Jiving in Joo Chiat

BODY IMAGE: Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway Singapore : Jiving in Joo Chiat

Local Peranakan Food


Back when Singapore was part of Malaysia, many Chinese settlers travelled south to Malaysia and Indonesia and married the local women. These unions formed the Peranakan ethnic group as well as a new cuisine. Many different flavourful Peranakan dishes can be found all around the island. This truly unique cuisine must be tried while here.


Peranakan women are referred to as Nonya. Therefore, you’ll see the words Nonya and Peranakan used interchangeably. One famous Peranakan dish is called otak otak, or otah otah. I love this tasty mix of fish, coconut milk, chillies, galangal and herbs. It has a lot of flavour without being too spicy. In addition, it comes wrapped in a neat little banana leaf that’s been charcoal grilled. All you have to do is open it up to reveal a tasty morsel of food for you to gorge on. Yum!


There’s a little stall in the Joo Chiat area of town that is open 24 hours a day and serves fresh otah. I highly recommend the mackerel otah. There are all sorts of different otahs you can try, aside from mackerel otah, including prawn otah and, if you’re really game, the Thai-style extra-spicy otah. The basic mackerel otah is priced at SGD 1.10 each, while other flavours are priced at SGD 1.20 each. Try out a few and, if you can’t eat them all at once, you can take them away to enjoy later.


Nam San Mackerel Otah

261 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore

It’s a 20-minute walk from Paya Lebar MRT Station.


WiFi tip: There is a wireless@sg hotspot at 405 Joo Chiat Road.


Restroom tip: There is no public restroom nearby. However, there are some at Haig Road Food Centre.


Shophouses in Joo Chiat


Back in the early 1900s, the area known as Joo Chiat was bursting with coconut and nutmeg plantations. Chew Joo Chiat was one of the plantation owners who subsequently lent his name to the neighbourhood. Between then and now, there have been many changes. Looking around, you’ll see lots of buildings, many of which were built between the 1940s and 1960s. Luckily, they have been conserved for all of us to appreciate now and in the future.


The streets around Joo Chiat Road, Koon Seng Road and Telok Kurau are great to walk along. You won’t be able to stop looking at the colourful shophouses while you are in the area. You’ll notice lots of different types of shophouses, but all feature the same basic design – a narrow front with a length stretching back about two or three times the width of the building. Some shophouses have a shop on the lower floor and a residence above. Others are entirely residential.


Look up at the shophouses and you’ll notice different features. Some have ornate tiles. Some have intricate plaster animals leaping out from the facade. Even the ventilation windows can be ornately carved and decorated.


With bright contrasting pastels, muted greys and whites and a touch of bright orange to provide a bit of zing every now and then, the colour schemes are these shophouses’ noticeable feature. If you happen to walk around the back alleys, you’ll also see many outdoor spiral staircases gently cascading down to the ground level.


Start your walk at the corner of Joo Chiat Road and Koon Seng Road. Continue along Koon Seng Road and take a right turn onto Tembeling Road. From there, just meander where you like and enjoy the colours and spaces that make this area unique to Singapore.


WiFi tip: There is a wireless@sg hotspot at 405 Joo Chiat Road.


Restroom tip: There is no public restroom nearby. However, there are some at Haig Road Food Centre.


Putu Piring for Dessert


Up until 50 years ago, Singapore and Malaysia were joined as one country. As such, you’ll find many Malay-inspired dishes at the hawker centres. You’ll find that many of the foods in Singapore are more commonly known to be Malaysian or Indonesian, but Singaporeans love them too.


In the Joo Chiat area, you’ll find Haig Road Food Centre, which is bursting with all kinds of food, including some very good Malay-inspired dishes. One of my favourite desserts is Putu Piring.


This yummy little concoction is made of rice cakes filled with gula melaka (palm sugar) and topped with fresh coconut flakes. Even though it is sweet, there is a slight saltiness that prevents the little parcels from being sickeningly sweet. The cakes are served with a few pandan leaves to add flavour and can be wrapped in a brown paper package to enjoy at your leisure. I bet you can’t wait too long to eat them, though. After all, they are best eaten while still warm.


Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring

#01-08 14 Haig Road, Singapore

It’s a 5-minute walk from Paya Lebar MRT Station.


WiFi tip: There is a wireless@sg hotspot at the Paya Lebar MRT.


Restroom tip: The restrooms on Haig Road have a SGD 0.30 fee.  As such, you may want to hold it until you’ve made it to your next destination.


The Art of Chinese Tea


Many of the customs you’ll see in Singapore came from other parts of the world. Almost everywhere you go on the island, you’ll see influences from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and, of course, Great Britain. One of the Chinese traditions that many Singaporeans love is the ritual of tea.


If you don’t know much about Chinese tea, or even if you do, dropping by the Phoenix Hill Tea Merchant at Joo Chiat Place is a great thing to do while visiting the area. Owners Julie and Steven know so much about the different kinds of tea you can drink, what certain teas are good for and how to drink tea that you will certainly walk away having learned something new.


Phoenix Hill Tea Merchant has visitors arriving from far and wide to taste and buy tea. It has a tea plantation in Guangdong Province, where the purity of the air and water helps the tea trees produce the good-quality tea. You can try oolong tea, pu er tea or even an unusual tea made from young bamboo leaves, which sounds weird, but has a strangely yummy, nutty flavour.


If you have the time to sit and learn from the masters, Julie and Steven will brew a cup to your taste while giving you a lesson about the benefits of tea. You can buy loose tea leaves, boxed tea and also tea sets. Kettles and every other kind of tea paraphernalia are also available. Be warned though – if you sit and drink tea for a couple of hours, you’ll definitely leave hungry.


Phoenix Hill Tea Merchant

32 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore


WiFi tip: There is a wireless@sg hotspot at 405 Joo Chiat Road.


Restroom tip: If you drink too much tea, there are good restrooms at Phoenix Hill Tea Merchant.


A Local Breakfast


Singapore has so many good choices for breakfast that it’s hard for me to choose a favourite. Kaya Toast and Kopi is definitely one of the best options. However, if I’m really hungry and craving something a little more filling, I’ll go for a roti prata and curry.


Roti prata is a dish that originated when Indians from the south of India travelled to Malaysia and made a dish they called roti canai (roti is the name for bread in Malay, and the area in India is called Chennai. Thus, canai is pronounced with a ‘ch’ at the start). The dish moved south to Singapore and became known as roti prata.


This breakfast is one of the simplest options you can try. The bread is made from flour, eggs and oil and flavoured with a little salt and sugar. The dough is then kneaded and stretched to make it super smooth. Then, it is placed on a burning hot grill and cooked for a few minutes. Roti prata is crispy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside, making it for dipping into a bowl of curry.


Mr. and Mrs. Moghan’s roti prata is a favourite among locals and not known to many others. At Mr. and Mrs. Moghan’s, you can choose your curry preference. There are usually three curries to choose from, including dhal, fish curry and meat curry. The fish curry may not sound as appetizing, but it’s lighter than the meat one and by far my favourite. You can use the spoon and fork handed to you by the waitress. However, I always prefer to use my hands to dip the soft bread into the curry and enjoy the juices it absorbs. Yum!


The little store opens at 6.30am and closes by 1.30pm (it may close earlier if they run out of roti prata). I suggest going on a weekday if you can. Weekends are sometimes so busy that you have to queue up, and the roti prata isn’t quite as good as on days when Mr. Moghan’s hands aren’t quite as tired from flipping it.


Mr. and Mrs. Moghan’s Super Crispy Prata

7 Crane Road, Singapore

Poh Ho Food Court

Every third week of the month, the shop is closed on Tuesday/Wednesday.


WiFi tip: There is a wireless@sg hotspot at 405 Joo Chiat Road.



Restroom tip: There are no public restrooms nearby. However, there are some at Haig Road Food Centre.