Singapore’s Katong-Joo Chiat: Two districts converged in a Peranakan enclave

Once known as the villages of seaside retreats, both Katong and Joo Chiat are now synonymous with Peranakan culture. From classic cuisines to modern mementos, here is where you can enrich yourself in local heritage and traditional experiences.

Imagine vast lands of coconut plantations, often used by the city dwellers on their weekend retreats: that is what the district of Katong once looked like before it was developed into a suburban area by the early 20th century, populated by Peranakans. Its neighbouring district, Joo Chiat on the other hand, is shaped by pre-war architecture — colourful shophouses, terrace houses adorned with intricate motifs and ceramic tiles.

Together, the Katong-Joo Chiat precinct has not only preserved the heritage of its peoples, but let the culture thrive and grow into what’s essentially a Peranakan paradise. Here, shops all along the streets are brimmed with mementos and collectibles that offer a window into the life of yesteryear Singapore.

Discover the rich heritage of the Peranakan community

As the culture thrives in Katong-Joo Chiat as well as the nearby Geylang Serai (one of Singapore’s oldest Malay settlements), there are must-visits offering traditional experiences and unique heritage items in profusion, for both locals and tourists alike.

Of course, besides the one-of-a-kind food, the Peranakan culture is also known for its unique style of clothing and fashion. The classic nyonya kebaya and sarong are often paired with kasut manek (beaded slippers) as worn by Peranakan women throughout history — and you can find them at Rumah Bebe. While Rumah Bebe was first established as the go-to place for intricate kasut manek, the heritage boutique has since expanded its catalogue to offer other unique items as well as classes and workshops to learn about the kebaya art form.

Katong Antique House is a private house-turned-gallery where you can find treasures like batik sarong textiles and kebaya blouses. Since it was once a private house, visitors are also offered an immersive and authentic experience that reflects everyday life in a typical traditional Peranakan home. At The Intan — owned by curator Alvin Yapp — you will also get a noteworthy introduction to Peranakan culture. The Intan is a part-home, part-museum, which also triples as a post-war historical shophouse offers intimate, small-group tours.

Curious for crafts? HIEW Floral.Gifts.Home is a one-stop florist for the unsuspecting. But for the streetwise collector, it is a port of call for Peranakan ceramics, which also make perfect Singapore souvenirs.

Take a walk down memory lane

Walking down the Katong-Joo Chiat precinct can be surreal, as if in a living memory. There are homes and shophouses dating back to almost a century, so perfectly preserved that you can experience firsthand how its original owners might have lived at the time. And with the shops, it can feel like you have time-travelled to the past — offering items that you won’t see in shops today.

Hoe Tien Provision Shop is a relic of old Singapore — an old-school store that offers a wide variety of traditional snacks that might be hard to find in modern supermarkets — while Teong Theng Co., which has been around for over 70 years, offers a range of wooden and rattan furniture in the style of ‘old Singapore’. Think seashell-shaped cane chairs that were popular in the 1960s and 1970s, perfect for the hot humid tropical climate such as ours. (Times may have changed, but our weather sure hasn’t!)

If you’re looking for something that’s sure to give you a blast from the past, Ann Tin Tong Medical Hall is where you can find medicated oils and ointments such as Tiger Balm and Axe Oil. A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shop founded by Leong Moh Lim — a Chinese physician by trade — he arrived in Singapore in the 1920s and dispensed herbs and medicine to the age of 97.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a ‘walk down memory lane’ without some old tunes. RetroCrates is an independent record store that offers a range of turntables as well as a great library of both new and pre-loved vinyl records for sale. Once you’ve gathered your music gear, head to Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee for specialty coffee or craft beers. Built as a lifestyle concept shop/cafe/bar that offers a chill atmosphere, here is also where you can browse through the café’s unique selection of vinyl records, hip-hop inspired lifestyle products and streetwear brands.

Indulge in some modern-day shopping

Ready to be taken back to the modern age? Joo Chiat is also home to modern design shops, which offer just about everything from custom-made hats to hipster-chic bicycles. After a day’s worth of exploring the old, head to these spots to indulge in a modern-day experience.

Founded in 1974, Scanteak is where you’ll find premium furniture that marries minimalist Scandinavian aesthetics with gorgeous tropical teak hardwood. Today, they are known as a global teak furniture brand known for functional yet appealing designs. To complete the contemporary furniture, walk over to SOJAO — a local start-up offering ethically-made and organic bed sheets that are smooth, lightweight, and durable.

Now that you’ve got your classic nyonya kebaya and kasut manek, it’s time to stock up on some modern-day fashion from what Katong-Joo Chiat can offer. At The Emporium, a fashion lifestyle outlet, you can find independent local designer brands curated by Sylvia Lim (founder and designer of Triologie, a womenswear label). The designs feature uniquely local accents, like the Maneks and Png Kueh prints fused with modern designs — a truly nostalgic throwback to the two districts in their past. There’s also Peranakan homeware in store, as well as nyonya-inspired jewellery to complete your pseudo-classic look.

Plant-lovers and fans of the flora can head over to Birds of Paradise, a gelato brand inspired by the botanical flavours of nature. Using natural ingredients such as fruits, flowers, pods, herbs, and spices, Birds of Paradise pays homage to the Southeast Asian region to create its very own range of signature flavours. Cat Socrates — don’t be fooled by its name! — is a unique, eclectic store that specialises in odds and ends. Like Alice lost in Wonderland, you’ll find yourself browsing the store and discovering all kinds of things from books and paper to kitchenware, fashion accessories and vintage memorabilia, all with a Singaporean theme.

Art aficionados, we haven’t forgotten you just yet! La Tienda is a concept store along Joo Chiat Road that features art prints, natural soaps and skincare products, stylish fabrics, clothing, accessories and many more. For art pieces made for the home, Tiger and Arcadia is a boutique that specialises in home décor — give your home a little bohemian vibe with its array of quirky knick-knacks! It’s no wonder Katong-Joo Chiat is named one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world. This charming precinct has much to offer — through its Peranakan heritage and beyond.

To learn more about the Katong-Joo Chiat precinct in Singapore, visit Singapore Tourism Board for more guides.

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