Soon after British colonisation, Singapore was divided up according to different ethnic groups:
- European Town
- Chulia, who were migrants from certain regions of the Indian sub-continent.
- Arab, Malays and the Bugis, who were an ethnic group from Sulawesi
Kampong Glam and Little India are two of these neighbourhoods.
Kampong Glam and Bugis
Kampong Glam, north of the city, is the Malay-Muslim part of town. Prior to the British arriving in Singapore, this area was home to the Malay aristocracy, merchants, the Bugis, and Arabs who had migrated to Singapore.
The Sultan of Johor signed a treaty in 1819 to allow the British East India Company to set up a trading post in Singapore. Following the signing of the treaty, the Sultan was paid a nice little lump sum, received a very healthy annual allowance and Kampong Glam was designated for the Sultan and his household, with separate areas in the neighbourhood assigned to the Bugis and the Arabs. Naturally, I’m simplifying, but you get the idea.
Okay, history lesson over, let’s go for a walk.
An Instagrammers paradise, this narrow laneway in the heart of Kampong Glam is easily one of Singapore’s prettiest.
Aside from the street art, there are also some cute little boutiques to have a poke around in and some hip looking restaurants and cafes – although as we were there quite early in the day most of these were closed.
And these murals…
Just around the corner is Arab Street – full of carpet stores, fabric shops, pashmina retailers and restaurants.
The magnificent Sultan Mosque is just through a laneway but, being Ramadan, was closed to visitors when we were there. The lane though was lined with food stalls that we could only imagine would be a hive of activity come sundown and the breaking of the day’s fast.
- Bugis Street and the surrounding area used to be a tad on the red-lightish side, now it’s full of markets, bazaars and shopping malls, plus a cool underground food court.
- The Malay Heritage Centre is also worth a look.
From Kampong Glam we walked up to Little India via Bugis Street – which was when the rain started. When it rains in Singapore it really rains and of course, we’d come out without umbrellas, rain jackets etc. Making dashes in between downpours I took a few photos but sadly missed much of the colour that’s in this area.
The shops are full of everything you could ever possibly think of, and more – fabrics, souvenirs, vegetables, clothing, bells, garlands…everything.
Houses and shops are painted in all the colours of the rainbow and on street corners and out of shops Bollywood-style music blares.
We sloshed our way up to Syed Alwi Road, which is where the Mustafa Centre is. This shopping mall is open 24 hours a day and is a claustrophobic’s nightmare. On a previous trip to Singapore, we stayed in this part of town and Grant dragged Sarah and me through – never ever again. He thought it was fabulous, we hated every second. Floor after floor of narrow aisles with shelving reaching almost to the ceiling. The higher the floor, the narrower the aisles got – until you felt they were closing in on you.
We weren’t there for the shops though, we’d come in search of dosa – or dosai (it’s also spelt as thosai in many places). Dosa is like a crepe but made from a fermented rice batter and lentil or mung bean. In Penang, they were mostly served only at breakfast and afternoon tea, but here in Singapore, they’re available at other times of the day too.
We’d been told to try Murugan Idli Shop for our dosai and weren’t disappointed. We were presented with a banana leaf already loaded with chutneys and chose a ghee podi masala dosai. Masala is a spiced potato mix, podi is extra spicy and the addition of ghee makes the dosai crispy. It’s served with a spicy dhal and essentially you break pieces off and dunk it in the dhal or the chutneys. Very yummy – and, at $6, great value.
- Because of the rain I didn’t get any photos on this visit, but the Sri Veeramakaliamman and Sri Vadapathira temples are colourful, interesting and, in the case of the former, more than a tad bloodthirsty in its depiction of the goddess Kali.
- The house of Tan Teng Niah on Kerbau Road is gloriously rainbow-coloured – and best appreciated when the rain isn’t sheeting down. Here’s someone else’s photo of it on a clear day… very Instagrammable.