Joo Chiat and Katong have gained popularity over the years for their blend of Instagram-worthy Peranakan shophouses, delectable cuisine, and indie retail stores. Named after philanthropist, Chew Joo Chiat, this charming corner in the east of Singapore was once a small village of seaside retreats for the wealthy. It's since been revamped into a residential suburb surrounded by shops and eateries.
Declared as Singapore’s first Heritage Town in 2011, this East Coast enclave still holds timeless treasures and insight into the rich Peranakan cultural heritage of the 1950s. Today, most of Joo Chiat’s multi-ethnic influences are most evident in its architecture, dining options, and activities.
Where to eat and drink at Joo Chiat
Opened by a group of interior designers, Avenue Cafe is a quirky blend of restaurant meets architect’s office. Just like its name suggests, Avenue Café offers its patrons possible avenues to sort out their interior design needs: it's a place to plan your dream home as well as talk to in-house consultants over a cup of coffee. Founded by Quadwork Pte Ltd, it also has furniture for sale and a small collection of clothing and accessories for sale.
Merging coffee shop with bar-bistro, Alibabar’s kopitiam by day and hawker-bar by night concept features different stalls selling local staples Hokkienkkien mee and prawn noodles, gourmet burgers, modern Thai, and Mediterranean cuisine. It also has a wide selection of craft beers, including upmarket brews like Belgian Trappistes Rochefort beers, and is a great place for sports fans to cheer on their favourite teams on the LCD televisions.
Awfully Chocolate has grown from an indie store selling chocolate cakes to a group of restaurants thriving both locally and overseas. Ninethirty is a bistro that serves Asian-inspired western fare and Awfully Chocolate desserts. The flagship store in Singapore offers a contemporary selection of dishes with local influences like laksa tagliatelle and tandoori chicken, or cool drinks such as katong jelly and rambutan slushie.
Gone may be the '60s-inspired interiors, but remnants of it remain – particularly in the signage and the kopitiam floor tiles. Though its old-school coffee shop bar stools have been replaced with polished wooden tables and seats straight out of IKEA, Sinpopo Brand, which first started with simple nostalgic food, now offers creative takes on local dishes. Whether be luncheon crisps and crispy crab wontons, or having a main dish of Nasi Lemak, Sinpopo is much more than just a coffee shop now.
This OG kopitiam has been a breakfast institution for generations. Nothing much has changed over the years: it’s still toasting kaya buns over a charcoal fire and using a sock to pull kopi. Even the interior has remained the same. The kitchen occupies half the shop, giving the aunties who run the show ample space to bake. Every 15 minutes or so, you’ll see one of them emerge from the back to put out a tray of freshly baked cupcakes. So if you ever see a batch of chocolate cupcakes, grab them before they’re all snapped up by bulk orders.
With two custom-made woodfire ovens on-site, Firebake is extremely serious about its sourdough breads. There are four types available: white, rye, wholemeal and fruit, each made with all-natural, top quality ingredients like organic flour from Western Australia and Nordaq Fresh filtered water. It’s not playing around with the food either – expect dishes like four-spice liver pate ($12) that's made with equal parts butter and liver for a luscious spread, Norwegian blue mussels cooked with lager and chorizo ($25) and grilled pork belly served in a sweet garden vegetable broth ($22).
328’s laksa ($5.35-$7.50) lets you scoop all the good stuff into one spoonful – even the fishcake is thinly sliced so you’ll get a bite of it along with prawns, beansprouts and cockles. The broth itself is thick and coconut-y, which may to too jelat for some. But not us. And while you’re at one of its many outlets, don’t forget to order a slice of otah ($1.40) to accompany the dish.
Rabbit’s random name was inspired by the game rock, paper, scissors and suggests a whimsical mind at work, yet it’s firmly grounded in its British roots. The joint, owned by Norfolk-born Richard Huggins is a retro 50-seat diner nestled in a corner of the East Coast Road-Ceylon Road junction. Though there’s a basic breakfast menu served almost daily (except Mon and Tue), the weekend is when the big players come out, with brunch classics such as eggs Benedict ($13.50) and the Game Keepers Shooting Breakfast of eggs, toast, pork sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes ($17.50).
A glass-paned window box juts out at Zaffron’s entrance, showcasing the chefs at work and the star of the show – a charcoal-fired tandoor oven. This is the best spot for viewing the kitchen mechanics, so be sure to take a peek before entering. A soundtrack of jazz and bossa nova completes the soothing vibe. The theatre-style kitchen opens out onto a 96-seater spacious room flushed in hues of saffron orange and gold. Serving up everything Indian, Zaffron offers India’s finest with the freshest ingredients and purest spices.
Delicately-perfumed and sophisticated, the botanical-inspired flavours at Birds of Paradise tastes like edible poetry. This tiny gelato nook along East Coast Road Road is standing-room-only and perpetually packed. Flavour, texture and colour are coaxed from flowers, herbs, nuts and spices for signatures like white chrysanthemum, strawberry basil, and lemongrass ginger (from $4.70 a scoop). Even their housemade waffle-cone ($1) is scented with thyme.
What to do and where to visit at Joo Chiat
Nestled along Joo Chiat Road, Retrocrates is the ideal place for music-lovers to relax, unwind, and crate-dig in a leisurely manner for all genres of music, old and new. The independent record store offers a range of turntables as well as a large library of new and pre-loved vinyl records for sale. The second-floor shophouse – complete with sofas, cushions, and rugs – allows for customers to get comfortable and immerse themselves in the music.
It’s lifestyle needs galore at Cat Socrates. Like the original establishment at Bras Basah, its east-side branch offers a cornucopia of unique home décor, books, trinkets, bicycle accessories, craft and paper paraphernalia. Discover lifestyle goods such as notebooks, bags, pillows and mugs whimsically fashioned by local designers. Bring home aesthetically pleasing wooden furniture, magnets or tote bags with Peranakan tile or cat print designs. There's also a range of books and magazines published by local writers and illustrators to discover. Keep a look out for the resident cat shopkeeper Zoo-Zoo – if he isn’t waiting to greet you by the door, he might be resting in his bed by the window.
Browse Elyse and I’s collection of whimsical beach totes and pouches at this new multi-label boutique. Hand-embroidered palm trees, pineapples and watermelons that scream summer adorn the front of these bags. Other brands in-store include Australian gemstone jeweller Elverd Designs, menswear label Hanway and Louise Hill Design’s artworks.
Located in charming Joo Chiat, Black Earth Art Museum specialises in oriental art such as calligraphy and traditional Chinese ink and wash. Owner Ng Ngeng Hee also likes to champion both Singaporean and East Asian artists so head to this bright red building to pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
Made popular on Instagram, this row of colourful houses on Koon Seng Road features picturesque two to three storey terrace houses marked by their distinct traditional Peranakan style. Built in the 1920s and 1930s, the homes were mostly inhabited by Peranakan families until the 1970s. Formerly known as Lorong E East Coast, the road was renamed after Cheong Koon Seng. Cheong, was the elder of two sons of Cheong Ann Bee, a wealthy merchant from Malacca, and one of the first thirteen students of Anglo-Chinese School. Check out these vibrant homes that each have their main pastel hue. It's a popular spot for many including professional architecture photographers, tourists and fashion models.