suggests some of Singapore’s best haunts for Peranakan food and culture
As soon as I walk into Rumah Bebe boutique in the former Peranakan heartland of Katong, I know it’s dangerous. This heritage shop groans with beautiful crockery, ornaments, artwork, rows of delicate kebayas and jewellery.
I snap up a lovely pair of marcasite earrings edged with pieces of jade; my sister buys a pretty red kebaya. The owner, Bebe Seet, is not here today but she smiles down on us from her portrait on the wall, which shows her wearing a kebaya and sewing beaded slippers, a favourite accessory of Peranakan women.
Built in 1928, Rumah Bebe is a national landmark and serves as a keeper of Peranakan traditions. Seet conducts cooking and beading classes and tours of the shop explaining the ornate gold-gilded wooden screens, colourful glazed tiles and the bridal chamber. 113 East Coast Rd, Katong; www.rumahbebe.com.
A short stroll down East Coast Road from Rumah Bebe is Katong Antique House, owned by Peter Wee, a fourth-generation Peranakan and vice-president of the 1700-strong Peranakan Association. It’s another treasure trove of art, crockery, furniture and clothing. 208 East Coast Rd, Katong; +65 6345 8544.
Katong and nearby Joo Chiat hang on to Peranakan traditions and both suburbs are dotted with little eateries and bakeries as well as many charming two-storey shophouses painted in pinks, blues and other pretty hues.
The prize for endurance goes to those nonyas who made the 1sq m tablecloth out of no fewer than 1 million beads, featuring a sulphur-crested cockatoo among other birds. Pretty girlie things are on sale downstairs in the museum store, which is next door to a Peranakan restaurant, True Blue, which serves a mean ayam buah
Classic shophouse: The Blue Ginger restaurant
Peranakan or nonya cuisine blends Chinese ingredients with Malay herbs and spices such as chilli, shallots and lemongrass, candlenuts, turmeric and belacan (prawn paste).
Eateries include for handmade wafer-thin poh piah (spring roll) skins on griddles and yummy spring rolls. 95 Joo Chiat Rd.
a few blocks from Rumah Bebe, is the place to buy nonya chang (dumplings), pineapple tarts and Pandan cake. 139 East Coast Rd; www.glorycatering.com.sg.
A Peranakan stalwart is restaurant. It opened in 1953 and continues to serve signature dishes such as ayam buah keluak and otak otak (fish, coconut milk, chilli paste and galangal wrapped in banana leaf). 214 Joo Chiat Rd; www.guanhoesoon.com.
One of the most acclaimed Peranakan restaurants in Singapore is in a classic shophouse building in Chinatown. Its enticing menu features nonya fish-head curry of red snapper with ladies fingers and eggplant. 97 Tanjong Pagar Rd; www.theblueginger.com. keluak (braised chicken with turmeric, galangal and lemongrass with Indonesian black nuts).
All of which makes this fascinating attraction a one-stop cultural shop.