Last Updated: December 28, 2020
I’ve recently found myself traipsing through the streets of Chinatown. While I’ve always thought it as the go-to spot for Chinese New year decorations (it still is), I found that Chinatown has turned into a modern pastiche of the avant-garde, traditional and contemporary.
From the mecca of hawker food at Chinatown Food Complex to the neat, pastel-coloured shophouses that line the streets and alleys, I feel at once at home and on the brink of discovery.
After all, where can you find a modern bakery housed in a restored shophouse and a 91-year-old Chinese restaurant all along the same stretch? I went on an excursion to Chinatown, and it turns out this old neighbourhood has so much to offer than moderately priced decorations.
When it comes to hidden gems and discoveries, no one knows better than Klook, the eminent platform for unique experiences off the beaten path. This time, you’ll see there is always more to Singapore than meets the eye.
We begin bright and early at the iconic Keong Saik Bakery, which many of you might know as the birthplace of the burnt basque cheesecake craze. While I would love to pander luscious cheesecakes, I would like to turn your attention to one of their signature ‘buns’.
Yes, I know, technically the Sor Hei (S$4.50) is part of the viennoiserie clan (a fancy word for pastries made with laminated dough), but it’s something you cannot miss at Keong Saik Bakery.
As a tribute to the Cantonese history of Keong Saik road, this ‘bun’ is paying homage to the swearing-in ceremony of celibacy of ma jies. You’ll spot the impressive layering and crisscrossing of charcoal dough resembling the tight, well-combed hair of the many immigrant ma jies who served households back then.
Shiny and glistening in the mid-morning sun, you’ll tear into this pastry with glee. The shower of crumbs will remind you of the price one pays when having anything from the viennoiserie section. With hidden bits of chocolate baked into the buttery, flaky dough, it was a perfect breakfast along with a sip of coffee.
For those with a sweet tooth and a penchant for the new, Keong Saik Bakery’s Matcha Burnt Cheese Cruffin (S$6.50) is the next one you’ll want to grab. A number that seems to encompass all the latest trends of the baking world: burnt cheesecake, a muffin-croissant hybrid and the ever-popular matcha.
Would things work when mish-mashed together? After all, baking is sometimes the stuff of alchemy, and things can take a drastic turn for the worse very quickly. Well, like many of Keong Saik Bakery’s wares, they managed to turn it into gold.
A flowy, deep forest-green centre surrounded by a flaky crust, you get everything here and more. Plus, you’ll get to save up 10% on your dining vouchers when you book on Klook, a discount and pastry—what more could we want?
When lunchtime rolls around, and the heat becomes almost punishing, the 92-year-young Chinese restaurant, Spring Court Restaurant is where you’ll want to pour high tea and bask in history (and air-conditioning).
It’s true, Spring Court Restaurant is no spring chicken, but their Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Minced Prawns (S$24 for half, S$48 for whole) will be ever-green.
A signature item of Spring Court, this might look like the pedestrian roast chicken, but underneath that crispy roasted skin, you have a layer of blushing minced prawn.
A combination that works, the chicken is unbelievably tender and the prawn layer bouncy and fresh. The best part—this chicken is mostly boneless, a brownie point for fussy eaters like me.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the lady boss of Spring Court Restaurant, Mdm Soon Puay Keow in her elegant dresses gliding through the halls of Spring Court. As the second-generation owner of Spring Court and one who left her cushiony finance job to run her father-in-law’s restaurant, we can only marvel at her tenacity and sanguinity.
Besides being in awe of the history that’s plastered on the walls of Spring Court, I couldn’t help but gape at the size of the Popiah (S$8.20 per roll), these babies are huge.
For those who love to watch their food being made, Spring Court has a popiah making station for you to see just how they make these glorious rolls.
At least, twice the size of your average popiah, well-stuffed seems like an understatement. A reddish tinge at the translucent skin hints at the ferocity of the chilli, and after a bite, I know it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Dining at Spring Court might be a little more than chump change for your regular lunch, but if you book with Klook, you’ll get to enjoy 15% off dining vouchers, and that means more of that roasted chicken.
Besides all the glorious food that you can find in Chinatown, there are also little historical tidbits for you to admire, such as this statue of a Chinese coolie carrying bags on a pole.
A typical sight back in the day, Chinatown is littered with gems like this for you to gain a little insight into what life was like in the early days of Singapore.
Now that the afternoon sun is waning, but it’s too early for dinner, a quiet tea time at Nanyang Old Coffee is where you need to cool off. Decked out in red along the corner of Smith Street, it’s hard to miss Nanyang Old Coffee.
When you find yourself on the second floor, you’ll realise that Nanyang Coffee is also a museum of sorts that harkens to those golden good old days of Singapore.
There is an extensive collection of memorabilia that feels akin to stepping into a time portal where the Kardashians did not exist, and social media was the newspaper.
Here, you can try your hand at brewing a traditional cup of local coffee.
There’s more to it than merely adding coffee beans to water. With a timer, a kopi sock and two different condensed milk, try your traditional coffee-making skills and you’ll be surprised it’s no easy feat.
If you are feeling peckish at Nanyang Old Coffee, take a stab at their mains such as the Black Bak Kut Teh (S$11), where Klook is offering 30% off their Mains and a drink set.
Or if you have coffee running through your veins, book your time at Nanyang Old Coffee through Klook and you’ll get to enjoy coffee at S$13 for two cups and a pack of Nanyang Old Coffee premix to have at home. Your morning cuppa just got a whole lot tastier.
The sun might have set but the night is young, and Jekyll & Hyde Bar is the place to be. This award-winning cocktail bar is where you’ll want to imbibe with creative tipples to round out the evening.
Perhaps one of the ways to start you off would be Beauty In A Cup (S$22). A Chrysanthemum gin-based cocktail that comes spiked with a homemade syrup of longans, wolfberries and snow fungus, this drink is like your herbal tea but with a sassy wink.
With that ‘cooling’ sensation that is so characteristic of herbal tea, this unique blend of floral and herbal notes takes the typical liang cha (herbal tea) for a much-needed spin.
For those who love their savoury drinks, the Pandan Valley (S$22) will take you where you never thought a drink could go. Lined with spicy sambal along the rim and topped off with sparkling coconut water and pandan-infused Glendfiddich, these aromatic flavours hint at the quintessential coconut-infused rice dish we love so much.
But, if you still have the munchies, the Wagyu Char Kway Teow (S$25) is sure to quell them. Each slippery noodle is full of wok hei with that tantalising smokiness and showered with lard bits. Of course, a little Wagyu never hurt anybody.
Your night on the town is about to get a whole lot better with Klook, and you can save up to 25% on cocktails when you book with them.
The adage ‘there’s no place like home’ never rang louder and more true. There is always more to be discovered and rediscovered on our sunny little island.
Just Chinatown alone is treasure trove like no other and proves there is more to Singapore than we know, we just have to peek under the covers a little more.
Check out all that Singapore has to offer on KLOOK’s More To Singapore page and see how you make your day more fun with Klook.
*This post is brought to you in partnership with Klook as part of the SingapoRediscovers campaign.