Like all the best places, Tiong Bahru has always had a reputation that precedes it.
Some call it Singapore’s hipster capital, while others admire it as a heritage gem, miraculously preserved in our modern city. The iconic neighbourhood even has a new film named after it.
But the real magic of Tiong Bahru, which is one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates, is in how it hasn’t yet faded away into nostalgia. Amidst streets lined with Art Deco flats and pre-war buildings, you can still find something exciting: an independent gallery spotlighting local art, a homegrown fashion boutique that marries different cultures, or a charming restaurant that changes its concept depending on the time of day.
It’s there that you’ll get to really see that melting pot of cultures that Singapore is famed for; no wonder that tourists and locals alike flock to the hip, colourful neighbourhood every chance they get. Add to that the fact that Tiong Bahru offers a myriad of local-flavoured dining and shopping experiences that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, and one thing becomes clear: there’s no other place quite like it.
Looking to discover (or rediscover) Tiong Bahru and see for yourself what all the fuss is about? Take notes from our guide to the district’s coolest retail stores, fashion boutiques, dining spots and more. Go forth, explore and maybe take home a slice of Singapore with you, too.
Header image: Jason Knott / Alamy Stock Photo
This story was first published on Lifestyle Asia Singapore and presented by Singapore Tourism Board
From home decor and plants to paper paraphernalia, you’ll find just about anything in Cat Socrates, a feline-themed gift shop nestled in the heart of Tiong Bahru. The quirky, cosy store also spotlights homegrown creations, offering a selection of local music albums, scented candles, as well as books and zines published in Singapore. Whatever you choose to get, rest assured that you will leave with a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
(Image: Cat Socrates)
Cratediggers can easily spend hours at Curated Records, one of Singapore’s beloved indie record stores. It offers over a thousand vinyl records, encompassing an array of genres like pop, indie, alternative rock, hip-hop and jazz. Most of these albums come from independent labels — a treat for collectors — and even local artists, which the store proudly showcases alongside iconic releases like the first press of Nirvana’s In Utero.
(Image: Curated Records)
Head to Grey Projects to fully immerse yourself in the world of art and design. The space houses two galleries, where you’ll likely come across exhibitions by local artists. You might encounter the artists themselves at Grey Projects’ live-in residency, or through workshops regularly held at its studio. At the library, you’re also free to browse books from artist-founder Jason Wee’s personal collection, zines made by local creatives, and donations from art institutions around the world.
(Image: Grey Projects)
Add a splash of colour to your Tiong Bahru tour with a visit to OliveAnkara. The local fashion brand brings a dose of African culture here by way of bold, wax-printed fabrics, which founder Ifeoma Ubby believes can look good on everyone. It’s hard to argue, especially when these vibrant fabrics are cut into modern silhouettes like resort dresses and jumpsuits. The label is also known for its contemporary cheongsams, which are sure to liven up your upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.
For 10 years now, Nana & Bird has offered all the stylish items that spoke to founders Georgina Koh and Tan Chiewling. That includes Nordic jewellery pieces, sustainable pleated bags, and clothing from indie local brands like Rye and Aijek. The store’s selection has also expanded to homeware and children’s clothing. In other words, there’s something for everyone at this proudly homegrown multi-label boutique.
(Image: Nana & Bird)
It’s fitting that DGA Threads is tucked away behind Degiosart Gallery, both founded by art collector Giuseppe De Giosa. The two spaces showcase his appreciation of Asian art and culture, but DGA Threads does it through clothing and fashion accessories. These are upcycled from vintage Japanese and Indian textiles in De Giosa’s collection. What’s even more special is that each piece is one-of-a-kind, designed and created by local seamstresses.
(Image: DGA Threads)
For a unique dining experience that you can’t find anywhere else, try Bincho. The restaurant operates as a hawker stall by day, serving up local favourites like kaya toast and Bincho’s famous mee pok noodles. After 6pm, it transforms into a yakitori bar, offering Japanese dishes by Chef Asai Masashi. All of this can be enjoyed in Bincho’s industrial-style dining space, which you’ll enter through the backdoor.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry. As one of Singapore’s oldest bakeries, it specialises in Peranakan and Indonesian kuehs, with almost a hundred handmade variations to treat yourself with. For starters, we recommend trying traditional snacks like the bakery’s famous putu ayu (steamed coconut pandan sponge cake), kueh dar dar (white coconut roll), or ondeh ondeh (pandan-flavoured glutinous rice balls).
(Image: Tan Wei Chi / Facebook)
No prizes for guessing what cuisine you’ll find at House of Peranakan Petit, but we would say that the delectable dishes there will make you feel like a winner. The homely restaurant is helmed by chef-owner Bob Seah, who expertly serves up both traditional and modern Nyonya favourites like ngoh hiang (spicy, deep-fried meat rolls) and ayam buah keluak (braised chicken in spicy tamarind gravy). You can even bring that delicious goodness home; the restaurant offers a takeaway menu encompassing appetisers, mains and desserts like durian chendol and gula melaka chendol pudding.