Singapore’s not called a melting pot for nothing—people from all over the world feel right at home in our cosmopolitan city. We find out where they all like to hang, and recommend some easy ways for you to join in the fun.
The Community: Made up in no small way of extremely wealthy businessmen and their families, the Japanese community can be found at the Singapore Japanese Association (120 Adam Rd., 6591-8136), which organizes large scale events such as the Summer Festival, or at the Japanese School (11 Upper Changi Rd. North, 6542-9600), where these events are often held.
Eat the food: For one of the best bowls of tonkotsu ramen (a signature Japanese noodle dish with a milky pork-based broth) in Singapore, try the one at Tampopo (#01-23/24 Liang Court Shopping Centre, 177 River Valley Rd., 6338-3186) which is best enjoyed with slices of their signature black pig and the quintessential tamago (hard boiled egg). Another way you can enjoy exquisite Japanese cuisine is by visiting a kaiseki restaurant like Goto Restaurant (14 Ann Siang Rd., 6438-1553), where multiple courses of sashimi, grilled seafood, marinated vegetables and seasonal soups are served during lunch and dinner. Relishing the idea of cooking your own kaiseki dinner? Stock up on all your essential, imported ingredients at Meidi-Ya Supermarket (#B1-50 Liang Court Shopping Centre, 6339-1111) or Isetan Scotts (#01-00 Shaw House, 6733-1111).
Get your fix: If you want to hang out with like-minded otakus, hop on board the bizarre but undeniably fun cosplay bandwagon, and check into the Singapore Cosplay Club (Bukit Merah Lane 1, 9329-5127, www.sgcosplayclub.org), which organizes and participates in events such as the Asia Cosplay Meet, or witness actual cosplaying at the upcoming Anime Festival Asia (Nov 13-14, 10am, Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Ctr., Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Blvd., 6337-2888). The Japanese are also known for their design acumen so if dressing up’s not your thing, don a masterpiece from Y-3 (#01-05 Mandarin Gallery, 333A Orchard Rd., 6838-0292.), the monobrand store that combines Adidas sportswear with the craftsmanship of renowned designer Yohji Yamamoto.
The community: Largely Muslim, the Arab community first came to Singapore in the form of wealthy entrepreneurs involved in the textiles trade. You can still see many of the descendants of these Arab merchants in Kampong Glam and more recent immigrants from the Middle East.
Eat the food: At places like Café le Caire (39 Arab St., 6292-0979), you can enjoy authentic Middle Eastern fare including hummus, harissa, flatbreads and even an entire carcass of lamb while seating cross-legged on an old carpet.
Get the fix: Syed Umar, a corporate executive from Dubai, counts Nabins (32 Sultan Gate, 9732-4647) as one of his favorite hangout places in Singapore. “This area makes me feel at home. It’s one of the few places where you can hear people calling each other ‘habibi’ in Singapore,” he adds. Entertain your friends (and yourself) with some Arabian belly dancing and a spot of shisha.
The community: The French know a good thing when they find it. To find them, you need to go where they’re best taken care of—a really good French restaurant. Try Les Amis (1 Scotts Rd., 6733-2225), whose ambiance is perfect for power lunches.
Eat the food: No matter how much you try to lay off rich French food, it’s almost impossible to resist their desserts—the melt-in-your-mouth macaron filling and buttered crêpes are just some of their signature sweets that are worth flying to Paris for. For a more economical alternative, visit Crêperie des Arts (44 Prinsep St., 6333-5330) and try both their savory and sweet crêpes. Even better, pop by Hediard Café—Restaurant & Boutique (Tudor Court, 125 Tanglin Rd., 6333-6683) and have some of their delicious éclairs and madeleines to go so you can treat yourself to a little French tart at home.
Get the fix: Culture vultures—catch French films from myriad genres at the AF Theatre (Alliance Francaise de Singapour, 1 Sarkies Rd., 6737-8422) every Tuesday night. Dress up your outfit with a touch of Parisian glamor in the form of a Hermes (#02-02 Ngee Ann City Shopping Ctr., 391 Orchard Rd., 6735-5228) scarf for that quintessential French touch.
The community: Also known as Little Thailand, the Golden Mile Complex (5001 Beach Rd., 6291-6945) is a popular area with the Thai community. You can find hordes of them here mingling with friends, enjoying a few mugs of beer and stocking up on supplies.
Eat the food: Sample some exquisite Thai street fare at Kha (#02-02 HortPark, 33 Hyderabad Rd., 6476-9000) or Patara Fine Thai Cuisine (#03-14 Tanglin Mall, 163 Tanglin Rd., 6737-0818), which complements its food with a refreshing, lemongrass-scented ambiance.
Get the fix: Drop by Golden Mile Complex for all sorts of authentic and affordable Thai food, CDs, beer and fashion. There are also a few small pubs here that host Thai bands for your entertainment. Want more nightlife action? Head down to Neverland (#05-20 Orchard Plaza, 150 Orchard Rd., 6738-5855), one of the more popular Thai discos here, which plays both international and Thai top 40 hits, besides hosting regional bands artistes such as Thai rock band Big Ass. New kid on the block Grand Hollywood (#03-01 Blk. A, 3A Clarke Quay, River Valley Rd., 6336-1328) is another after dark destination for live, chill-out music performed by Thai acts.
The community: Wherever there’s good coffee, we reckon there’ll be an Italian or two suggesting ways to make it even better. Try hanging out at the stylish Oriole Café & Bar (#01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, 6 Somerset Rd., 6238-8348).
Eat the food: The Italians are known for their mastery in the art of fine dining, which is apparent at Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar (#01-02 Talib Centre, 36 Purvis St., 6837-1468). If you prefer something more traditional, try the street Italian cuisine at Sapore Italiano (#01-15 Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Rd., 6333-4236), then chill out with an aperitivo like their delicious Grande Bellini. One more restaurant worth mentioning (and also a good place to catch the eye of an Italian) is Italiannies (#01-02 TripleOne Somerset, 111 Somerset Rd., 6736-4211). Try their signature Napoli Bianca pizza—it’s delicioso.
Get the fix: If, like the Italians, you appreciate quality leather, head down to Galleria Italiana (#02-28 Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Rd., 6884-6128) for its variety of wallets, purses and laptop holders. Want something a little flashier? Do a spot of shopping at Paragon Shopping Centre (290 Orchard Rd., 6738-5535), where boutiques for renowned Italian brands like Prada, Moschino and Ermenegildo Zegna can be found.
The community: “Aussies generally like to hang out in places that are as chill-out as can be (read: Sell lots of beer),” says Jack Cameron, an Australian designer now based in Singapore. If that’s true, then a few good places to find them would be Uluru Aussie Bar & Steakhouse (40 Duxton Hill, Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area, 6223-3654), Barossa (#01-11 Esplanade Mall, 1 Esplanade Dr., 6534-5188) or Boomarang (#01-15 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay, 6738-1077), which also screen live rugby and soccer matches.
Eat the food: Opt for the modern fare and laid-back experience at Graze (4 Rochester Park, 6775-9000), situated in a pretty colonial building amid the greens—such a charming Sydney-like vibe.
Get the fix: Jones the Grocer (#01-12 Blk. 9 Dempsey Rd., Dempsey Hill, 6476-1512) stocks cheeses and wines imported from Australia in a pretty, leisurely space. Rich in fragrant food smells and delicious mood lighting, Jones is also equipped with a fromagerie, bakery and grocery so you can get all you need at one place. For a bit of Aussie culture, head to the ReDot Fine Art Gallery (#02-06 Tanjong Pagar DistriPark, 39 Keppel Rd., 6222-1039), which features works from renowned and emerging aboriginal artists from Western Australia.
The community: The Malays from Malaysia are not easy to spot in Singapore because they blend in so well with the Singaporean Malays. Malays in general, however, like to hang out at Kampong Glam, a district originally set aside for the Malays by Sir Stamford Raffles during the British Occupation.
Eat the food: It’s a well-known fact that Hjh Maimunah (11/15 Jalan Pisang, 6291-3132) serves up some of the best kampong-style Malay cuisine in Singapore, laying out the dishes in a classic buffet style so you can sample a bit of everything. From tapioca leaf stew and beef rendang to their special escargot in coconut gravy—the food here evokes a sense of nostalgia for village life in Malaysia.
Get the fix: We’re lucky to have Malaysia as our neighbor, which means we can jet off (actually, driving would be more appropriate) to Johor Bahru for a quick getaway. Food, groceries and even movies are much cheaper there so you can indulge in some retail therapy without having to blow your budget. Don’t feel like traveling? Get as close as you can to Malaysia at the Tanjong Pagar KTM Railway Station (30 Keppel Rd., 6222-5165), where you can sample Malaysian delicacies like nasi lemak and satay. The most convenient way to soak in the vibrant Malay culture is to make a trip down to Geylang Serai, where you can find bolts of cloth in traditional batik patterns, traditional ready-made outfits and food bazaars you can lose your head in. While you’re there, pop by the Malay Village (39 Geylang Serai Rd., 6848-7040), a miniature village designed to give you a glimpse of Malaysian rural life, where traditional dance performances are sometimes held.
The community: Americans love to vacation in Singapore and many have followed their careers here. Find them in the Orchard Road district where many of them live, or check into The American Club Singapore (10 Claymore Hill, 6737-3411) to find them engaged in networking activities such as meet and greet sessions, wine tastings and seasonal parties.
Eat the food: Enjoy a vibe similar to that of sports nights in the US at O’Learys Sports Bar & Grill (#01-04 Singapore Flyer, 30 Raffles Ave., 6337-6718), where the walls are generously plastered with bits of sports-related memorabilia and hearty American fare is served. Enjoy dining like an American by eating super-sized versions of everything (sorry guys!). The large milkshakes and bowls of chili at Billy Bomber’s (#01-12 The Cathay, 1 Handy Rd., 6735-5381) coupled with its bustling diner ambiance make for a classic American meal.
Get the fix: Love watching an old Western once in awhile? Check out JR Texas (#03-33 Peninsula Shopping Ctr., 3 Coleman St., 6334-3534), which stocks an impressive range of real leather boots, pants and cowboy-style flannels so you can look like the real McCoy. All dressed up and nowhere to go? Not anymore! Join hundreds of other Singaporeans at the Country Line Dance Association as they jive to old hits like “Rock Around the Clock” or “Achy Breaky Heart”. Yee-haw! Log on to www.cldas.com to register.
The community: Wizened Indonesian expats still appreciate the laidback coffee-drinking culture of their home country and can be found at places like Warung M Nasir (69 Killiney Rd., 6734-6228) while the younger crowd blends in with the locals in busy town areas such as Orchard Road.
Eat the food: Be sure to sample the gado gado (salad with boiled vegetables and egg) and pulut kuning (yellow glutinous rice) at Kintamani Indonesian Restaurant (3/F Furama Riverfront Singapore, 405 Havelock Rd., 6739-6463) or the otherwise hard to find murtabak manis (sweet bread) at Jtown Café (B1 Midpoint Orchard, 220 Orchard Rd., 9230-5040).
Get the fix: You don’t have to fly to Bali to enjoy its tranquil setting now that we’ve got Little Bali (Gillman Village, 9A Lock Rd., 6473-6763), a resto-bar made up of little wooden pavilions with bale rooftops. Chill out with a glass of wine or look into their stock of Balinese artifacts, paintings and furniture if you want some ole ole (goodies) to take home. If that’s not relaxing enough, treat yourself to a traditional Javanese urut (effective deep tissue massage) at Wayan Retreat Balinese Spa (61 Bussorah St., 6392-0035).
The community: Singapore is, of course, largely populated by the Chinese, many of whom are descendents of the early Chinese immigrants. You can still see a few third-generation Chinese merchants engaged in ancient trades such as calligraphy and tea brewing in shops like Amoy Tea (331 Joo Chiat Rd., 6346-0929).
Eat the food: Sample the pork dumplings at Qun Zhong Eating House (21 Neil Rd., 6221-3060) for an authentic Shanghainese experience, or grab a drink at the Forbidden City (#01-02 Blk. A Clarke Quay, 3 River Valley Rd., 6557-6268) for a taste of Chinoiserie chic.
Get the fix: Pick up some tea appreciation tips at Yixing Xuan Teahouse (30/32 Tanjong Pagar Rd., 6224-6961), whose interior resembles a quaint teahouse slash dim sum kitchen. You can buy quality tea leaves and exquisite tea sets here, too, or just get lost in time to softly tinkling Chinese classical music. For a wider range of authentic Chinese goods, visit the Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium (70 Eu Tong Sen St., 6538-4222) for its tea, herbal and handicraft offerings. If you want a piece of China’s picturesque landscape, take your camera out on a day trip to the Chinese Garden (1 Chinese Garden Rd., 6261-3632), a tranquil bolt-hole that attracts horticulture enthusiasts and couples keen to explore its imperial-style pavilions and pagodas. The best time to visit is during the Mid-Autumn Festival, when the area is transformed into a twinkling wonderland of paper lanterns and fairy lights. Of course, no journey into Chinese culture is complete without a trip to Chinatown. Surround yourself with lanterns, streamers and myriad decorations in gold and red accents as you dine on some of the finest street food in town. For a little Shanghai-like night time action, hit DragonFly (3 Sentosa Gateway, 6270-7676) for a dose of Mandopop. International acts like Wonfu, Alien Huang and Ding Dang are known to play here. Afterwards, enjoy a drink at Lunar (#01-03 Blk C The Cannery, Clarke Quay, River Valley Rd., 6305-6767), an opulently-styled entertainment space which has just relaunched and boasts “coyote dancers” from Taiwan and China.
The community: “It’s a known fact that where there is good Korean food, there are Koreans. Tanjong Pagar is such a place,” reveals hairstylist Lee Ha Ni. The influx of Korean eateries and hangouts in Tanjong Pagar draws hordes of Korean expats and enthusiasts alike, which is probably why it’s been cheerfully tagged “Tanjong Korea.” In fact, the Korean Association (Singapore) (#03-01, 71 Tanjong Pagar Rd., 6299-8966) recently moved its office here, so if you’re looking to make some Korean friends and learn Hangul, this is where you should head to.
Eat the food: For some of the best authentic Korean food in Singapore, make for Manbok Korean Seafood Restaurant (58 Tanjong Pagar Rd., 6224-6061), where dishes like the seafood pancake will bowl you over faster than you can say, “Ah, mashita!”
Get the fix: Record stores like HMV (#04-23/24, 313@Somerset, 313 Orchard Rd., 6733-1822) stock the latest K-pop albums (Big Bang, anyone?) and Korean drama DVD box sets and play K-pop on a permanent loop. Another place to shop for Korean-inspired paraphernalia is the third level of Novena Square 2 (10 Sinaran Dr., 6397-2288). This is Singapore’s first and only Korean-themed shopping enclave, selling anything from imported apparel and pop culture goodies to Korean snacks. Lee says Korean concept hair salons have been enjoying steady business, probably due to the fact that many of the resident stylists are indeed Korean while the local stylists have had training in Korea. “I get asked about Korean dramas a lot. Although I don’t watch a lot of them myself, I do know the pop stars, which is useful when a customer requests to emulate a certain star’s look,” she says. Want to do the same? Drop by Hair Plus (05-61 Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Rd., 6235-2234), where you’re greeted with a cheerful “Anyeong!” the second you step in.