Keong Saik is a neighbourhood that many Singaporeans need little introduction to. These days, the street (and the area around it) plays host to numerous trendy restaurants, bars and cafes.
The other thing that always gets mentioned is this street’s past. While the formats have transformed to reflect the decades, from peipa chai (琵琶仔) that worked in teahouses and gentleman’s clubs, hidden mistresses, brothels and KTVs, it used to be a different form of nightlife that attracted people to the neighbourhood*.
Beyond its reputation of being where men visited women, Keong Saik (and neighbouring Bukit Pasoh) also played host to many clan associations that were set-up to provide support to Nanyang’s earliest immigrants.
If this street could speak, it would tell many stories and actually, if you pay close enough attention, it does. With buildings and businesses over 70 years old, its current iteration is a blend of new and old that co-exists to remind us of the rich history our country has.
Our little guide covers some of our favourite spots in Keong Saik (and its neighbouring streets; Because we can never stop ourselves from having a good wander)
1. Tong Ah Eating House | 35 Keong Saik Road
Tong Ah Eating House opened in 1939 in the striking triangular red and white building that now houses Potato Head. After 75 years in its original location, it moved to its current spot across in the street in 2013.
Known for their crispy kaya toast and soft boiled egg breakfasts (but honestly, great for any time of the day), this establishment also makes a mean cup of thick kopi, silky teh-si and wok fried Chinese dishes.
Image from: @cweizhi
2. Homeground Coffee Roasters | 13,15 Teo Hong Road
While Homeground Coffee Roasters might be a new addition to the neighbourhood (having moved from East Coast), it’s definitely no newbie to the coffee scene. Co-founder Elysia Tan is a National Brewers Cup Champion and started the cafe to make everyone feel at home when exploring coffee. Apart from their dependable cups of coffee, the cafe also features an inviting nook called the Playground that’s carved out so coffee enthusiasts can gather and immerse themselves in trying out coffee equipment and tools. A creative, eastern inspired menu is also available to complement your cuppa.
Image from: @homeground.coffee
3. No Sleep Club | 20 Keong Saik Road
Ranked No 15 on Asia’s Best Bars 2022, this is the place to go if you are looking for a lively night out. No Sleep Club started out as a 4 seater evening-only establishment that came to life when the coffee joint they shared a space with closed for the day. And in keeping true to these roots of being a neighbourhood space to kick-back in, even with all its accolades, No Sleep Club creates a bar experience that makes everyone feel comfortable and welcome. The food here is also great and you should also keep an eye out for their hosted events and collaborations.
Image Credit: @jayjhutch
4. Kok Sen | 32 Keong Saik Road
Another heritage establishment on the street, Kok Sen started out as prawn and pork horfan stall that evolved into a full fledged family restaurant serving up tze char (Chinese home style dishes). Now helmed by 3rd generation owner, Chris Wong, the recipes used in this family establishment have been passed down for generations and feature house speciality dishes such as their Big Prawn Thick Bee Hoon Soup and Claypot Yong Tau Foo that aren’t commonly found at other Tze Char restaurants. Either make a reservation or turn up when they just open as the queue for a table can build up rather quickly here.
Image Credit: @dorimingo813
5. Elephant Room | 20A Teck Lim Rd
The Elephant Room is a cocktail concept with a clear idea of what inspires them. While they started out wanting to showcase the culture, trade, people and history of Singapore's Little India, their latest menu expands their concept to deepdive into celebrating India and its people. This team is so dedicated to their concept that all the ingredients they use are freshly sourced from Tekka Market and its surroundings. Every iteration of Elephant Room’s menu is passionately researched and the result really takes you on a journey.
Image Credit: @cocktailmahout
6. Cundhi Gong 準提宫 | 13 Keong Saik Rd
This beautiful temple was established in in 1928 and dedicated to the 18-arm Cundhi Bodhisattva (Guanyin and the Thousand Arms). A stunning example of east means west design, it features dragons, phoenixes, bird and flowers intricately constructed from porcelain pieces, ornate carved timber trusses and colourful painted tiles from Belgium company Gilliot & Cie.
In the past this was a popular place of ritual, worship and meeting for Singapore’s majie community - female immigrants from Guangdong who worked as domestic helpers and took up vows to never marry. This temple was the place where many of the majie took their vows of celibacy, making it a place of great significance to them.
The temple is currently overseen by Mdm Wan, the 4th generation of caretakers who have dedicated their lives to maintaining the temple. Many of the temple goers are Cantonese, but it is open to anyone looking to pay respects to the deities housed. This tranquil temple’s day to day visitors are elderly devotees who make the trip down to worship at this temple even though they’ve moved out of the area or people who pop in from nearby offices.
Image credit: @chonrology
7. Kafe Utu | 12 Jiak Chuan RdKafe Utu was started to bring a little slice of Africa to Singapore. The 3 floor shophouse space is an adventure in itself - A cafe on the first floor, private lounge on the second and a bar and roof terrace on the top. Every inch of this space is features African made art, decor and homeware. Their menu features dishes from the continent giving us the chance to experience African cuisine without having to hop on a plane.
Image Credit: @ronwanderlust
8. Foxtail | 1 Keong Saik Rd, #02-01
This hidden roof terrace bar is one of the street’s best kept secrets. Attached to co-working space The Working Capitol this breezy outdoors spot serves up tasty cocktails and is a great place to watch the bustle of the street.
Image Credit: @the.jungle.makers
9. Dust Bunny Vintage | 2A Keong Saik Road
This vintage store has been in business for 15 years. Not only do they source and curate amazing vintage apparel and accessories from around the world, they also provide a made to order service that allows you to customise your own vintage inspired pieces with their house vintage inspired fabrics.
Image Credit: @millikiram
10. Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple | 73 Keong Siak Road
This Hindu temple is administered by the Chettiars Temple Society and run by the Nagarthars (also known as Nattukkottai Chettiars),
The temple originated as an attap roofed shine near Singapore General Hospital (SGH) that was erected for devotees who lived and worked in the area to pay respects to Lord Vinayagar (also know as Ganesh) and Naagar (snake god).
In 1925, after the land the initial shrine was located on was reclaimed to expand the hospital, the temple moved to its present location at Keong Saik. Today, the main deities honoured at the temple are Lord Vinayagar, Naagar, The Holy Vel (Spear) and Rama Naamam.
The temple plays an important year in every year’s Thaipusam celebrations, where the Holy Spear is brought to Thandayuthapani Temple in a silver chariot, where it is doused in milk as an offering to Vinayagar’s brother, Lord Murugan.
Image credit: @stanley_chee
11. Baker’s Bench Bakery | 6 Bukit Pasoh Rd
This bakery carries an amazing selection of both sweet and savoury baked goods all made in-house. Their menu features a line-up of classics alongside a rotating selection of specials that explore different cuisines and cultures. It’s always a tough decision to whittle your choice down to a single piece. We recommend the scones and their Bear Claw.. Their cookies are also great and so are their sandwiches (see what we mean about choices?)
Image Credit: @briochebellyy
12. Social Space | 333 Kreta Ayer Rd, #01-14
The Social Space’s bright, airy Bali inspired space at Kreta Ayer is a refreshing place to recharge. Part cafe, part retail experience & refillery and nail salon (located above their cafe space), the Social Space also serves as a platform to provide dignified employment to marginalised and differently abled individuals.
The cafe serves up one of our favourite tea lattes on the island, brewed with organic Amba Estate tea from Sri Lanka. They also serve up a selection of smoothie bowls (perfect for those hot SG days) and open face toasts. If the Social Space sounds familiar, they also have a 2nd outlet at Marina One, where our stockist Zerrin is located!
Image Credit: @thesocialspace.sg
13. Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop | 35 Neil Rd
Established in 1896, this is Singapore’s last taoist effigy-making shop. A disappearing art in today’s landscape of mass production and changing religious affiliations, this family owned business still crafts and restores taoist effigies by hand. 4th generation family member Tze Yong has also joined the fold and is tirelessly trying to revitalise interest and appreciation in this art form and the culture and heritage that drives it by holding workshops to see first hand the work the shop does and also to learn more about Taoism and its deities.
Image Credit: @_chongus_
14. Yinyin Fashion | 1 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, #02-16
One of our go-to seamstresses in Singapore for alternations, one of us even got her wedding dress adjustments done here. The lead seamstress is very professional and really takes the effort to come up with solutions to help make your pieces fit like a dream. For those of you that work in the central area, it’s also super convenient to make a stop by before or after work - even during your lunch break!
15. Bami Express | 5 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, #02-02
These Bánh mìs really hit the spot for a quick and tasty bite. Run by a husband and wife team, the baguettes are baked in-house and have the perfect crisp crust. For a reasonable $5, you can have your choice of more traditional options like Bami Sai Gon and Bami Pork Belly to modern creations that contain fish patties and smoked duck.
Image Credit: @sg.foodbuzz
16. Bearded Bella | 8 Craig Road
Another one of our favourite places for coffee, Bearded Bella makes a great cup of coffee and has an Aussie inspired menu featuring brunch staples that make for a fresh, tasty meal. This cafe is also pet friendly.
Image Credit: @bearded.bella
17. Lad and Dad | 7 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, #01-108
Craving a hearty, stick to your ribs type pub meal? Lad and Dad has you covered with their menu of British classics; Scotch eggs, Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, Beef Stew, everything we’ve had there is bang-on tasty.
Image Credit: @jianzhongthegreat
*If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Keong Saik and it's neighbouring streets the following links provide great information: Long Winding Road | Biblioasia