Have a day in Singapore and you’re not sure what to do with it? Already seen Marina Bay, Chinatown and the Singapore Zoo and want something off the beaten path? Don’t worry. We’ve got the perfect side trip recommendation for you. Check out the myriad of local cuisine options and get a taste of Peranakan culture and other local flavours in the Katong enclave.
Why Visit Katong?
Katong is one of the oldest residential areas in Singapore and the influx of exciting new eateries and old staples have made it a destination of choice for those in the know. Before the land in the area got reclaimed, it was on the seafront and wealthy businessmen built their seaside homes there. Now, Katong is a bustling neighbourhood with a fantastic mix of local and international cuisine set amongst gorgeous shophouses with intricate Straits Chinese detailing that has been lovingly preserved. The Katong area has long been associated with Eurasians and Straits Chinese. In true Singapore style, however, all manner of cuisines are available here. Furthermore, some of the eateries open late so if you feel like having a midnight feast that’s not a problem at all.
A little bit of cultural background before we get into the meat of this feature: The Straits Chinese are commonly referred to as Peranakan in Singapore. You may also hear people talking about Nonya and Baba – these are terms referring to Peranakan women and men respectively. The Peranakan community is descended from Chinese traders who intermarried with local Malay or Indonesian women, and developed their own distinctive culture and cuisine. The Peranakan Museum at 39 Armenian Street is a fantastic place to visit to learn more about Peranakan communities in South East Asia.
Bus numbers 10, 10E, 12, 14, 14E, 16, 32 and 40 stop near the junction of East Coast Road and Joo Chiat Road, which can easily be considered the heart of Katong. Alternatively, take the train to Paya Lebar MRT Station (EW8/CC9) on the green East-West line and hop on the free shuttle service to the 112 Katong mall.
Without further ado, here are 5 recommendations for Peranakan food in Katong!
Kim Choo Kueh Chang
Address: 109 East Coast Road, Singapore 428800
Telephone: +65 6741 2125
Kim Choo Kueh Chang has been a mainstay here for over 60 years. Perhaps most famous for their nonya zhang (triangular glutinous rice dumplings filled with spiced pork, mushroom and other ingredients), they also sell nonya kueh (traditional cakes), pineapple tarts, curry paste, kaya (coconut jam), shrimp floss and many other foodstuffs. Some of these items make great souvenirs, but if you prefer something less perishable, go next door to the boutique gallery. It is a treasure trove of beautiful Peranakan goods. Of special note are the porcelain wares and hand-beaded sandals. Head up the stairs to the second level for even more beautiful traditional clothes. Browse stunning lace and beaded kebaya, designed by their inhouse designer, for the ladies and cotton batik shirts for men. Jewellery for casual wear and traditional kerongsang (traditional brooches) are also available. Don’t forget to sign their guestbook and let them know what you think!
Address: 171 East Coast Road #01-02/03, Santa Grand Hotel East Coast, Singapore 428877
Telephone: +65 6346 4202/ 6346 4203
Opening Hours: 7am to 10.30am (Breakfast)
11.30am to 3pm (Lunch)
6pm to 10pm (Dinner)
If you want to sit down and have a great Peranakan meal, PeraMakan is a name that regularly pops up as a contender when locals discuss which is the best Peranakan restaurant in Singapore. One of the branches is located at the Santa Grand Hotel East Coast, a Peranakan themed hotel in Katong. Peranakan cuisine is influenced by Chinese and Malay cuisine, but has its own distinctive identity. Many dishes use coconut milk, candlenuts, galangal, belachan (shrimp paste), tamarind juice, kaffir lime leaf and more. These ingredients impart rich, aromatic flavours to the dishes. Do try their signature ayam buah keluak. The black buah keluak nut is pounded and mixed with spices before being stuffed back into the shell and braised with chicken, known as ayam in Malay. The nut can be a bit of an acquired taste, however, so for something safer, try any of the rendang (braised meat with coconut milk and spices) or babi pongteh (pork belly with bamboo shoots and mushrooms in gravy). PeraMakan also has a delicatessen selling Peranakan cakes just a few doors down at 209 East Coast Road if you don’t feel up to having a full meal.
Address: 210 East Coast Road, Singapore 428909
Telephone: +65 6440 6195
Unlike PeraMakan, Peranakan Inn is situated in a shophouse with a fairly inconspicuous entrance. It’s easy to walk past and not realise there’s a hidden gem of a restaurant there. Look out for the shophouse painted a distinctive green with plants growing at the front with a little white picket fence. The portions at Peranakan Inn are meant for about two persons to share, so if you’re there with a larger group you can order several more dishes to try! The interior is not as modern as PeraMakan, but is full of character. Apart from the stalwarts of Peranakan cuisine such as ayam buah keluak, beef rendang and babi pongteh, do try the chap chye (stewed vegetables).
328 Katong Laksa
Address: 216/218 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770
51/53 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770
Opening Hours: 10am to 9pm (216/218 East Coast Road)
8am to 10pm (51/53 East Coast Road)
One of the dishes that has pervaded Singapore’s collective food consciousness, laksa is available in many hawker centres. But let’s refer back to the little history lesson above – the Katong area has long been associated with Peranakans, and it was here that what Singaporeans know as Katong laksa had its start. Katong laksa is different from the type of laksa most famous further north in Penang, Malaysia. While Penang laksa contains the sour assam or tamarind, Singapore’s laksa is coconut curry based and much creamier. Many stalls claiming to be the original Katong laksa have sprung up, but 328 Katong Laksa is one of the most popular. The chefs here have actually gone up against celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey in the 2013 SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge and emerged victorious! Service might not be the greatest, but for simply digging into a piping hot bowl of deliciously spicy laksa, this place is hard to beat.
Casa Bom Vento
Address: 477 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427683
Telephone: +65 6440 0196
For something a little different, walk to Casa Bom Vento instead. This Peranakan and Eurasian restaurant is Halal certified, meaning Muslim visitors will have no problems ordering anything you want off the menu. The homely ambience welcomes everyone, and apart from the staple Peranakan dishes like ayam buah keluak, Portugese-style Eurasian food is available on the menu too. For those who enjoy spicy food, don’t miss the Debal’s Curry! Sometimes spelt Devil’s Curry, it is as spicy as its name would lead you to believe and is flavoured with mustard seeds, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, tamarind juice and vinegar for an extra kick. Casa Bom Vento is also more than happy to provide vegetarian versions of their signature dishes if given advanced notice so feel free to call them up. Finish off your meal here with a bowl of chendol – ice shavings, rice flour jelly, gula melaka (brown palm sugar) syrup and coconut cream combine to create this delicious dessert.
That’s it for Peranakan food. However, Katong has far more to offer. Click on Part 2 where we recommend other local food places in the area.