Singapore is a city (and country) that seems to have a whole world of cultures contained within its borders. When I visited with Topdeck, one thing that I had no intention of missing out on was the food! It seems that in Singapore you can eat your way around the world, with heavy influences of Malaysian, British, Indian and of course Chinese cuisine all prominent. As a vegan and a big fan of Asian food (who isn’t?!) a street food safari around Chinatown seemed right up my street.
Chinatown is an amazingly colourful neighborhood with an interesting history. Once a home for Chinese immigrants, nowadays it is a popular place to visit for tourists, offering delicious food, stunning temples and fantastic shopping opportunities – especially if you want to pick up some local products or souvenirs. Chinatown is fairly small, so you can easily explore the area by foot. For one afternoon I explored the diversity of Chinatown with a tour guide called Mr Long from Topdeck. Are you ready? Let's get started...
We kicked things off by walking towards Pagoda Street until we reached the Chinatown Heritage Centre. The museum offers a fascinating insight into Chinatown's history, with plenty of furnishings and artefacts of Chinatown's early settlers. It was so interesting to step back in time and learn about the people who helped to build this beautiful, modern city.
We stopped for a moment at the multicolored Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest shrine in town which is located on the corner of Chinatown’s South Bridge Road and Pagoda Street. The opulent temple with colourful sculptures and vibrant paintings proudly represents Singapore’s rich Hindu culture. Talk about an amazing photo opportunity!
After soaking up some culture, it was time for the street food safari to begin! Mr Long took me over to Chinatown Food Street, located on Smith Street, which has 24 street stalls all lined up. We had a look around and got our first taste and smell of Singaporean food. Mr Long bought a few dishes including dim sum, dumplings, Indian food and fresh coconuts. Everything was absolutely delicious!
Mr Long then told me that he knew of a better place nearby where locals eat, where we could escape the tourists on Chinatown Food Street. He asked me if I wanted to see it (of course I wanted to!) so he took me to a place called Chinatown Complex – a large hawker centre with loads of traditional dishes for a cheap price. The setting might not look as good as at Food Street but you'll eat where the locals eat, which is always a great guide for finding the best dishes.
At the Complex there were over 250 stalls with foods such as the signature dish chili crab, plus dim sum, claypot dishes, prawn noodles, satay, soybean curd and so much more. Some of the dishes cost as little as $2! I was already quite full (Singaporeans don’t do things by halves), so I had to make sure to keep my portions small here. Not an easy feat when everyone is so keen to be so generous!
Being beyond stuffed, we finished the afternoon in Chinatown with some more fascinating culture at the beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, just across from Chinatown Complex. The temple was built to promote Buddhist culture and also houses a museum that holds Buddha artefacts, such as bone and tongue relics. It's pretty impressive both inside and out, with golden interiors and comprehensive exhibits on Buddhist art and history telling stories of culture over hundreds of years old.
After a day of food and culture, there was one final matter to attend to: ending my amazing experience with a glass of wine on Club Street (on Mr Long’s recommendation, of course). I left with a big smile, full stomach and loads of new impressions from Singapore. Thanks to Mr Long, I'll definitely be visiting Chinatown again!
Sabrina Iovino is the writer behind the award-winning travel blog www.JustOneWayTicket.com. Originally from Germany, Sab left her native country back in 2008. Since then she has travelled to more than 60 countries around the globe. Her favorite country is the Philippines. @justonewayticket