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Kampong Glam
Photo: Cam Khalid/Time Out Singapore

The ultimate guide to Kampong Glam

This art and culture hotspot welcomes all urban adventurers

By Cam Khalid
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Don't be fooled by its name – Kampong Glam isn’t all that glamorous but it is one of Singapore's oldest (and hippest) neighbourhoods. Named after the gelam tree, Kampong Glam was once an ethnic enclave for the Muslim community in the 1800s. Now, it’s a melting pot of vibrant cultures, rich history, eye-popping street art, charming restaurants, and trendy shops.

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Eat and drink

Brine
Photo: Cam Khalid/Time Out Singapore

Brine

Restaurants Singaporean Rochor

With an open-kitchen concept, Brine isn’t shy about its palatable plates. Here, the folks behind The Laneway Market dish out contemporary cuisine whipped up by chef Christopher Tan who has been finessing his French and Japanese techniques throughout his culinary journey. Sink your teeth into its dry-aged Angus ribeye served with onion jus and anchovy ($43), or opt for the smaller torched beef tartare with miso carrot and carrot chips ($16).

Hjh Maimunah
Photo: Hjh Maimunah

Hjh Maimunah

Restaurants Malay Rochor

No visit to Kampong Glam is complete without a plate of glorious nasi padang. This Michelin Bib Gourmand listed Malay eatery serves favourites like tahu telor, Sundanese grilled chicken and beef rendang. If you’re really frugal with your choices – the more you order, the more it costs – a plate can set you back less than $10.

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%Arabica
Photo: Cam Khalid/Time Out Singapore

% Arabica

Restaurants Cafés Rochor

On a mission to bring Kyoto coffee magic to our shores, this café goes beyond the textbook espresso-based brews (from $4.50). It roasts its own house blend, comprising beans from Latin America, Africa and Europe, for a balanced, well-rounded flavour. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the Spanish latte (from $7.80) – made with condensed milk – is your best bet.

Fika Café

Restaurants European Rochor

Halal Swedish food on Arab Street is a rare sight, and modern bostro Fika certainly stands out in the mostly traditional area dominated by shophouses and heritage businesses. Although many come for the halal Swedish meatballs that are served with roast potatoes and a dollop of lingonberry jam ($19), the desserts are the clear winner here. Tea-lovers will appreciate the personal pot service and eclectic selection of Gryphon teas. Avoid the unwieldy, open-faced sandwiches and stick with the sweet stuff: a just-right Swedish chocolate cake, Kladdkaka ($8) and Swedish pancakes with fresh berries ($13) go down a treat.

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Konditori
Photo: Konditori

Konditori

Restaurants Cafés Rochor

Fika Swedish Cafe & Bistro’s pâtisserie sister takes it bakes seriously – all freshly made from scratch by hand. With everything from red velvet croissant ($5.90) and sourdough brownie ($6) to the Swedish semla bun ($7.90) and customisable showstopping cakes to pair with your hot cup of joe, Konditori is the crème de la crème of bakeries in the ‘hood for European-influenced sweet treats.

IB HQ

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Tanjong Pagar

Housed on the second floor of a quaint shophouse in Kampong Glam, IB HQ (or the Indigenous Bartender Headquarters) is run by husband and wife team Kamil Foltan and Zurina Bryant. Kamil has stirred and shaken at the likes of Tippling Club, The Black Swan and Potato Head but at IB HQ, his focus is on cocktails made using locally sourced ingredients prepared in a novel way. Drinks are priced at $24 and include an osmanthus gimlet and Bloody Maria, a twist on the classic mixed with umeshu, shoyu, hibiscus, calamansi and Kagome tomato instead.

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Zam Zam
Photo: Ahmad Iskandar Photography

Zam Zam

Restaurants Malay Rochor

There’s no preventing the pong of oil and fried dough clinging to your clothes the moment you step into this grungy shophouse unit. But it’s well worth the smell. Zam Zam has been serving up its biryani (from $6) and murtabak (from $5) for well over a century, so you can be pretty much assured of getting the legit stuff. But if it’s biryani you’re after, Zam Zam makes its version Hyderabadi dum style: the meat is cooked together with the orange-flecked basmati, which makes the rice that much more fragrant. 

Alaturka Mediterranean & Turkish Restaurant

Restaurants Middle Eastern Rochor

Awarded a Bib Gourmand in 2016’s Micheline Guide, this Arab street-establishment is one of our favourites thanks to its extensive variety kebabs. The Karisik Kebab ($42) is a popular choice, but opt for the Ispanakli Pide ($18) to accompany your meats. It's the Turkish equivalent of a pizza filled with spinach and cheese. Also try the large Meze Tarbagi ($28), a cold appetiser platter packed with hummus, babakanus, saksuka patlican salata, ezme, yaprak sarmasi & rus salatasi, served with piping hot Turkish lavash bread.

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I Am

Restaurants Cafés Rochor

This people-watching corner spot at Haji Lane also doubles as Dutch-inspired Halal café, I am. Scaling back on the breakfast-as-lunch fare elsewhere, its perpetual crowd flock to the restaurant for their selection of juicy burgers ($12.90-$17.90) including the charcoal fire-licked sloppy burger with a comfortingly messy sauce ($14.90) and sharing grub like melty chicken meatball Cheezy Bombs ($6.90) and baked garlic butter prawns ($10.90), all to kick start a day wandering through the street’s little retail nooks.

Flying Monkey

Restaurants Indian Rochor

No monkey business, only seriously good Indian food and cocktails at this joint on Bussorah Street. Served tapas-style, expect bites like tandoori chicken ($10) and tulsi cod ($15) fresh from the on-site tandoor. For big plates, the Nalli Gosht ($26) is a lamb shank dish that’s simmered overnight in a creamy peanut and cashew curry ‘til the meat falls off the bone. The cocktails are infused with Indian flavours, too. Expect drinks like the Goa Mamma Lassi – an alcoholic twist on the classic mango lassi – featuring a mix of mango, passion fruit, Aylesbury Vodka, Plantation Dark Rum, milk and yogurt.

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Chix Hot Chicken
Ahmad Iskandar Photography

Chix Hot Chicken

Restaurants Chicken Rochor

Think all American fried chicken is just KFC? Y’all got it wrong. Nashville-style country chicken is spicy as heck. Nashville hot chicken is typically marinated in buttermilk, fried and doused with a heavy application of cayenne pepper (often in the form of some magical pepper-infused oil), along with other spices like garlic and paprika. It is sometimes served on the bone with white bread and pickles – possibly to take off the heat a little. Curious? Save the plane ticket to ‘Merica, you can get some in Arab Street.

Maison Ikkoku

Restaurants Cafés Rochor

This is indeed the ‘house of the moment’ (maison ikkoku) – artisanal coffees, Spam sushi and kong bak pau (a traditional Chinese pork belly sandwich) are served in the ground-floor space under half-sawn furniture hanging decoratively from the ceiling. A cocktail bar also resides on the top level, the fertile imagination of Ethan Leslie Leong, formerly of Drink Culture and nearby Bar Stories. Japanese ‘latte-art specialist’ Hiroshi Sawada trained the coffee baristas.

Do

Gelam Gallery
Photo: Cam Khalid/Time Out Singapore

Gelam Gallery

Art Rochor

Scooch on down to the back alleys of Muscat Street for a rad hidden gem, an outdoor art gallery. Two parallel walls burst with a kaleidoscope of colour thanks to over 30 Instagram-worthy works by artists from the region and beyond. Admire the pop culture-dominated creation by multi-disciplinary artist PrettyFreakyFantasy or take a snap of a bold, terrestrial piece by graphic designer Liyana Farzana before exiting to Baghdad Street.

Malay Heritage Centre

Things to do Rochor

Step through the doors of what was once the royal seat of Singapore’s sultans. Trace the rich history of the Malay community from the days of its earliest settlers and the sea-faring might of the Bugis villagers to the golden years of the Malay entertainment industry. Feed your mind with well-preserved historical artefacts, interactive exhibitions, and the occasional cultural performance and showcase.

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Sultan Mosque
Photo by: Terence Ong

Sultan Mosque

Things to do Rochor

The largest unofficial centre of worship for local Muslims, but visitors are welcome to enter (except during prayer services, so avoid Fridays). Look for the curious features at the base of the dome, which is composed of many glass bottles.

Aliwal Arts Centre

Art Rochor

Here's where arts companies call home including Nine Years Theatre (behind the recent Mandarin rendition of Twelve Angry Men), The A Cappella Society, Word Forward (organisers of the annual Lit Up Festival), Chinese Opera Institute Chew Keng Hao and Re: Dance Theatre, amongst others. Group facilities are available, including rehearsal rooms (which can be made into private black box theatres) and a main theatre for full-on productions. Just around the corner are also a plethora of street art if you're looking to freshen up the 'gram.

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Vintage Camera's Museum

Things to do Rochor

Give Peninsula Plaza a miss and head down to this one-of-a-kind museum instead. Boasting a repository of over 1000 vintage cameras, the museum is the first gallery in Singapore that's dedicated to a collection of the analog instrument – in fact, the building itself resembles a massive Rollei camera. On display are everything from novel old-school spy cameras – think James Bond – to pistol cameras. Besides equipment, the museum also showcases retro photographs, interesting nuggets on photography and an authentic replica of the first ever picture taken on a camera.

SIFR Aromatics

Shopping Gifts and souvenirs Rochor

Step into Sifr Aromatics and it comes to life in a heady riot of fragrance and colour, thanks to shelves of gorgeously designed bottles of perfume. Far from your ordinary perfumery, it offers a unique, customised approach. Expect a mix of natural and synthetic potions to give a well- rounded scent. A combination of five or more oils are then mixed, shaken and bottled in 12-millilitre vials. Sifr has been featured on Lonely Planet and Conde Nast Traveler has called it “one of the finest custom perfumers in Southeast Asia”.

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Supermama

Shopping Boutiques Rochor

This minimalist husband-and-wife co-owned souvenier shop is the perfect place to pick up thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gifts for that special someone (or yourself).Think asymmetrical bowls, dimpled cups and painstakingly handpainted plates inspired by modern Singapore culture. Because most items are available in limited quantities, your best bet’s to pop in and find out what’s in stock.

Lure Haven
Photo: Lure Haven

Lure Haven

Shopping Rochor

Bet you didn’t think of heading to Bussorah Street for some fishing essentials. This three-storey premium Japanese fishing store boasts myriad brands from the Land of the Rising Sun. Before you pack for your next fishing sesh, stock up on all the necessary equipment for luring, jigging and popping.

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Tokyobike

Shopping Rochor

Cruise in timeless style with Tokyobike’s modern and innovative bicycles (from $875) that promise a comfortable ride around the city. Each colourful bike is lightweight and compact, making it easy to go the extra mile without the extra effort.

The Nail Social
Photo: Kevin Ou

The Nail Social

Health and beauty Rochor

Tucked on the second floor of a shophouse in Haji Lane is The Nail Social, which, as its name suggests, is a socially conscious salon offering manicure, pedicure and foot massages. There are close to 100 colours in both the regular and gel ranges – you’ll have to shell out another $3 for Halal polish, though. Guests also receive an iPad loaded with Netflix, games and books. And you can’t knock the free homemade lemonade and wine (the latter only on Fridays and Saturdays).

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Blu Jaz Cafe

Music Music venues Rochor

It’s hard to miss Blu Jaz Café. Bathing the corner of Bali Lane with its bright blue neon lights, the alfresco joint typically attracts a bustling crowd of young and old with its regular live music sets and open mic sessions. The space hosts a list of household jazz names and impressive young talents.

Going Om

Bars and pubs Rochor

Forget Orchard Road, Haji Lane has its own pool of Ed Sheeran wannabes that fill the air with their acoustic renditions of Top 40 hits. Between Tuesday and Sunday nights, settle yourself at alfresco café Going Om and be accompanied by street performers as they belt out tunes.

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