For what it’s worth, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife frequent this vegetarian eatery – we were told they were there just days before we visited. Madras New Woodlands serves predominantly South Indian dishes that are lighter than your average greasy piece of prata. Try pongal, a sticky mix of rice and lentils cooked in milk and served with three sauces. You’re supposed to mix them all together and eat it in one go. The paper thosai is also popular – light and crispy, it retains its crunch even after being drenched in curry.
Tekka Market is home to dozens of stalls that claim to be the best in the same thing: nasi briyani. Yet among them all, Allauddin’s ($5) comes out top. Its reputation lies in the briyani rice. Perfumed with heady spices, the fluffy basmati reawakens the taste buds instead of weighing down the palate. So despite its generous portion, you won’t have trouble scooping up every single grain of rice and shred of mutton. Special mention goes to the vegetable dhal and achar that add zing to the meat and rice.
Little India is not the best ’hood to get liquored up (apparently booze equals riots, but what do we know), so your options are limited. Enter this unpretentious pub. The beers aren’t run-of-the-mill: draft pours ($13.50/pint) include Mac’s Great White from New Zealand and Pure Blonde Lager from Australia, while bottles ($11) run the gamut from Heineken to Corona. Every Thursday from 9 to 11.30pm, the bar issues free flow vodka, rum, gin and whisky, priced at $28 for the guys and $24 for the ladies. These prices are all in nett, too, making Prince of Wales one of the cheapest watering holes in town.
It’ll take you more than a glance of the ‘bak chor mee’ ($14.90) at this café to realise that it’s actually a sweet treat: the ‘noodles’ are made from mango jelly and the ‘mushrooms’ are really slices of sea coconut. The disguised desserts here are part of Non Entrée’s Back to the Future menu, which puts a sugary spin on local fare. But for something less mind-boggling, the matcha avalanche ($13.90) is a warm green tea lava cake served atop a peanut brittle. Slice into the cake and its lava centre oozes onto a bed of gelato and edible flowers below. Heavenly.
Close your eyes and it’ll seem as though you’re grocery shopping in a bustling market in Barcelona instead of the heart of Little India. With salsa music blasting from the speakers, Chia’s Vegetables Supply will make you feel like dancing as you pack your bags with the freshest produce from all over the world – some of which can’t be found in supermarkets. There are red and ripened cherry tomatoes on the vine and three cartons of salad leaves (baby spinach, rocket and mesclun) from which you can pick and mix. Purple carrots from New Zealand and the spiciest habaneros from Mexico are occasionally in stock, too.
More places to eat and drink
You wouldn’t think it from the traditional, colourfully tiled shophouse exterior, but this Little India restaurant – located behind the lobby of boutique hotel Wanderlust – is a French thoroughbred. Its allegiances are displayed not only in the oversized vintage posters hanging faded on the wall and Le Creuset kitchen utensil holders on every table, but also in its wine list and unmistakeably traditional campagne-inspired cuisine.
Set in an old colonial house atop Emily Hill, this neighbourhood bar with a performance space offers a cocktail menu that features several twists on classics, including the Kult Julep with rum, kaffir lime leaf and gula melaka. Kult Kafé also hosts a series of community-driven independent events such as outdoor screenings of local and foreign short films.