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 never have to worry about not having enough 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.
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 yoghurt 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 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.
Just when you thought the Tiong Bahru couldn’t possibly fit in another indie café, along comes Flock Café – a family-run affair with more of the minimalist, industrial-like décor du jour. Here, they offer up an all-day breakfast menu that’s a nice balance of the sweet and the savoury – there’s the braised pork cheek with gruyère cheese ($11.90) and prawn avocado ($12.90), as well as a variety of salads (all $8.90). Then round off your meal with the orange bundt cake ($5) or the chocolate cake ($6), accompanied by the quintessential cuppa: espressos for $3.50, plus lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites for $4.80.
Located in a quiet corner of the hip Tiong Bahru precinct (in a row of shops at Link Hotel) is Canjob Taproom store. The snack bar and liquor store offers rotating craft beers on tap that you're able to can up for takeaway at affordable prices. Draft craft beers start from $6 for half a pint, and from $10 for a pint. And if you're peckish, tuck into their delicious bratwurst hotdogs ($8), meat pies ($7), or spam fries ($8).
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 is a bold Nutella-fuelled prize crowned with more nuts, red velvet is made with Valrhona chocolate and capped with a thick cream cheese frosting, and the cookies and cream are 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 neighbourhood serves french artisanal breads, tarts and coffee at three locations around town. Savoury 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.
Tan Boon Liat looks like an old building from the outside, but it is actually a home decorator's mecca. There are over 33 shops selling furniture, home decor, and everything else you need to create the perfect home. All-time favourite stores are The Past Perfect Collection (#11-05), Singapore Trading Post (#07-01), Deer Industries (#07-05), and Soul & Tables (#02-01/03)
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.
This cosy spa is housed in shipping containers, making the latest addition to Tiong Bahru. While exteriors scream "industrial chic", step inside and you'll find a comforting palette of browns and burgundies offset by Thai silk pillows and wall decals of flowers and birds.
Two out of four treatment rooms, plus the hot tub in the back for bath therapies like The Milky Way ($55 for 30min) and Heaven and Herb ($55 for 30 min), are for duos. Massage styles range from a classic Thai or Balinese to the Tuina and modern Japanese Shiatsu.
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.
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.
The Spa Esprit Group's male counterpart to the brand's popular Strip and Browhaus concepts is an all-in-one space for men to get their head-to-toe treatments in a space that feels less princess palace and more superhero hideout.
A small retail area is stocked with goods by Malin+Goetz, label.m, Geo F Trumper and a We Need a Hero house brand – so dudes don't have to wait until the next tune-up to hit up this Tiong Bahru joint.
Services-wise, haircuts ($40-$85) are administered by veteran scissorhands Janice K and Quester Ng, while an in-house team is responsible for colour work (from $75), treatments ($70-$180), shaves and trims ($15-$65) for wild moustaches and beards. We Need a Hero also provides proprietary techniques to remove all that fur from the ears ($14) and nostrils ($20) – and plans are underway to launch facials for men.
Foodie Market Place is an institution for all your gourmet needs at affordable prices. Think air-flown chilli beef & lamb, frozen meats and seafood, cheeses, canned products, ice creams and frozen desserts. Whether you're shopping for your next barbecue party or doing your grocery run for the week, it's worth taking a stroll to the edge of Tiong Bahru.