door design is simple and structured. Then comes the shophouses designed from the 1900s on which have more intricate facades. There are ceramic panels glued with plaster under the windows for example.
The third wave of shophouses, from the 1940s, are far more detailed. In fact, they went a little overboard on the facade design. You can also notice these as they have Chinese characters on the facade. The final style used Art Deco movement as its inspiration incorporating squarer windows, removing the wooden shutter and adding a spike on the roof. The most modern shophouse designs have metal window frames and have done away with all the facade designs.
The first three designs can be seen in Craig Road, but for the newer Art Deco design you’ll have to visit popular eatery with rooftop bar Potato Head at 36 Keong Saik Road. But don’t worry, it’s only a two minute walk away. Ann Siang Road is another place you can spot all the architectural shophouse styles.
Instagram beautiful shophouses
Blair Road is one of Singapore’s most photogenic street as it is a perfect display of the intricate shophouse architecture designs. The houses have simple Peranakan design, but with a hint of European influence including French shutters and floral plaster friezes.
Take a slow walk along this beautiful road, looking at the ornate floor tiles, patterned walls and hanging plants. This is a fine example of Raffles’ five foot way concept. The pastel colors of the exteriors is a hint of the wealthy, often eccentric, individuals living inside.
After restoration and gentrification efforts of Tanjong Pagar and Outram in the 70s, Blair Road became a haven for the affluent. Today inhabitants include a mix of local Singaporeans and expats with a taste for the finer things in life.
I used to live nearby and loved strolling through the neighbourhood and then having an ice cream from Everton Creamery.
Explore Thian Hock Keng, a temple built without nails
Thian Hock Keng is an important temple in Singapore for the Hokkien people. It was built as a place of worship for the sea goddess Mazu (or Ma Cho Po) to bring auspicious journeys for travelers between China and Singapore and is Singapore’s oldest.
When it was built, it was located in a particularly fitting place being right on the coastline before Singapore’s land reclamation. Today it is over a kilometer away.
The name translates to “Palace of Heavenly Happiness” and houses a shrine devoted to the Mahayana bodhisattva of mercy, Guanyin. The most interesting thing about Thian Hock Keng is that it is made entirely without nails using various materials including stone, tiles and wood from old ship parts.
Thian Hock Keng was gazetted as a national monument in 1973, and after much restoration, won the prestigious UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2001 Award for a Culture Heritage Conservation Building. Its beauty is evident from the moment you enter with motifs, statues of dragons, peacocks, lions and door guards, and octagonal pagodas.
This is also one of the busiest temples during Chinese New Year and other Chinese celebrations and you will find many red and golden messages hanging from the ceiling and even the spiral coil incense.
Here is a video of the temple.
Video credit: Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Multi-Rotor Society and Architectural Conservation Lab
Chinatown Heritage Centre
Strolling aimlessly around this culturally rich neighborhood is a wonderful way to pass your time, but knowing about the history of Chinatown Singapore will give you a much deeper and more meaningful experience.
The Chinatown Heritage Centre is one of the best place to visit in Singapore Chinatown. The center does a fantastic job of providing visitors with in depth information on its past and heritage.
Join them for a walking tour or just peruse the building itself which is also an historic institution made up of three beautifully restored shophouses on Pagoda Street. You can go inside and learn more about how old shophouses used to be and how people lived, especially the first migrants who came to Singapore.
Definitely one of the most things to see in Singapore Chinatown. Discover the rich history of this magical area thought personal stories of the residents.
Relive your childhood adventures at the Tintin Shop
By far one of the cutest attractions in Singapore Chinatown has to be the Tintin Store in Pagoda Street. Even if you’re not a fan of the modest and self-effacing fictitious journalist and traveler, this is a fun place to pop into while exploring the surrounding market.
What you’ll find here apart from the life sized statues is official Tintin merchandise that probably has the most comprehensive display of Tintin memorabilia from t-shirts puzzles, watches to figurines, and of course Tintin comics.
More information about the Tintin shop in Chinatown, Singapore can be found here.
Explore the history of Telok Ayer
Before being designated as the living area for Chinese immigrants in 1819, Telok Ayer was a Malay fishing village. It was also a hub of activity for Indian lightermen who would unload cargo from merchant ships. For this reason, two of Singapore’s oldest Indian Muslim buildings were built in the area, Al-Abrar Mosque and Nagore Durgha Shrine.
Before it was filled in, Telok Ayer was actually a bay where passengers would disembark and visit one of the temples to give thanks. The water was covered with land in 1900 due to overcrowding in the area and is now known as Shenton Way.
There is a little park that you can visit called Telok Ayer Green, right next to Thian Hock Keng, to learn more about this fascinating history. There are resting areas, information and sculptures depicting the various activities of the Chinese residents of the time.
On the other side of the park is the gorgeous Nagore Dargah, a shrine built by the Chulias between 1828 and 1830. The difference between a mosque and a shrine it that a shrine does not have to be built facing Mecca, Nagore Dargah is therefore in line with street grid.
There is much deliberation about the construction date of the shrine, where many believe that it was built before Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819 with wood and attap. Yet there are no historical records to support this concept.
Search for Yip Yew Chong’s murals
The murals by Yip Yew Chong have become a staple for IGers. They show a Singapore of yesteryear and are an ode to its culturally rich past. Scenes of common life in the past are immortalised on walls of old buildings on which they are painted.
There are some very popular and heart-warming murals by Yip Yew Chong in Chinatown including the Paper Mask & Puppet Seller at Mohamed Ali Lane (side wall of house 227 South Bridge Road) or the 44m long mural at the back of Thian Hock Keng Temple.
I saw him paint the one on the back of the temple and it took quite a few days going from sketch to fully painted mural.
As opposed to the majority of his murals, which usually show a scene of life and tell of a story from his childhood, the one here summarises the history of Singapore and is read from right to left. You can see the first migrants who arrived in Singapore to the far right and then walk towards today’s modern Singapore.
The murals are life-sized, so you can pose for a photo, immersing yourself in the image. It looks as if you’re part of the scene. This is definitely one of the most instagrammable spots in Singapore. Read more about his inspiring stories on his website.
Siang Cho Keong Temple
Siang Cho Keong Temple in Amoy Street was built in 1869, making it one of the earliest temples in Singapore. It’s a Hokkien temple that was constructed as a dedication to sailors coming from Fujian.
While small and not built to the scale of Thiang Hock Keng, the entrance is beautifully decorative with swallow tail roofs holding a dragons relief and Buddha statues. There are 16 armed Nan Hai Niang Niang (South Seas Mothers). You’ll most likely be the only foreigner there, so light a joss stick and take in this little treasure.
Kong Chow Wui Koon Cultural Centre
The gorgeous Kong Chow Wui Koon building is a perfect example of the Art Deco inspired fourth-wave shophouses. The Chinese Clan association formed in 1840 by Xinhui clansmen who came from Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta and was formerly in Upper Chin Chew Street. It moved to its current location in 1924. That is why one of the oldest associations in Singapore has such a new design.
This is a place of many firsts in the Chinese community from the Martial Arts and Lion Dance troupe to the Acrobatic Cycling, the Music and Opera, Social Affairs. They are notable in their promotion of Chinese culture and have contributed to the opening of many hospitals in Singapore.
The Kong Chow Wui Koon has ongoing cultural events, so it has become a ‘living’ museum of sorts, equipped with graphic exhibits, multimedia kiosks and demonstrations from Kung Fu and Lion Dancing to Cantonese Opera. It’s a must-visit for lovers of Chinese culture.
Find out more about tour schedules on their website and if nothing suits your schedule, you can simply wander in as you walk by, the doors are usually open.
Another heritage site nearby (about 2 min walk) is the Poon Yue Association. Founded in 1879 by the Poon Yue (Pan Yu) emigrants from Guangdong, it is a place that promotes traditional virtue of mutual help, support and protection.
They provide charitable events to help out the community and host an array of activities like scholarships, Lunar New Year celebrations and ancestral worship. The four red characters on the entrance arch are said to have been created by Hu Hanming, one of Sun Yat Sen’s (the founding father of the Republic of China) right-hand men.
Walk the longest sky garden in the world
When you’re walking along Duxton or Keong Saik, be sure to look up. You’ll notice a massive residential building called The Pinnacle@Duxton.
This is a 50-storey residential development with two of the world’s longest sky gardens. Many tourists don’t know this but while the 26th floor sky garden is for residents only, the top one on the 50th floor is open to the public. It’s the perfect spot to get a bird’s eye view of the Lion City.
The skybridge is open from 9am to 9pm daily, except during special events for a S$6 fee per person per day. Try go early as only 200 members of public are allowed per day with only 100 people at a time. For more information on where to enter, visit their website.
Have a tea appreciation workshop
Tea appreciation is an extremely popular pastime in East Asia, from the Japanese zen art of chanoyu to the Chinese art of cha dao – the art of preparing Chinese Tea. There are a few authentic and traditional tea houses in Singapore Chinatown where you can learn how to appreciate the brew on a new level.
Participants learn how to select, store and brew the perfect cup of tea. I loved my workshop at Yixing Xuan teahouse located on Tanjong Pagar road in the heart of Chinatown. I came out with a new appreciation for tea that goes with me on my travels around the world.
Best Places to eat in Chinatown, Singapore
As Chinatown in Singapore is a blend of old and new, young and old, hip and traditional, you will find every type of restaurant under the sun here. From the bustling Hawker Centres to the trendiest of foodie streets like Keong Saik Road or Duxton Hill.
There are not only some of the best Chinese restaurants but great also some great nyonya Peranakan cuisine, traditional Singaporean eateries, as well as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world.
And when you’ve had your fill of delicious food, there are also some great places for dessert before hitting the trendiest pubs. These are my personal picks of the best restaurants, cafes and bars in Chinatown Singapore after years of testing and tasting as I live in this neighbourhood.
Best cafes in Singapore Chinatown
Breakfast and brunch in Chinatown Singapore is such a wonderful treat. There are so many places to choose from that combine delicious food with beautifully decorated interiors and weekend brunch is practically a national sport.
Coffee snobs will be happy to know that there are a few cafes that roast their own beans in store daily. And for travelers with a sweet tooth, there are also some cutesy cafes selling artisanal ice creams and Japanese cum French baked goods.
Indulge in a cup of artisanal ice cream
There’s nothing like taking a break after a good few hours of walking in the muggy heat. And of course, the best place to do that is in an ice cream shop! Apiary on Neil Road is my most favorite place in Singapore to get the cold cream and I may or may not pop in every weekend for an after dinner treat.
Even from the outside Apiary invites passersby with the heavenly smell of baking waffles. The feel inside is light and airy and mirroring the name (an apiary is where bees are kept) the wooden counter has a beautiful hive shaped design.
All ingredients are natural with no artificial flavours or colourings added and the dairy products are pasteurised on site, so you can expect the highest quality. You can try all the flavors you want like Cassis Sorbet, Black Sesame, Baileys & Brownie, Milk Chocolate & Cookies… the list just goes on. They also make classic or charcoal waffles, brownies and pancakes. My favorite? Ferrero Rocher, I just can’t get enough of it.
Have brunch in a colonial house
The beautifully quaint PS Cafe is tucked away in a quiet enclave of an otherwise bustling area. The interiors are a perfect depiction of colonial design with decorative ceilings, black leather banquettes and white marble tops.
The decor gives PS Cafe a refined, relaxed and casual chic ambience. The menu includes Western favorites with an Asian twist. Think standard pesto pasta with laksa leaf, fish and chips where local Tiger beer is used for the batter, or crab spiced with chilli and kaffir lime.
Here is a hint that many people only realise on their way out. The is an adults-only rooftop bar where diners can have a peaceful drink overlooking the central business district stunning skyline.
Oh and PS Cafe is known for the super indulgent cakes, order a portion to share, there is no way you can finish it on your own. To pick the right one, check out the display.
Before indulging in ice cream at Apiary, a few stores down is garden cafe The Botanist. Nestled along Neil Road in the Outram Park area, The Botanist, as the name suggests, has leafy decor with greenery hanging on the walls (it’s not a real garden if you were getting your expectations high).
It’s a particularly great place for coffee lovers, as they are the same team behind well-known brands Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters, Alchemist and Knockhouse Supply Co. They are best known as a brunch place serving classics like baked eggs, French toast, Croque Madame or maple pancakes. Find out more about The Botanist here.
The Populus Coffee & Food Co
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The best part of a scrumptious brunch at The Populus is enjoying it with friends and sharing the happiness.⠀ — ⠀ CUT 10% OFF your bill when you make your reservation in advance with us at thepopulus.cafe! This offer is valid for a limited time and please kindly inform our staff about your online reservation upon ordering at the cashier.⠀ — ⠀ #ThePopulus⠀ 146 Neil Road⠀
Trendy gastro cafe along Neil Road, The Populus Coffee & Food Co., is always a good choice for a yummy brunch. The interior of this refurbished shophouse is a designer’s dream.
Decorative tiled floors, light wooden walls and ceilings, copper light fixtures and protruding columns give this spot a touch of elegance.
The food is equally as pleasing with a focus on new age healthy options like grain or donburi rice bowls and the Avocado SUPERFOOD Green Platter. There is also an array eclectic contemporary dishes which draw inspiration from around the world like Beef ‘Bulgogi’ & Quinoa Salad, Grass Fed Beef Ragu Pappardelle and Summer Ramen Noodle Salad.
The place is always busy in the weekends so book ahead or go early or late. From 11am onwards queues are unavoidable.
See the full menu on their website.
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Fruity Choco Roll An impromptu logcake we made with spare ingredients from our pantry! Fruity raspberry cream, dark chocolate genoise sponge, and fresh strawberries. Perfect for the kiddies. 16cm serves 5 pax. Drop us a message for 25th December reservation! (Yes we are open!) First come first serve, we will be making 20 of them. 🙂 #florpatisserie #christmas #lastmile #logcake
There are all kinds of cutesy eccentric cafes in Singapore’s Chinatown, from French to Chinese and even Japanese. Anyone that’s been to Japan, or even Taiwan for that matter, will know that they are probably the best country at making delectable desserts. FLOR Pâtisserie has customers drooling with its Japanese-inspired French pastries and cakes.
From the signature roll cake to the almond pies, the matcha infused pastries to the fruity Amelie Tart, FLOR is a must for tourists with a sweet tooth.
No artificial stabilizers, agents or preservatives are used, just properly aerated eggs whipped to perfection and emulsified melted butter. Expect to walk out a bit bigger around the waist. Their match latte is divine.
More about FLOR Pâtisserie here.
As this highly photogenic cafe is next to the Goethe-Institut Singapore, Aussie chef Darren Farr teamed up with German Head Chef Max Strauch, to blend Australian brunch dishes by day with a touch of refined German cuisine by night.
Chef Farr has lived in several cities throughout his life including Jakarta, Berlin, and Hamburg before settled in the Lion City. So you can expect a world of flavors in your mouth when eating his quality food.
The decor is casual with high ceilings and lots of light, so be sure to bring along your camera. The best here is that you can build your own breakfast from the long list of items, all made in house. I have breakfast at The Lokal almost every weekend and I can tell you that the quality of their food is consistent, never have we had a bad experience.
I always order the avocado, ricotta toast with pomelo and almonds, kaya toast when I feel like comfort food, and my partner always gets his made to order breakfast with burger patty, smoked salmon, avocado, mushrooms, scrambled eggs (made to perfection), chicken and toast. Their coffee is also great and they have a Sunday roast from 1130am.
More about the LoKal here.
With a similar green theme to The Botanist, but more airy and open, Bearded Bella is a wonderful space to have brunch with some friends. It’s bright, with natural light coming in from the ceiling and slightly eccentric. There is also a small garden at the front which is quite pleasant if you can brave the heat.
The Melbourne inspired eatery has some great java, as can be expected from the third-wave coffee mecca of the world. The bites are also wonderful with fun eats like the sticky toffee popcorn (espresso caramel and bacon bits) or the Fowl Play (crumbed chicken thigh, charred miso corn, roasted cauliflower and sage).
I often stop to buy their chocolate chip cookies which are absolutely delicious.
More food items on their website.
Merci Marcel for brunch
There is no shortage of cutesy Instagrammable places to each in Tiong Bahru, but Merci Marcel is probably top of this list. It’s a bohemian-chic French eatery with beautifully plated brunch-type food set in a photogenic interior.
The space is large and airy and, just like its sister property in Tiong Bahru it has both indoor and outdoor seating. The interiors are beautifully chic that just scream brunch – light woods, tiled floors and white walls. It’s almost as if it were lifted from Paris and dropped off in the middle of Chinatown.
More information here.
Best restaurants in Singapore Chinatown
Chinatown is a true representation of Singapore as a multicultural melting pot. Eager diners with find restaurants from all over the world from South Korea to Argentina, Mexico to Catalunya, local Peranakan to the Caribbean. If you’ve ever wanted to try some new flavors, this is the place.
Try Peranakan food at the Blue Ginger
There is a word in the Peranakan dialect, nyonya, which is a term of respect and affection for a women of prominent social standing. It’s sort of a blend of “madame” and “auntie”. This matriarch is the head of the household in Peranakan cultures and usually brings family and friends together with her expert cooking skills.
Ayam Panggang and Beef Rendang at Blue Ginger. Photos by Alpha (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The tastiest Peranakan food in Chinatown Singapore can be found at nyonya establishment Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road. Everything here local, from the food on your plate to the art on the walls. Sit in one of the three storeys of the narrow shophouse and receive generous portions and prices of the aromatic Peranakan cuisine.
From Kueh Pie Tee to Otak Otak, Beef Rendang to Ayam Buah Keluak, have meals you can’t find anywhere else in the world, a perfect blend of Chinese and Malay.
Have a Michelin star lunch for less than S$2
We braved the queues to try out the new 1 Michelin Starred stall in Chinatown – the char Siew park was deli!
Posted by Singapore n Beyond on Saturday, July 30, 2016
After receiving a Michelin star in 2016 for his delicious Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, chef Chan Hon Meng, originally from Malaysia, has put Hawker Centre stalls on the international culinary map. In fact, having “Hawker” before your name (like Hawker Chan) has become an honorific.
With meals starting from S$2, it’s a no brainer to visit his stall at Block 335 Smith St, #02-127, in the Chinatown Complex Food Centre. He has stated himself that he will not be changing the prices after receiving the award, unless he has to. The only issue is the massive queue. And there is always a queue. Although it has been reported that it moves faster these days.
The secret to the success of the food is that the chicken is soaked overnight in the Hong Kong style secret sauce. There is also a limited amount of chicken each day, so when the chicken is done, the stall closes. They are open from 10:00-17:00pm every day.
You can also eat at one of the many branches he has now opened, but the atmosphere is not the same so the charm gets lots.
Eat a traditional Singaporean breakfast
With the multitudes of restaurants and eateries in Singapore, it can be difficult to make a choice. If you’re flustered by the refined diners and want something simple and local for breakfast, try a traditional Singaporean breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast.
Starting as a humble coffee stall employee, Hainan-born Loi Ah Koon, started blending his own coffee and, together with his wife, served toast with kaya (a local spread of egg and coconut) to the hungry souls of Singapore.
To cut costs Ah Koon’s wife would slice the toast really thin, but today this is what makes the store so popular. The modest coffee stall that started in 1944 has now expanded into an international enterprise, with stores around the world.
The traditional Ya Kun (the hanyu pinyin of Ah Koon) way to make kopi is to wok-roast the beans with sugar and margarine to a dark brew. This results in a rich, sweet, piping hot beverage.
Unlike other kopitiams in Singapore, the menu at Ya Kun is simple serving kaya toast with either cheese, peanut butter or ice cream that comes with soft-boiled eggs. Some international items like French toast and Toastwiches are also on sale.
While there are many branches, the one in Chinatown Singapore at 18 China St, Far East Square, is the original and where you can see how it all started.
Enjoy yum cha
What Westerners call brunch, the Cantonese call yum cha. Tea is a staple in both cultures, but instead of biscuits and cakes, this brunch replaces sweet treats with dim sum.
This is an age-old Chinese tradition that is usually enjoyed in a traditional teahouse. Of course dim sum can be enjoyed at any time of the day, the most authentic way to eat it is between meals.
One of the authentic places to eat dim sum in Singapore’s Chinatown is definitely Yum Cha Restaurant off Temple Street and it would be a pity of you left without participating in one of the best things to do in Chinatown.
Here you can taste traditional Chinese dim sum in an authentically Chinese space. It is not a cheesy chain covered in plastic tables and fake bamboo, but rather marble top wooden tables and antique furniture. Select any of the dim sum from the trolley that the staff push around the restaurant.
Rhubarb Le Restaurant
Rhubarb is a 1 Michelin star French restaurant in a restored shophouse on Duxton Hill. The ambience is refined elegance and total intimacy as there are only seven tables available. After many years at Au Petit Salut Group, Chef Paul Longworth decided to venture out on his own to create contemporary French Gastronomy. There is also a gorgeous wine list to pair with the inventive food.
Choose between the 3 course lunch menu for $S48++ or the “Chef’s Surprise menu” for $S78++. See more info and the full menu here.
For authentically rustic Italian specialties, Etna should be your go-to destination. There are two locations, but you’ll want to visit the one at Duxton if you’re looking for places to eat in Chinatown, Singapore.
Opening back in 2006, Etna was one of the first truly authentic Sicilian restaurants to open in Singapore. It has since been awarded the Ospitalita Italiana Gold Seal Award by the Italian Government for authenticity.
Their “Every Table Needs Attention” philosophy provides the best of Italian hospitality, while the Italian produce gives a robust flavor. They also provide a great per glass wine selection with over 18 brands to select from.
Find out more about what’s on offer at Etna on their website.
Potato Head Folk
Apart from being one of the best rooftop bars in Singapore, Potato Head Folk is also the perfect representation of fourth wave shophouse architecture. With its signature white and red Art Deco design, the facade of Singapore Chinatown’s most iconic heritage building is photogenic and welcoming.
Inside there is dining for all. The relaxed burger joint, Three Buns is perfect for traveling families as the atmosphere is relaxed and the decor is as eccentric as it comes. Up stairs is the classier Studio 1939 kitted with antique furniture modern art selected by David Bromley. Reservations here are a must. The top level has an amazing leafy rooftop bar where you can see Keong Saik from above.
There are always parties going on here, so it’s best to check out their events page for the most up-to-date parties.
Gorgeous Spanish tapas eatery Esquina blends age old recipes with molecular techniques to create something out of this world. Head Chef Carlos Montobbio, previously trained under Roca brothers’ Celler de Can Roca (3 Michelin stars) and Zuberoa (2 Michelin stars) in Spain, creates original eats with beautiful plating.
Expect small bites with good drinks like the Tsarskaya oyster with Jalapeño ponzu, salmon roe and pickled ginger flower and the Sea urchin sandwich with burrata and black truffle. The interior is retro chic with tractor seats at the bar and earthy off centre crockery.
See Esquina’s full menu here.
Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant
Those willing to brave the longest cues can try out Singapore’s first authentic Unagi (char-grilled freshwater eel) specialty restaurant on Keong Saik Road. While the imported unagi, flown in from the Mikawa Isshiki region in Japan, is their speciality, the other seafood is just as amazing if you can’t stand eel.
Chef Teppei Yamashita whips up outstanding unagi dishes like hitsumabushi (grilled eel on rice), homemade mentaiko (pollock roe), and Unagi Don. The interior is intimate and cosy with a refined Izakaya look and feel. Try get the seats close to the kitchen so that you can watch the master Chef preparing the eel before throwing it on the grill over the charcoal fire pit.
Read more about Man Man here.
As mentioned above, eating at Singapore Chinatown is an international experience, and Lime House offers something truly original, authentic Caribbean food. No, lime is not the major feature on the menu but rather a Caribbean concept where “liming” means to chill out with friends. Lime with Trinidad & Tobago native owner Chris Morris for a “welcome home” experience.
The food features all Caribbean favorites like jerk chicken, fish cakes and baby back ribs. And of course, there is a brilliant rum bar and lounge called Bago with an extensive 150 international rum labels.
More about Lime House here.
Afterglow by Anglow
An afterglow is exactly what you’ll have after eating at this vegan hotspot in Keong Saik Road due to the freshest of plant-based produce. Those looking for a creative way to detox or just to get away from red meat for a while will be welcome at Afterglow. The food is mostly uncooked with raw burgers, lasagne and zucchini-linguini “meat balls” along with salads, soups and appetizers. More information here.
The Butcher Boy
As the name suggests, The Butcher Boy serves all types are fresh meat cooked to perfection. The Asian fusion restaurant is a tapas style casual eatery with DJs, cocktails and a refined party atmosphere. It’s a nice place to go with friends for an evening drink before starting your party at Club Street.
The baos are divine, and the meat is juicy and of the highest calibre. The food is made to be shared, creating a lively social atmosphere. More information and photos of the The Butcher Boy here.
Burnt Ends is a Singaporean institution where diners will find delicious Michelin-starred meat dishes. As the name suggests, the meat is prepared over open flames where southern Australian BBQ meets haute cuisine. The restaurant has 2 seatings, 6:30pm and 930pm, so hungry folk should snack before waiting in the long queue.
What makes the meat extra succulent and crispy is chef David Pynt’s custom-made triple elevation grill design. The result of the slow cooked meat over coal, apple or almond wood is something incredible. While pricey, Burnt Ends is a meat lover’s dream. More about Burnt Ends here.
Argentina shares Singapore’s mix of cultures and ethnicities, and love of food. So it’s a no-brainer for an Argentinian restaurant to open its doors in Singapore. Bochinche is the result of Chef Diego Jacquet’s creative energy and inventive palate. The refined restaurant in trendy Amoy Street glistens with character and beauty.
Standouts on the menu include Baked Provoleta with oozy cheese, classic empanadas, Chorizo Croquettes and the Argentinian grass-fed beef that is slowly cooked over a wood and charcoal grill. See Bochinche’s entire menu here.
Kpop has taken the world by storm and along with the music comes Korean culture, including its food. Hallyu (the Korean Wave) hasn’t escaped Singapore and there are a ton of fantastic Korean restaurants in Singapore that have popped up along Tanjong Pagar, Amoy and Telok Ayer Streets in the Chinatown area. Favorites include watering hole 2D1N Soju Bang, do it yourself Korean BBQ Wang Dae Bak and chicken and beer (chimek) house Chicken Up (who have the unique sojurita – soju margarita).
Take a walk along the above mentioned roads and pop into any of the Korean restaurants that catch your eye. The most popular places are always the busiest.
Best bars in Singapore Chinatown
Chinatown in Singapore has the trendiest bars in the entire country. They are upmarket, distinguished and come alive at night. From basements to rooftops, foraged to historic, these are the best bars in Chinatown Singapore.
Six Senses bar
For intricately designed decor, heritage and posh surroundings, newly opened Six Senses bar in Duxton is chic and sexy. Six Senses Singapore at Duxton is the brands first urban resort and they have done an absolutely stellar job. The hotel is designed by famous Bond Girl turned hotel interior stylist Anouska Hempel and she has done an absolutely fabulous job.
Anouska is credited as inventing the boutique hotel concept and the Six Senses Duxton delivers. The hotel style stands apart from the usual Six Senses brand and has created an artful design masterpiece. The antiquarium-themed bar is no exception to the rest of the hotel. The chic, elegant and opulent Art Deco Yellow Pot Bar is surrounded by golds, yellows and luscious blacks creating a cozy yet elegant bar.
The cocktails list is as extensive as it is creative. It’s and East-meets-West fusion extravaganza like the signature drink Escape to Kaifeng, combining gin with chrysanthemum.
Read more about Six Senses Duxton here.
Test kitchens are popping up worldwide where chefs get to experiment with unique conceptual dishes for the public. British-born chef Ryan Clift takes the test kitchen concept to new heights at Tippling Club in its fairly new Tanjong Pagar location (previously Dempsey Hill). If you’d like to see what goes on inside Chef Clift’s state of the art R&D test kitchen, book a private dining experience adjacent to the kitchen.
While the menu is constantly being reinvented, diners can always expect fun delights that tell a story and are big on flavor. There is also a great cocktail menu that’s separated into sweet, sour, dry, bitter, fruity and smoky. There is a standard cocktail menu and a more creative special pop-up menu like the Sensorium Menu with cocktail infused Gummy Bears. See what’s popping up today on their website.
Operation Dagger is part speakeasy, part molecular science and fully delicious. Located on an underground level in hipster Ann Siang Hill, the dimly lit bar is a blend of botany, science and mixology. The various spices and herbs that line the wall behind the bar provide a interesting atmosphere.
There are nibbles to snack on in the small space, but you’ll want to come here for the drinks. Co-owner and creative director Luke Whearty is a genius mixologist with reinterpretations of famous drinks like the Moscow Mule with blackcurrant, fermented rye, and coriander seeds. And if you don’t like what’s on the menu, just chat to one of the mixologists, telling them what flavors please your palate and they’ll concoct you your new favorite drink. More on Operation Dagger here.
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Duxton Hill’s Lucha Loco is the go-to spot for Mexican food in Singapore. This taqueria and garden bar serves highly addictive Mexican bites like elotes (Mexican-style street corn with mayonnaise, chili, and cheese), Burrata Oaxaca (soft cheese, blue corn, salsa verde and chilli) and gourmet tacos with a large drinks selection. The margaritas on delicious.
The atmosphere of the colorful venue is vibey, lively, hip and always ready to party. Luchadores will serve you your shots and you may even be able to try your luck at hitting the piñata. It’s not a place for cuddling up in a quiet with a book, Lucha Loco is always buzzing full of energy. See more on offer here.
If Thai rum with crunchy ants sounds appealing to you, then the ever inventive Native might just be a great fit. The concept of the fairly new (opened in 2016) bar in Amoy Street is all about foraging for local ingredients to use in the cocktails. Think pink jasmine blossoms sourced from Ann Siang Hill and then prepped in a rotary evaporator.
Ex Operation Dagger mixologist, Vijay Mudaliar, had the idea to have at least 10% of his produce foraged locally. If that sounds strange, it’s important to know that there is almost no produce grown on the city-state and virtually everything is imported. The 10% goal is actually quite brave. The result is wonderful where Mudaliar creates tasty concoctions that tell a story of the local flavor profile. Read more about Native here.
Nutmeg & Clove
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If Native was inspired by local produce, then Nutmeg & Cloves draws its inspiration from the history and culture of its home. This cozy cocktail bar in Singapore Chinatown also uses local ingredients to create authentically Singaporean cocktails.
The menu is actually inspired by William Farquhar’s Collection of Natural History Drawings. They add 12 local herbs, fruits, flowers, and spices, to well known drinks, creating unexpected flavors. The interior also draws on Singapore’s past, where the walls are lined with elements of its history like gunny sacks and posters from the 60s. Nutmeg & Clove is probably the most patriotic cocktail bar you’ll find and you might actually learn about Singapore’s history through each sip. See their full menu here.
Employees Only Speakeasy
A New York institution (coveted as the world’s fourth best bar) that opened its second location in Singapore in 2016, Employees Only has quickly become a must-visit after dark destination. The entire theme of speakeasy is carried through to perfection, right from the hidden entrance down to the taro readings available outside the restaurant.
It’s vibey, buzzing atmosphere is the perfect start to a fun filled weekend. Their signature cocktails are a must try and include the Amelia (vodka based) and the Ginger Smash (rum based). The food menu also has some surprisingly delicious treats. Do yourself a favor and try their steak tartare. More information here.
Best Hawker Centres in Singapore Chinatown
Singapore it’s known for its Hawker Centres, foodie havens that sell deliciously affordable bites with as much taste as any fine dining institution. They also hold a deep history so eating here is beyond a gourmand experience. Singapore Chinatown has two of the best Hawker Centres in Singapore and you should definitely pop by after exploring the area. Come hungry!
Singapore Chinatown Food Street on Smith Street
Open from 11am to 11pm daily, Food Street in the heart of the Chinatown Market is a true food lover’s destination. The newly constructed high-ceiling glass canopy shelter and internal spot cooling system are great additions for convenience. The food stalls can now be accessed day or night, rain or shine.
Chinatown Food Street in Singapore differs from other Hawker Centres in that it is situated along a street and not in a single building. Stalls are hidden in reconstructed shophouses and in the centre of the no-motorised vehicle road.
It’s always daunting trying to find what to eat at Singaporean Hawker Centres, so I’d like to suggest duck from Tiong Bahru Meng Kee (Stall No. 7), Satay Skewers at Old Airport Road Satay Bee Hoon & BBQ Steamboat (Stall No.2) or Kway Teow at Food Street Fried Kway Teow Mee (Stall No. 8). Come with a group of friends, order a lot and share everything. That’s the best way to experience food markets in my humble opinion.
More information here.
Maxwell Hawker Centre
Maxwell Food Centre was originally known as Maxwell Market and actually opened in November 1928 during the Japanese Occupation. It was a place to scavenge for fruits and vegetables during wartime provisions. The first restaurant only opened after the war at the end of 1946.
In 1987 the former wet market was converted into a food centre. It was an unsanitary place as there was no running water when hawkers started selling food and utensils would be piled up in full sight of paying customers.
After announcing and the dispandoning an idea to turn the food centre into the new Urban Redevelopment Authority headquarters in the 90s, the Centre was finally revamped opening again in 2001. Today, many of the food stalls are second or third generation owners after passing down the family businesses.
Two must try stalls are the China Street Fritters, famous for their handmade sausages, liver rolls, ngoh hiang (fried meat roll) and egg slices; and Tian Tian Chicken Rice, one of the recipients of the inaugural “Bib Gourmand” award in 2016. There is a permanent queue outside, so expect to wait for your dinner.
Chinatown Complex Food Centre
For those looking to the cheapest Michelin star meal in the world, this is the Hawker Centre they will need to come to. Formerly known as the Kreta Ayer Complex, the Chinatown Complex Food Centre was built in 1981 as a part of the urban renewal of the Chinatown, being renamed in 1984.
The centre was built in an effort to thwart the the thousands of illegal street hawkers in Singapore’s Chinatown. As it was set in the heart of the street hawker district being Smith, Trengganu, Pagoda and Temple Streets, this was a great solution. This created a sense of calm among the surrounding streets that were once littered with rickety wooden structures and rodents and insects of all kinds.
The architecture was made to mimic the Chinatown streetscape, installing pavilions, columns, motifs, clay tiles and covered walkways. The food stalls are on the second floor. While it has gone through many upgrades, most recently in 2008 for $20.9 million, the centre still holds a lot of heritage. It’s said that in 2016 there were still roughly 20% of the original hawkers in the centre since 1981.
Apart from the Michelin winner Hawker Chan, you should also try Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao, Jia Ji Mei Shi, Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu or Ah Lo Cooked Food. Be prepared for long queues.
Best Hotels in Chinatown, Singapore
The best hotels in Singapore Chinatown are a blend of old and new – boutique converted shophouses with a modern touch of class and sophistication. Staying in Chinatown is also great as it’s central, so whether you’re visiting Singapore for business or pleasure you won’t be too far off from the action.
When thinking of the best places to stay in Singapore Chinatown, look beyond the big chains and cookie cutter hotels and you’ll be rewarded with some amazingly unique surprises. Below are my personal favorite places to stay in Chinatown, Singapore.
Ann Siang House
Ann Siang House has had many faces before becoming the luxury boutique hotel it is today. It was a former meeting house for Chinese clan members, where they would discuss politics over a game of mahjong. Today it is a homely 20-suite boutique hotel in the middle of trendy Ann Siang Hill.
All rooms are unique with bespoke furniture and eclectic art work. There are various types of rooms, but the most unique are the Active Studio with fitness equipment in your suite, and the Culinary Studio that comes with a kitchen including Le Creuset, Jamie Oliver and Crate and Barrell cooking equipment. The massive 600sf Wellbeing Suite is the most luxurious featuring an Ogawa wellness massage chair, Hysses electric burner and essential oils, Mandy T bath salts and Wellness tea. There are also several dining options including a rooftop bar.
For guests that want to indulge and have a truly relaxing time, get the rejuvenation package. This includes 1872 Clipper Tea Co. infusion teas, steam eye masks, Lush handmade bath bombs, and if you get a suite, you’ll also have a bathtub.
PARKROYAL on Pickering
PARKROYAL on Pickering is a one of a kind green hotel that will not be replicated anytime soon. The hotel-in-a-garden concept merges the urban surroundings with leafy interiors providing a wow factor even from the street outside.
A stand out feature of the hotel is the infinity pool overlooking Hong Lim Park that is equipped with cage style cabanas and lots of greenery, but the sun is only out for half the day. The eco-conscious hotel also features several gardens including a vertical garden, a 300m garden walk and a vegetable and herb garden for the restaurant.
The rooms are functional and bright with modern interiors in light wooden tones. Entry level rooms can be a bit on the small side, but the massive windows open them up nicely. The airy restaurant on the ground floor has floor to ceiling windows and is bathed in natural light, providing a pleasant atmosphere.
The Scarlet is the place to stay for party lovers as it’s situated right in the middle of the action on Club Street. Visually, it’s a true representation of Singapore’s Chinatown as the red velvet Chinese den is set in a row of beautifully renovated shophouses. It is the pioneer of boutique hotels in Singapore, so guests know they will be taken care of by the knowledgeable staff.
It’s a place where history meets modernity as the ostentatiously opulent rooms are housed in a building from 1868. The outdoor jacuzzi overlooking the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum is such a treat, especially at night. Dining at authentic Italian Casa Tartufo is a treat, especially for truffle lovers.
Six Senses Duxton
I mentioned the bar earlier in this article, but staying at Six Senses Duxton is next level luxe. If there ever were a boutique hotel that deserved 5 stars, this would be it. The sexy and sophisticated yellow, gold and black palette are a move away from the usual Six Senses palette and add a unique flavor to an exclusive hotel.
Similar to the Scarlet, Six Senses Duxton is situated in a row of original shophouses that used to be the residences of Chinese merchants. The rooms come in nine categories and are each as lavish as the next. The main reason you’d want to stay at the Six Senses Duxton are the unique designs by former Bond Girl Anouska Hempel.
The Duxton property shares facilities with its larger sister property next door on Maxwell, including the infamous Six Senses Spa, a rooftop swimming pool, yoga classes and a gym. There are also uniquely Singaporean experiences on offer like a visit with a Traditional Chinese Medicine consultation, as well as Tea Demonstrations and a self-guided walking architecture tour.
As mentioned, the Yellow Pot bar and restaurant is deliciously lavish. Try their signature cocktail, Escape To Kaifeng, a blend of Tanqueray gin and chrysanthemum cordial, adorned with a yellow chrysanthemum.
See my complete review of Six Senses Duxton here.
Six Senses Maxwell
The bigger sister of the boutique Duxton property, Six Senses Maxwell is similarly set in a block of heritage shophouses. In fact it will be the last heritage hotel to open in Singapore, receiving the license from the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
French designer Jacques Garcia was at the helm of this project and has created an outstandingly opulent interior reminiscent of European grandeur. The rooms come in five categories and are simple yet chic with the most opulent being the Maxwell Suite situated on the top corner with perfect views.
The standout at the Six Senses Maxwell is it’s eclectic selection of bars and restaurants. Have breakfast in a fully stocked library, lunch at the terrace brasserie, organic bites at Max’s Rooftop or grab a handmade ice cream from the moving trolley under the five foot way.
Sofitel Tanjong Pagar
With a leafy lap pool overlooking Tanjong Pagar, Sofitel Tanjong Pagar is a garden respite in the middle of the skyscrapers. The location is excessively convenient as the building sits directly above the Tanjong Pagar MRT station. The hotel is in fact part of the larger Tanjong Pagar Centre which is part residential, hotel, retail and urban park.
The French-inspired interiors decked with botanical motifs create a luxurious homely atmosphere while the views over the city are some of the best a hotel can offer. Expect all rooms to feature their signature Sofitel MyBed™ and a fill pillow menu. Guests wishing to splurge should opt for the 152sqm Joaquim Suite complete with high ceilings and marble interiors.
Gourmands will appreciate the French cum Chinese Racines helmed by award-winning Executive Chef Jean-Charles Dubois. The 1864 bar is plush and elegant and the cafe has a range of 13 different coffees to choose from.