First known as Seng Poh Market, Tiong Bahru Market was a one-storey refuge built by the government to house the street hawkers eking out a living in Singapore’s oldest public housing estate. After several huge makeovers, Tiong Bahru Market is a sprawling two-storey complex that retains much of its timeless appeal. The ground floor is a hubbub of frenetic bargaining activity on most mornings, with market and retail stalls selling anything from dried goods to ornamental fish and cheap clothes.
Upstairs, the food haven is a spacious, breezy affair. High ceilings, well-spaced-out tables and an alfresco area spell good news for even the fussiest of hawker centre eaters. From the famous shui kuih to prawn noodles, you have to worry about the choices here.
Wherever Loh Lik Peng sets up shop, the buzz follows – this time, it’s for the serial restaurateur’s hawker-esque yakitori bar. The space, by day, serves up mee pok by heritage hawker Hua Bee, and dressed up Japanese dishes and tipples at night. As befitting of Loh’s hipster modus operandi, evening diners must enter through a metal door in the back. The décor of course ticks all the grungy hipster boxes – Hua Bee’s traditional marble and wood kopitiam tables and old utilitarian wall tiles are kept alongside distressed paintwork, intentional rust, unfinished wood and burnished copper.
With over 33 shops in one building selling furniture, home decor and anything to do with creating the perfect home, Tan Boon Liat is a mecca. Be prepared to spend a whole day exploring all the shops in this building... and ending up buying a sofa, dining table or at least a rug from the experience.
For those who digest the likes of Murakami, Sweeney, Capote, Salinger, and Nabokov, bring your appetites and dollars when you visit BooksActually. Aside from the classic titles, the bookstore also carries narrative and theoretical books in the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, anthropology, political science, history, biography, science, travel, food, art and more. Head to the back of the store for an assortment of desirably retro, non-literary oddities to peruse, including old-school film cameras and typewriters. With its line-up of monthly events, BooksActually is also a great place to check out Singapore's literary scene.
Be transported to the isles of Greece when you step into Bakalaki. Get your fix of Mediterranean cuisine by ordering a platter of dips including tzatziki ($14.90), Greek yogurt with cucumber, and taramosalata ($15.90), a white cod roe spread that you can slather onto warm slices of pita bread, fresh from the oven. The spacious tavern is perfect for entertaining large groups, so order one of its mixed grilled meat or seafood platters to share. The meat tray (from $97.90) comes with grilled skewers, lamb chops, meatballs and sausages, while the seafood platter (from $118.90) has a mix of squid, octopus and prawns.
If pages full of words bore you, check out this addition to the local literary scene that specialises in picture books. Woods in the Books offers a feast of pictorial treasures, including works by award-winning French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé – known simply as Sempé – plus quirky graphic novels, the popular 1980s Malaysian series Lat, pop-up versions of The Little Prince, and of course, classic children’s books like Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.
It’s smack in the middle of Tiong Bahru, so you know the kind of Hipster 101 albums this hole-in-the-wall stocks. Still, you’ll be able to pick out a few good finds – albeit at ludicrously high prices – like a rare first-press of Nirvana’s In Utero.
If you're setting up shop in the hip Tiong Bahru precinct, it’s understandable why the team behind Merci Marcel has made this new French eatery as photogenic as possible. Potted plants line the rattan bar and there’s garden space out back that’s drenched in sunlight. It’s a beautiful place to kick back and while the afternoon away – as long as you don’t come with high expectations for the food...
Platters of pastries and cakes tempt your taste buds as you enter Plain Vanilla Bakery, but resist that because you’re here for one purpose: to capture those cupcakes, squash them between your teeth, reduce them to a sticky, gooey clump. Choose from a dozen flavours ($3.90 each): chocolate hazelnut’s a bold, Nutella-fuelled prize crowned with more nuts; red velvet’s made with Valrhona chocolate and capped with a thick cream cheese frosting; and cookies and cream’s a chocolatey affair with smashed Oreos weaved into its frosting. You’ll want to collect ’em all, we promise.
This boulangerie – which first opened its flagship store at it's eponymous neighborhood – set up by celebrity baker Gontran Cherrier together with the Spa Esprit group, serves french artisanal breads, tarts and coffee at three locations around town. Savory options like the Squid Ink Sandwich ($8.50) and Ham and Melted Cheese on Focaccia ($8) are great for satisfying the peckish while sweet options like the ever-popular Almond Croissant ($3.20) and the sinful Kouign-Amann ($3.50) are not-to-be-missed especially when bought fresh off the oven.
Go crazy with the selection of old-school nyonya kueh and traditional treats at Tiong Bahru Gallicier. From ondeh-ondeh (glutinous rice balls with gula melaka filling) to Lemper Udang (a savoury sticky rice roll filled with spicy dried shrimp), you can also add on to the basket with classic pandan cake, assorted chiffon cakes, tarts, cookies and pastries.