By Karen Tee and Rebecca –
As Singapore marks its Golden Jubilee this year, there is plenty to celebrate in this ultra-modern, clean and efficient country. If you’ve been away from home for a while, enjoy your native soil as an enthralled tourist would, by taking in the fantastic offerings of the city. From the glitzy integrated resorts to the celebrity chef restaurants and endless shopping, to the lovingly preserved nostalgic sites you grew up with. Here are our favourite nostalgic must-visits for all Singaporeans abroad to experience an authentic walk down memory lane whenever they’re back home in Singapore.
What to See
As one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, Tiong Bahru is a charming neighbourhood with walk-up apartment blocks and tiny alleyways to explore. In recent years, this area has experienced a hipster revival, with many ground-floor units being converted into indie bookshops, boutiques and cafes. But the old-school way of life is still alive and well here there are provision shops and sundries stores to explore, where you can pick up traditional homewares such as enamel bowls and woven mats, as well as plenty of traditional coffee shops where you can get your fill of local food.
Bring Your Sand Buckets and Supersoakers
For the young, or young at heart, make a trip to one of Singapore’s locally designed playgrounds which are nothing like the plastic behemoths of modern-day playgrounds. Commissioned by the Housing Development Board (HDB) in the late 1970s, the aim of these playgrounds was to convey a sense of Singapore’s identity. Some surviving ones include the famous Dragon Playground at Toa Payoh and BumBoat playground at Pasir Ris. Get ready to have a swinging good time!
Lomantic Date Nights
If you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned romance, head over to the newly refurbished Capitol Theatre, which was a popular date spot for couples in the 1960s. It reopened its doors to the public in May and is now a venue for red carpet movie premieres as well as theatre and dance performances.
There’s also Rex Cinemas in Little India, one of the last remaining traditional cinemas in Singapore that still offers a line-up of Tamil and Hindi movies.
From “those days”
More Nostalgic Places in Singapore
Katong Red House Bakery
Now a conserved heritage building, the former Katong Bakery & Confectionary was much loved for traditional snacks and baked goods. Freshly baked bread, cuffy puffs, swiss rolls… And regulars who come in for kopi and toast. There’s no bakery operating there at the moment but the iconic red-coloured building remains among the shophouses of Katong, where Peranakan and Eurasian cultures live.
If you’re truly craving for old snacks, go to Chin Mee Chin Confectionery along East Coast Road (204 East Coast Road) or Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry (55 Tiong Bahru Road #01-39).
Beach Road Army Market
I’m not sure how excited the guys would be about revisiting this place, but if you’re around Beach Road for some food, might be fun to pop in to this place known for their military supplies for N.S. men. Also good for camping gear.
The Mama Shop Cafe
Not quite old, but very much nostalgic. This new cafe brings back all that nostalgia with a mama-shop theme, offering snacks in those large golden tins. (195 Pearl’s Hill Terrace, #01-54 Old Police Operational Headquarters)
Geylang Serai Market
In the old days, a lot flourished around the wet markets. Geylang Serai Market stands today with a fresher look but retains some of the essence of the kampong flavour. This area used to be full of kampong houses. Today, it has a wet market on the first floor and delicious food, including Malay favourites, on the second. Sambal stingray, mee rebus, chicken briyani… Sedapnya!
Go to the Barber for a Haircut
No fancy nothings. Just a friendly neighbourhood barber, a classic cut and shave. And Pak Ciks entertaining you with a whole bunch of nonsense. The good old days :) Still a few of these in HDB estates.
Buy 4D and Toto
Because why not?
I Miss My Prata & Char Kway Teow!
Every Singaporean worth his or her salt will have at least one – if not 20 – local dishes that they crave while abroad. So of course a favourite thing to do whenever you’re back in Singapore, is to hit up those local favourites that you can’t get anywhere else. Queue for kueh pie tie? Kaya toast and eggs for breakfast? Midnight prata and curry? A hot bowl of bak kut teh? That’s home.
One Stop Makan
For a food tour of Singapore that is sure to evoke memories of your blissful childhood days, here are some of the most enduring hawkers on the island. To savour an efficient and yummy feast without having to traverse the country, head to
- Chinatown Complex Food Centre (Blk 335 Smith Street) with over 200 food stalls;
- Old Airport Road Food Centre (Blk 19 Old Airport Road), where many stalls are run by second or third generation hawkers;
- and Maxwell Food Centre (1 Kadayanallur Street), which is where the famed Tian Tian Chicken Rice is located, among many other foodie gems.
Serious Makan Hunting
If you’re willing to go on an island-wide hunt, check out
- Selera Rasa’ nasi lemak at Adam Road Food Centre, made with an unbeatable combination of fluffy basmati coconut rice and spicy sambal chili;
- Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee, which offers arguably the most piquant version of these iconic noodles in the country;
- and 328 Katong Laksa, touted as the original laksa, which you are supposed to slurp up with a spoon.
- For Indian specialities, Thasevi Food at 237 Jalan Kayu is where you will get crispy roti prata and a gamut of condiments;
- while Muthu’s Curry and Komala Vilas are favourite spots for masterfully blended rice and curries.
- For authentic Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine, head to Katong, the traditional home base for Singapore’s Peranakan community. Check out Guan Hoe Soon, which claims to be the country’s oldest Peranakan restaurant, and PeraMakan for a feast you won’t forget.
Old School Makan Places
- Kiliney Kopitiam (67 Kiliney Road)
- Yet Con Hainanese Chicken Rice (25 Purvis Street)
Kuih Muih Singapura
Break out your pen and paper, and make a list of all the kueh you miss from home. Get on the food hunt! Just to help you get started…
Kueh Lapis, Kueh Pie Tie, Curry Puff, Red Bean Potong Ice Cream, Ice Cream Sandwich, Pineapple Tarts, Loveletters, Ang Ku Kueh, Ondeh Ondeh, Kueh Ambon, Pandon Tapioca Cake, Kueh Salat, Kueh Tutu, Putu Mayam, Muah Chee, Putu Piring, Yam Cake, Soon Kueh
Yep. I’m hungry now.
Thirsty? Bandung, lychee martini, ice milo, kopi cino, teh cino, teh si, teh o kosong, masala chai, mango lassi, milo dinosaur, sugarcane juice, bubble tea, Yeo’s packet drinks, chin chow drink, soya bean milk, grass jelly, birds nest drink, barley, teh tarik, calamansi juice, longan drink.
Made in Singapore
Chances are you’re still in a little bit of a tourist mode when you’re back in Singapore after a long time away. Locals might not down one of these on the regular, but it’s definitely a must to celebrate a visit to Singapore with our spectacular Singapore Sling.
This world-famous cocktail was created at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel 100 years ago, and remains an international cocktail icon to this day. Other bars serving a mean modern version of the Sling include Osteria Mozza, Manhattan and The Spiffy Dapper.
Sim Lim Square
People often say Singapore is a great place to buy all your IT products. We did in fact create the technology behind the MP3 player AND the USB thumbdrive. So we’re adding to this to the list.
We wouldn’t personally recommend Sim Lim. But its reputation precedes it and to be honest, it is an experience. If you’re willing to take a risk, head to the upper floors of Sim Lim and get your bits and bobs for your gadgets. Otherwise, Funan Digitalife Mall is a safer option.
To relive some good old-time glamour, some of Singapore’s grandest hotels are also housed in preserved and restored buildings that date back to the country’s colonial days. Raffles Hotel is undeniably the grand old dame of hotel establishments in Singapore, and has played host to many visiting dignitaries including William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. The Fullerton Hotel is another five-star favourite, located in a lovingly restored historic building that used to be the General Post Office.
Boutique Hotels in Singapore
Those who prefer boutique hotel stays won’t feel left out. Try Hotel Fort Canning which is located in colonial-era Fort Canning Park; Naumi Liora Hotel in the heart of Chinatown; or Mövenpick Heritage Hotel Sentosa if you would like a tropical island getaway.
Adonis Hotel in Purvis puts you up in some classic shophouses. Plus you’re close to those nostalgic makan places like Kiliney and Yet Con Hainanese Chicken RIce, AND Raffles Hotel is around the corner.
So, take your pick and get ready to see ‘the little red dot’ in a whole new light.
Looking for someone to plan things out for you?
Book one of the interesting local tours in Singapore and rediscover old favourites and new hotspots. These are just a few of the available tours, from food tours to driving tours if you’re interested in driving a Lamborghini for a day.