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National Heritage Board
Photograph: National Heritage Board

The ultimate guide to Hougang

From gothic churches to good and cheap food, Hougang is the neighbourhood that keeps it real

By Delfina Utomo
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Before it is the vibrant and mature estate it is today, Hougang was once a large area of forested land, with pig-rearing farms and villages. Two of the more popular villages in this are was Somapah Serangoon and Kangkar. Somapah Serangoon village used to be a popular spot to catch Chinese opera shows and listen to entertaining storytellers while Kangkar was a bustling fishing village originally set up by Catholic missions in the early 20th century. 

These days, Hougang is more than just one of the few "Opposition towns" in Singapore. This northeast 'hood packs a lot of gems like gothic churches, a lush park complete with a lake and the some of the best hawker fare Singapore. 

RECOMMENDED: Neighbourhood guide: Yishun and neighbourhood guide: Bukit Timah

DO

HDB flats
Photograph: National Heritage Board

Check out colourful flats

There are many old HDB buildings in Hougang and for some reason, there is more creative license exercised when it comes to paint colours for these older flats. At a glance, you'll see orange, purple, red and blue blocks around the estate. Explore the colourful massive murals and brightly painted flats of Hougang on foot. 

Phoh Kiu Siang T’ng
Photograph: Phoh Kiu Siang T’ng

Phoh Kiu Siang T’ng

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Hougang

First established in 1929 at Upper Circular Road – which was known as a Teochew enclave – Phoh Kiu Siang T’ng started out by providing funeral services for its members and dispensing medicine to the poor communities. In 1953, the shantang (siang t’ng) moved to Simon Lane in the northeastern suburbs in Singapore due to the fact that Hougang then had a large concentration of Teochews. Today, the shantang operates a free TCM clinic that is open for all.

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Masjid Haji Yusoff
Photograph: National Heritage Board

Masjid Haji Yusoff

Things to do Hougang

Masjid Haji Yusoff is the oldest mosque in Hougang and was built in 1921 on land donated by Gujarati merchant and philanthropist Ahmad Mohamed Salleh Angullia. It was such a prominent landmark in the area that the Chinese name for the section of the road near the mosque was Sembahyang Tng (a combination of the Malay word for “prayers” and the Hokkien word for “pavilion” respectively). The mosque now serves as a hub for the Malay-Muslim community living in the Hougang and Upper Serangoon areas.

Punggol Park
Photograph: NParks

Punggol Park

Things to do

This park located in the middle of Hougang is well-loved by families and active residents living nearby. Punggol Park covers over 16 hectares in size and includes a large pond where anglers can try their luck at fishing. Sporty types can choose to do laps around the pond, rent a bike from the kiosk in the park or level up at the exercise areas which are equipped with bars, stationary bikes and more. If you're looking to do something more relaxing, there are plenty of designated picnic spots with views within the park.

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Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Hougang

Think you'll never find gothic-style churches in Hougang? You're wrong. The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary located on Upper Serangoon Road, is a national monument that was constructed in 1901. Mass is held every single day in various languages and many sit and reflect in the small garden with the statue of the Virgin Mary. 

kampong lorong buangkok
Photo: Delfina Utomo

Kampong Lorong Buangkok

Things to do Serangoon

Within the greater Hougang neighbourhood, you can also find the remaining village in mainland Singapore, Kampong Lorong Buangkok. It's situated precariously in the middle of new developments so its future remains uncertain. Before you enter, remember to get permission from the landlord of the small estate. Take a walk through the village and get transported back to a time when life was simpler in Singapore. Be respectful of course, these are people's homes after all. 

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Sungei Serangoon
Photograph: NParks

Sungei Serangoon

A short walk from Punggol Park is Sungei Serangoon park connector which stretches all the way to Punggol. Go for a scenic jog or run by the river and stop to take in the views. Catch a glimpse of the famous otter family of Hougang or boost that workout with some extra pull-ups at one of the exercise pits along the river. 

EAT

Sin Heng Kee Porridge
Photograph: Fabian Loo

Sin Heng Kee Porridge

Restaurants Hawker Hougang

Sin Heng Kee is a stall that sells porridge with a variety of ingredients. The rice is boiled down, congee-style, to a thick, smooth, and slurp-worthy consistency. Your order could come with meatballs, slices of pork, pig’s liver, and even the option to throw in cubes of century eggs. Frog legs (from $8), cooked in a claypot and tossed with either dried chillies or ginger and onion, is also a popular option. But most people visit this porridge specialist for its signature bowl ($5) that comes with a little of everything – minced meat, slivers of pork, liver, cuttlefish, fish, century egg, and more to add a different texture to every mouthful. Craving something simpler? Options of mixed pig’s organ ($4) and sliced fish ($4) will warm your belly too. 

Arnold's Fried Chicken

Restaurants Fast food outlets Hougang

One of Singapore's best kept secrets (and oldest ones too!), Arnold’s Fried Chicken have been serving some the best fried chicken in Singapore. Starting out as a small fried chicken eatery tucked in second floor corner of City Plaza, Arnold’s Fried Chicken’s humble beginning is the brainchild of two entrepreneurs. Many keep returning for their delicious crispy fried chicken that come with an assortment of classic sides. 

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Hougang Oyster Omelette & Fried Kway Teow

Restaurants Hawker Hougang

Somewhere in the northeastern suburbs of Hougang on Avenue 8, there's an elderly couple toiling over giant woks side-by-side for hours on end, churning out plates of fragrant and morish fried kway teow and oyster omelette. Lim Suan Eng and Ong Lim Chong have spent the past 30 years mastering their craft and they work together like a well-oiled machine.

The omelette is fried perfectly so it is crispy while still retaining its starchiness. Oysters are also imported from Korea because they are plumper and juicier. Don't forget the homemade chilli on the side. 

Ci Yuan Hawker Centre
Photograph: Ci Yuan Hawker Centre

Ci Yuan Hawker Centre

Restaurants Hawker Hougang

With 40 stalls at the hawker centre, variety is king at Ci Yuan. Find all the local favourites like Hokkien prawn noodles, carrot cake, lor mee, kway chap, Hainanese curry rice and nasi Padang. Other than local fare, indulge in Japanese rice bowls, spicy Sichuan noodles, cheap xiao long baos and creamy pasta from other stalls. All food is affordable so you can have yourself a little heartlands feast here.

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Divine Realm Vegetarian Restaurant
Photograph: Divine Realm Vegetarian Restaurant

Divine Realm Vegetarian Restaurant

Restaurants Vegetarian Hougang

Besides amazing hawker options in Hougang, this little eatery also serves up some decent vegetarian fare. It is famous for its range of vegetarian dim sum when it first opened that has seen many customers return for more. The menu has expanded since and now includes local favourites like roti prata and roti john, zi char staples and even ramen. 

ponggol nasi lemak
Photograph: Ponggol Nasi Lemak/ Facebook

Ponggol Nasi Lemak

Restaurants Singaporean Kallang

In the debate of whether nasi lemak is breakfast food or not, Ponggol Nasi Lemak goes on to only open in the evenings. Still, the stall warrants snaking queues and a supper crowd because of the late closing hours. There's so much variety at the stall – think beyond just a fried egg and fish as the sides – prepare to choose from crispy fried chicken, fried prawns, green beans, okra and more. 

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Lola's Cafe
Photograph: Lola's Cafe

Lola's Café

Restaurants Cafés Hougang

Lola's styles itself as a 'backyard café', and it sets to emulate that homely vibe by encouraging the use of hands to eat instead of the usual fork and spoon. Being at home also means having your pet with you, and accordingly, the café welcomes your fur pals at its outdoor seating area. Its extensive menu offers brunch staples like eggs benedict, jazzed up with pulled pork and avocado ($16), bangers and mash ($11) and even a miso salmon grain bowl ($18) for the health nuts. The beverage menu is designed to give you options, from coffee and tea lattes to sodas and craft beers. 

Amber Ember

Restaurants Serangoon

What the heck is a jaffle? Well, ask the Australians – after all, it was conceived from Down Under. A jaffle, named after the jaffle iron invented in 1949, is basically a toasted sandwich. And Amber Ember, a café located right smack in the middle of Serangoon and Kovan MRT stations, may be the first to bring this slice of Australian gastronomy to our sunny shores. Splashed out in shades of dusty pink and warm neutrals, the Instagrammable café offers six jaffle options with its signature purple sweet potato mash. From the lot, we spy with our little eye Cheesus Loves You ($14), featuring melted gruyere, emmental and mozzarella stuffing, and Nice to Meat You ($15), stuffed with beef pepperoni, pork chorizo and bratwurst. There are also other food items such as Amber's Fried Chicken ($12) for sharing and a range of pastas. Amber Ember takes the coffee culture seriously, where cuppas (from $2.50 for an espresso to $7 for filter) are brewed from single-origin Guatemala. And yes, the café is extremely work-friendly with power points and free wifi; what’s more, its relatively ulu location means lesser crowds, so you’ll get a spot there for sure.

DRINK

YFL Coffee Shop
Photograph: The Workers' Party

YFL Coffee House

Restaurants Coffeeshops Hougang

You can spend a day in Hougang without acknowledging its ties to The Workers' Party, an opposition party in Singapore. The coffeeshop located at Blk 322 in Hougang is often referred to as the unofficial homeground of Workers' Party supporters. It's a place that has seen a lot of celebrations in the past two general elections – and also a good place for some kopi or teh. If you love talking politics, come have a drink or two and go in-depth about the pros and cons of implementing minimum wage in the country. Discuss. 

SHOP

Emmanuel Cycles
Photograph: Emmanuel Cycles

Emmanuel Cycles

Shopping Hougang

This humble neighbourhood bicycle shop may be small but it is a favourite stop for the enthusiastic cycling crowd in this neighbourhood. You can pick up a bike for a leisure ride to the nearby parks, or get your bicycle serviced or tuned as well. Customisation is also available if you want to spruce up your bike to stand out on your rides. 

Cheong Ann Watch Maker

Shopping Serangoon

Clocks of all shapes and sizes occupy every possible nook and cranny of this two-storey shophouse. Some have been restored to their former glory, but most are waiting for their turn to be tinkered by second-generation owner David Lim, 55, or his son and protégé Shawn, 23.

Located at the end of a sleepy, sun-drenched street in Upper Serangoon, the shop is quiet, punctuated only by lulling chimes as the duo work on mending timepieces. It’s a job that requires fine tools, intense concentration and years of experience passed down through hands-on practice since the shop opened in 1947.

Despite his store’s name, David doesn’t deal in watches. He gave that up about a decade ago, deciding to focus on antique clocks instead – they’ve a longer and more interesting history that appeals to him. Sourcing from overseas dealers, regular customers and even karung guni, David has amassed a collection so vast that it extends into his home and, at one point, into his toilet. Asked how many he has and he simply shrugs: too many. 

While repairing and restoring clocks – from grandfather’s clocks to a rare 19th-century, French-made Oriental clock – is the mainstay of the business, the father-son pair also handles gramophones, musical boxes, or, as David so succinctly puts it, ‘Anything with gears in it’.

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