Singapore’s small size belies the cultural diversity evidenced by its traditional ethnic quarters. This entry will be the first of hopefully three parts – with this first one covering Kampong Glam, a traditional Muslim enclave which has seen recent gentrification due to its proximity to the downtown core.
the sultan mosque – you can’t miss it!
One need not go far to witness something resembling more of the Near East in this Southeast Asian tropical island. In Kampong Glam, minarets and hookah joints prevail over churches and coffeeshops. To be sure, it feels foreign while still maintaining the orderliness and efficiency that Singapore is known all over the world for.
like many of Singapore’s heritage districts, Kampong Glam is also composed of several shophouses
The unmistakeable Sultan Mosque, with its golden dome shimmering in the sunlight, marks the center of this district. If you stay in this area for a couple of hours, you definitely won’t miss hearing a session of the adhan or the Islamic call to prayer. I came here at around 5PM on a Sunday afternoon with the loudspeaker blaring the first verses — “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), a trancelike chant that transported me instantly to my memorable trip to Iran.
carpets… lots of them
Overlooking the mosque, the pedestrian Bussorah Street coils its way eastward with a charming array of Middle Eastern restaurants, souvenir stores and a museum on toys just next door to the mosque. My personal favorite among these eating joints is Alaturka, a Turkish restaurant that serves some of the most succulent kebabs this side of town. I sometimes bring visitors here when they come to Singapore.
Many of the streets in Kampong Glam are named after great cities in the Islamic world – Kandahar, Muscat and Baghdad are just some examples, with many of the establishments here offering hookahs of various flavors but that’s slightly overdoing the Middle Eastern theme, in my opinion.
haji lane – Singapore’s bohemian / indie hangout
bumbu indonesian restaurant – one of my favorites in kampong glam
Aside from Arab Street, the next most well-known passageway is perhaps Haji Lane – a small one-way alley that has in recent years, become associated with the country’s local indie and bohemian scene. This is like Haight-Ashbury – but in its cleaner and tamer Asian incarnation. As a shopping street, it offers an interesting, if not quirky, alternative to the glitz of Orchard Road. People come here to buy clothes from local designers or to browse on the exotic knickknacks that can be found in some of the shops. Haji Lane is the antithesis of Singapore’s generic / every neighborhood mall and most of the shops in this alley can be found nowhere else in the island.
thank you… come again!
haji lane is being positioned as an alternative shopping street to orchard road… with prices that are as jaw-dropping
For those looking for a more unique dining experience, Kampong Glam is definitely a place worthy of a few hours if you have time to spare in the city. This is perhaps one of the few places where Turkish, Egyptian, Arabian, Indonesian and Persian cuisine are available all within a one-block radius. Some are more authentic than others though (my suggested ones are in the list below).
anyone want a pink bike?
zam zam… the place to go for local-inspired indian cuisine
How to get there:
Kampong Glam is accessible by both bus and MRT. Your best bet is to arrive through Bugis MRT Station. Walk two blocks north and you’re there.
Where to eat:
You’ll find an assortment of restaurants here but the quality may vary. These are my personal favorites.
16 Bussorah Street
+65 6294 0304
24 Haji Lane
+65 6295 5024
44 Kandahar Street
+65 6392 8628
Also check out our entry on Singapore’s Chinatown here