Kampong Glam – where cool cafes blend well into the rich Malay heritage

Kampong Glam, located in central Singapore, was once the seat of the old Malay royalty in Singapore and has been a Malay-Muslim quarter since the early 1800s.  The name of this quaint and historical district originates from the cajeput tree, or “gelam” in Malay, and “kampong” in Malay means “village”.  In 1989, the Urban Development Authority gazetted Kampong Glam as a conservation area, and most of the original architecture has now been restored.

To get to Kampong Glam, alight at Bugis MRT station and it is about 7-10 mins’ walk from the station, where you will first reach Bali Lane just opposite Golden Landmark Hotel along North Bridge Road. To find out what this culturally-rich enclave has to offer, you should begin from the Malay Heritage Centre (#1 in the map below), along North Bridge Road, about 5 mins further down the road. As the tour goes along, you will probably know why I coined this page on Kampong Glam as “where cool cafes blend well into the rich Malay heritage”. 😉

Map of Kampong Glam trail

Map of Kampong Glam trail

Different views of the Malay Heritage Centre

Different views of the Malay Heritage Centre

The Malay Heritage Centre, built around the 1840s, was once the residence of the Malay royalty in Singapore and often referred to as the “Istana Kampong Gelam”. In 1999, the government announced that the Istana Kampong Gelam, together with the adjacent Yellow Mansion (or “Gedung Kuning” in Malay, #2 in the map above), would be conserved and developed as the current Malay Heritage Centre which opened in June 2005 to showcase Malay culture, traditions and heritage.

Yellow Mansion (Gedung Kuning) now houses a Malay-themed restaurant

Yellow Mansion (Gedung Kuning) now houses a Malay-themed restaurant

Following the main route on the map, the next destination is Kandahar Street where there is a famous Nasi Padang stall as well as many other quaint cafes and shops lined up. I did not visit the Nasi Padang stall so no photos to show but it should be easy to identify once you are on the street as there is always a long queue for it.

Kandahar Street view

Kandahar Street view

I had my afternoon tea at Dong Po Colonial Cafe (东坡餐室, 56 Kandahar Street, Tel: 6298 1318, the first blue signage you see in the photo above), a cafe that brings you back to the coffee shop in 1950-1960s. It serves many old-school pastry delights and Nanyang-style coffee and tea, while also bringing in some popular pastries of the modern day. Although it was a weekday afternoon, there was constant flow of customers to the cafe, be it locals or tourists.

7 value-for-money sets for your pick, with a variety of cakes and pastries at Dong Po Colonial Cafe

7 value-for-money sets for your pick, with a variety of cakes and pastries at Dong Po Colonial Cafe

I ordered Set D – any 2 cakes/ pastries with coffee or tea at $5.00, and chose the yummy strawberry lamington and apple aloe vera cake to go with my “teh c” (black tea with evaporated milk). Lamington is an Australian dessert – a sponge cake usually coated in chocolate sauce then in dessicated coconut. I first tried the lamington when I had morning tea at the Great Ocean Road day tour so when I ate the strawberry lamington, it brought back fond memories of the tour. 🙂 Personally I enjoyed the nostalgic ambience and food here, although the teh c was not as fragrant and strong as I would like.

Nearby Dong Po is a small cake shop, famous for its swiss rolls – Rich & Good Cake Shop (裕佳西饼店, 24 Kandahar Street, Tel: 6294 3324).

Price list of its swiss rolls & view of shop front

Price list of its swiss rolls as at Aug 2014 & view of shop front

This traditional bakery has been opened since 1997 and long queues in front of its little counter are very common.  Even on a weekday afternoon around 2.40pm there were a handful of people waiting patiently to buy the fluffy and tasty swiss rolls.  I think I have tried all its flavours before, perhaps except for coffee, and all were really good!  Do note that it is open from Mondays to Saturdays from 8.30am to 5pm only.  Free delivery for minimum order of $70 (CBD area) or $100 (outside CBD).

Next to Rich & Good Cake Shop is Maison Ikkoku (20 Kandahar Street, Tel: 6294 0078) – it is a cafe popular for its attractive cuppas as some of its baristas were trained by a Japanese celebrity barista specialising in latte art by day, and a cocktail bar at night.  I did not take photos there because the decor looks plain. 😛

Kandahar Street is not a long street, so a few steps ahead of Maison Ikkoku is the iconic Sultan Mosque (#6 on the map).  The mosque, completed in 1928, is considered one of the most important mosques in Singapore.  It has stayed essentially unchanged since it was built, with only repairs carried out to the main hall in the 1960s and an annex added in 1993. It was gazetted as a national monument on 8 March 1975.

The oldest mosque in Singapore - the Sultan Mosque

The oldest mosque in Singapore – the Sultan Mosque

Bussorah Street with the Sultan Mosque in the background

Bussorah Street with the Sultan Mosque in the background

You will find an interesting mix of old haberdasheries and new shops selling local wares, Malay-styled clothing and accessories, and books relating to Arabic and Muslim culture and religion along Bussorah Street. Continue down the end of the street where upon seeing Beach Road, you can turn right to get into Arab Street – well known as a textile haven in the 1950s and 1960s.

Arab Street, at the end near Beach Road

Arab Street, at the end near Beach Road

At this end of Arab Street is Fika Swedish cafe (258 Beach Road), halal certified. I had been to the outlet at Millenia Walk over a year ago and thought the traditional Swedish food and desserts were quite good, though a bit pricey. The ambience at both outlets look similar, but the Beach Road outlet has a second level for event catering and parties.

Entrance of Fika Cafe, looks welcoming :)

Entrance of Fika Cafe, looks welcoming 🙂

A few doors away from Fika Cafe is Working Title (48 Arab Street, Tel: 6298 8721) – another quaint cafe serving good coffee, unique beers and scrumptious food that opened in 2013. I did not try out the food or drinks here, but from online reviews it looks like its All Day Big Breakfast and coffee are well-liked by customers.

Working Title - a humble cafe with electic mix of tables and chairs

Working Title – a humble cafe with electic mix of tables and chairs

Once you reach the other end of Arab Street towards North Bridge Road, you will be able to see this open-air cafe at the start of Haji Lane:

I AM - striking red signage that you can't miss at Haji Lane

I AM – striking red signage that you can’t miss at Haji Lane

I AM (674 North Bridge Road #01-01 Off Haji Lane; Tel: 6295 5509) is a halal European-influenced cafe that is not air-conditioned.  Heard it is a very popular hang-out place, and even at 3+pm on a weekday it was full-house! Apparently in the evenings they will have open-air live band performances so it will get even more packed with customers. As it was too hot an afternoon, I did not try out the food, but read online of mixed reviews here.

Just a few doors down the relatively short Haji Lane is a pretty little shop cum cafe called Shop Wonderland (37 Haji Lane, Tel: 6299 5848). There is a pantry/ cafe on level 1 while level 2 is retail space selling florals & tablescapes and home decor. Very lovely decor and you feel like you are really in Wonder Land once you step into this quaint little space.

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The cakes and pastries served at The Pantry are from Maple & Market and Carpenter & Cook respectively. As my friend and I already had a filling lunch that day, we only shared 1 slice of strawberry cake ($7.60) and had a bottle of iced bitter lemon drink ($5.90) each. Very disappointed with the dry and crumbly slice of cake, and I felt the bitter lemon was too bitter than I had expected.

Our cake & drinks order at The Pantry @Shop Wonderland

Our cake & drinks order at The Pantry @Shop Wonderland

The next unique cafe along Haji Lane that you will come across is CAD Cafe (23 Haji Lane, stands for Coffee/ Art/ Design).  I did not try the food or drinks here, but just thought the decor of this hole-in-the-wall cafe looks pretty hip.

CAD Cafe

CAD Cafe

At the corner of Haji Lane facing Beach Road is the famous Blanco Court Prawn Mee (243 Beach Road), local hawker fare that often sees long queues during meal times. Coincidentally, there are many interesting graffiti art round this corner and it is always crowded with both locals and tourists snapping photos of the lane. I even captured a shot of a couple taking their wedding shots there under the hot sun… 😛

At the intersection of Haji Lane & Beach Road sits the famous Blanco Court Prawn Mee

At the intersection of Haji Lane & Beach Road sits the famous Blanco Court Prawn Mee

Finally, the last lane to explore in Kampong Glam district is Bali Lane, just on the left of Haji Lane if you are facing North Bridge Road. You will be greeted by Choo Choo Chicken (츄츄친킨 33 Bali Lane, Tel: 6299 0980), a Korean fried chicken eatery first when you enter Bali Lane. I tried its spicy 8-piece chicken ($16) with a friend once. Verdict? It was indeed spicy but still all right for me and I like the taste and its tender meat.

Bali Lane

Bali Lane

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Just next to Choo Choo Chicken is Stateland Cafe (30 Bali Lane). It is a vintage-industrial themed cafe, with red pop-out signboard next to the Korean eatery in the photo above. So far, I think this cafe is one of the few cafes that have left a great impression on me with its yummy waffles and industrial themed interiors.

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Stateland Cafe was only opened early this year by 3 young guys in their early 20s who met in the army. I love its earl grey babycino ($3.90, the top left photo in above collage) and the red velvet waffles served with cream cheese and vanilla ice cream ($14.90, the bottom right photo in above collage). Tried a bit of the classic honey toast ($11.90, bottom left photo in above collage) and like the crispy toast with honey syrup and ice cream over it which was surprisingly not too sweet! Finally a cafe with something different and delicious on its menu hehe…

I hope after reading this page, you can’t wait to check out Kampong Glam, where little cafes / eateries look like a perfect match in a Malay heritage-rich conservation area. Ending my write-up here with my favourite mural in Singapore, found in Jalan Pisang. It is painted by the same artist, Ernest Zacharevic who created the famous street art in Penang. 🙂

Mural along Jalan Pisang

This was written after 2 visits to the Kampong Glam district in August 2014.
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