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All About Katong

Gentrification seems to have given this eclectic neighbourhood a miss – at least for now. Here is a guide to Katong’s best-kept secrets and Instagram-worthy backstreets.

 By Chin Wei Lien

Which do you think is the most upmarket residential neighbourhood in Singapore? If the private estates off Grange Road or somewhere on Sentosa come to your mind, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. However, back in the old days, two estates stood out above the rest: Tanglin and Katong. In fact, they even had nicknames that spoke of their status: Golden Tanglin and Silver Katong.

In the early days, Katong was the go-to neighbourhood for the wealthy, due to its proximity to the sea. In the mid-20th century, however, the area developed a somewhat seedy reputation, with shady karaoke bars cropping up in its midst. Despite everything, Katong has managed to clean up its act over the years. It now remains one of the stewards of Peranakan culture as well as a neighbourhood that has struck the perfect balance between the old and the new.

The great melting pot

The fact that Katong doesn’t have an MRT station nearby may sound like a major inconvenience, but that’s just how its residents like it. Even today, the neighbourhood remains free of mega malls and insufferable foot traffic (112 Katong is nowhere near as overwhelming as, say, NEX).

Yet, life there has evolved on its own. Katong has managed to maintain a synergy between the old-timers and newcomers, with an eclectic mishmash of bars, local eateries (who hasn’t heard of Katong laksa?) and, of late, one Michelin Bib Gourmand winner (more on that later).

A legendary neighbourhood

Katong’s residents are known for something called Katong Pride and for good reason, too. Their neighbourhood holds fond memories for Singaporeans, from the corner stationery shop that today is a Katong laksa eatery, to the old Odeon Katong Cinema. Speaking of laksa, there is also the infamous war waged between the two competing Katong laksa stalls along the same street.

Late-night hang-outs

As colourful as the estate’s shophouses look in the day, Katong comes to life when the sun goes down. For those who shun the high-octane clubs downtown, Katong is a cosier, laid-back neighbourhood for late-night hangouts. A drink or two at The Cider Pit, followed by supper at Ponggol Nasi Lemak on a Friday night? Sounds like a plan! Also, if you are a karaoke junkie, you may already know that Katong Shopping Centre is home to Teo Heng KTV Studio, the cheapest place in town to sing your heart out till the wee hours of the morning.

Sweet tooth haven

Maybe it has something to do with its Peranakan heritage, but Katong is also famous for its desserts. If you wake up early enough, you may be able to get your hands on Chin Mee Chin Confectionery’s melt-in-the-mouth kaya toasts. Ninethirty by Awfully Chocolate also serves its signature chocolate cake and gasp! chocolate martinis. And we will be here till the cows come home if we start on all the ice cream shops in between.

Discoveries for two

True to its melting-pot roots, Katong has a little something for everyone if you care to dig deeper and explore.

Katong Antique House

You cannot list Katong’s highlights without mentioning this Peranakan shophouse. Owned by Peranakan history and culture expert Peter Wee, this local landmark houses Peranakan antiques, all beautifully preserved in a two-storey shophouse.

Address: 208 East Coast Road

Zaffron Kitchen

Zaffron Kitchen was one of 38 winners of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand award last year, and there are good reasons why. The classic Indian fare here tastes even better than it looks. Pick the dum chicken briyani — but do share it with your partner, as the servings here are generous.

Address: 137 East Coast Road

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

Time has not moved on at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery since the 1950s. The old-school coffee shop still has retro marble-top tables, floor tiles and ceiling fans. This breakfast spot is great for its signature kaya toast, egg tarts and curry puffs.

Address: 204 East Coast Road

Betel Box Tours at Betel Box Hostel

You don’t have to stay at the hostel, although it is a cosy place, nonetheless. However, you may wish to sign up for one of its interesting walking tours. Betel Box Hostel organises many on-foot tours around Singapore, including one in the Katong/Joo Chiat area. This walking tour even includes a sampling of 30 local dishes at the end of the day!

Address: 200 Joo Chiat Road

That Peranakan taste

Next to 112 Katong is Hotel Indigo Singapore, a new hotel which took over what was once a former police station. What we love about this place is that it is one of the
 few Peranakan-themed hotels in town, complete with porcelain wares and floral ceramic tiles that adorn its floors and walls. That killer view of the entire neighbourhood from the rooftop doesn’t hurt either! And a secret among locals is the hotel’s Peranakan restaurant, Baba Chews Bar and Eatery, which serves traditional and modern Nonya dishes, such as ayam buah keluak burger and chilli crab cakes.

This article was first published on DUET magazine.