Time Out Melbourne

Coffee shop culture old and new, indie boutiques and pre-war art deco surroundings

If there is one place that best reflects Singapore’s vibrant contrasts, Tiong Bahru would have to be it, with its quirky shophouses, nostalgic hawker stalls and plethora of sweet and savoury eateries yielding a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new, local and foreign, lost and found. Located just over the Central Expressway (CTE) from Chinatown, the area was established in the 1930s as one of Singapore’s first housing estates. The pre-war low-rise apartment blocks – still well-preserved today – are an attractive mix of art deco and Straits Settlement styles, with flat rooftops, rounded balconies and spiral staircases. Originally an upper-class housing estate, it fell out of favour in the following decades after World War II, but a recent wave of gentrification has filled the area with hip cafés and boutiques, and the refurbished flats are now among the hippest housing options for young homeowners.

The charming neighbourhood is perfect for strolling around during the day, with third-wave coffee joints and posh restaurants, such as 40 Hands, a graffiti-walled café producing speciality coffee, and Open Door Policy, offering a Modern European menu along with an extended wine list, existing next to old-school canteens.

Several businesses have even begun utilising old spaces as time-share rentals, giving them new life at night, such as with Two Face Pizza & Taproom, which as the name suggests, has dual personalities: by day, it’s an aged kopitiam with vendors selling yong tau foo (stuffed tofu) and mee pok (yellow noodles). By night it becomes a casual chic pizzeria with the help of some strategically-placed chalkboards. Do try the kiam he (salted fish) thin crust pizza. Bincho, which cleverly incorporates a trendy Japanese yakitori joint at the back of a 70-year old noodle stall (look for the original Hua Bee sign). During the day, Hua Bee is still in action, while Bincho serves up lunch and yakitori sets for dinner.

But to really get a slice of local life, a must-visit is the long-standing two-storey Tiong Bahru Market (30 Seng Poh Rd), which features a wet market below and some of Singapore’s best hawkers on the spacious, breezy upper deck – try the selection of dim sum-esque offerings at Tiong Bahru Pau (#02-18/19), a local institution.

Aside from the eating options, there’s the quirky independent bookstore BooksActually, which has a wide spread of titles, whimsical stationery and tchotchkes, as well as several vintage clothing boutiques, such as Flea and Trees, where you can peruse pre-loved clothing and furniture. More old-school treasures can also be uncovered at nana & bird, a hole-in-the-wall offering totes, accessories and frocks.

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