Home to people from all walks of life – from wealthy expats to long-time local residents to migrant workers – Joo Chiat was named after a wealthy and generous land owner from the early ’20s: Chew Joo Chiat. While hipster-friendly places have been cropping up a dime a dozen in recent years, there is still plenty of old-world charm that can be found in the neighbourhood. And Philip Chew would know. As the great-grandson of Joo Chiat, he has lived in the district for decades – here are five of his favourite spots.
‘One of my favourite coffee shops then and now is Chin Mee Chin Confectionery. It has not changed much and appears as though time has stood still. The furniture, such as the tables and chairs, is old fashioned – as is the display case for cakes. The coffee shop serves mostly regulars and worshippers at Holy Family Church, which is next door to the shop. The shop has very good homemade kaya, local coffee and cakes.’
‘The Kwan Im Temple at Tembeling Road was another favourite place of mine when I was young. Visitors used to be able to explore the temple from the front to the back of the building. There were many idols at each hall and each has a story to tell. Now, worshippers are confined to the front hall. The temple is very crowded during festive seasons and also on the first and 15th day of the lunar calendar.’
Koon Seng Road
‘I like the Peranakan buildings at Koon Seng Road. The houses were originally Peranakan residences. We used to visit a Peranakan friend living there. The premises have since been converted into other uses, just like those at Joo Chiat Road. I still visit the area because of the buildings' distinct architectural styles. The façades of the shophouses have motifs derived from Chinese and Malay cultures, as well as European influences. Looking at the buildings evokes past memories and nostalgia.’
Nam Kiat Chew
‘Nam Kiat Chew is the name of a wine shop located at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Crane Road. It was originally a provision shop before being converted into a wine store after the war. The shop owner, a lady, is now more than 90 years old and is the oldest resident in Joo Chiat. She is a family friend and I visit her whenever I walk down memory lane in Joo Chiat.
‘When it was a provision shop, its upper floor was an opium addict rehabilitation centre. A licensed opium shop was operating then at Joo Chiat Road. The addicts overcome their addiction by praying and drinking Chinese tea. Opposite the provision shop was a vacant plot of land, and in the evening, people would sit around a storyteller, listening to his action-packed tales. I still go back to the site occasionally to reminisce about the old days.’
162 Joo Chiat Rd (6344 1833). Daily 10am-8pm.
‘Kway Guan Huat is a shop that makes popiah skin at Joo Chiat Road. It has been there since my pre-school days. We lived nearby and my family patronised the shop whenever we had a popiah party. Previously, the shop made and sold only popiah skins. Today it sells not only popiah skins but also popiah, kueh pie tie, sweet black sauce and other popiah ingredients as well. It’s interesting to watch how a popiah skin is made – a skilful and agile hand is needed.’