Overdosing on Peranakan culture
This time in Singapore I decided to stay in the Katong/Jo Chiat area. I thought it would make a bit of a change for me, from always staying in the area around the CBD/marina.
Katong now has a number of boutique-style hotels and is gaining in popularity with people looking for somewhere a bit different to stay. The area is a lot less crowded than the marina and Chinatown, yet it still has a huge selection of bars, cafes and restaurants.
Although there’s no metro nearby there are numerous buses connecting it to the marina/Raffles/Little India or wherever you want to go (buses are comfortable and air-conditioned and it is relatively easy to figure out where they are going). The area is about a ten minute taxi ride from the airport.
Katong is the Peranakan (pronounced per-rah-nah-khan) area. Peranakans are an ethnic group descended from Chinese settlers who came to Singapore/the Malay peninsular in the 16th and 17th century (the word Peranakan means locally born in Malay).
Although the Peranakans settled all over Singapore, this area best showcases their history, food and culture. Katong is full of colourful shophouses (oh yes, it’s very instagramable) plus some great restaurants/food halls for sampling the local food.
The first thing to see in the area is the beautiful intricate Heritage houses on Koon Seng road.
These intricate 2-storey houses, in a mix of Peranakan and colonial style, were built when Katong was an area for wealthy Peranakans and Eurasians. The houses are now part of a protection order to conserve them.
The Peranakans are (arguably) most famous for their imaginative cuisine. Peranakan food is a fusion of Chinese and Malay dishes made with indigenous herbs and spices. Foods are usually wok-based, made with coconut milk, a spicy prawn paste called Belachan and can be heavy on the chillies (you need to speak up if you don’t like your food too spicy).
I rediscovered the joy of seafood Laksa, a coconut milk broth with noodles, by visiting an award-winning restaurant specialising in the dish in Katong, which more often than not had queues out the door (restaurant:328 Katong laksa).
Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely rave about food – I simply eat it and then get on with something more interesting -so my mentioning it here is a sign of how good it was.
There are also a few hawker centres (food halls) for good cheap local food. My favourite was Marine Parade, where there was no end of choice and most dishes cost just S$3-5.
Entry to the temple is by donation and you need to be ‘appropriately dressed’. You will find lots of intricate carvings and sometimes a Hindu ceremony will be taking place there, if you time it right.
Shopping and gifts
Clothes, often elaborately embroidered, were a form of cultural expression for the Peranakans. Apart from a whole array of exquisite jewellery and beaded slippers, they are famous for their beautiful kebayas, a traditional embroidered blouse and sarong.
Katong doesn’t have so many of the big shopping malls that dominate in Orchard road, but there are a few little shops to poke around in.