Joo Chiat with Karen Huang of Manic Design

Karen Huang of Manic Design is one multi-talented gal. She owns a boutique design agency with her husband. She makes journals, lamps, and pouches under her Fairground Studio label. She and her mother run their own online bakery, Baked Ideas. And, she writes about design and typography at Snog Blog.

When she suggested I join her for a walk through her neighborhood, Joo Chiat, I happily accepted the invitation.

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A bit about Joo Chiat: It is a residential area in the eastern part of the country. It was traditionally a Peranakan enclave and is home to some of Singapore’s most ornate pre-war shophouses.

The heart of the neighborhood is Joo Chiat Road. The street is dotted with shops selling everything from bread to paper offerings and a variety of restaurants. At night, the area turns into one of Singapore’s red-light districts, especially near the stretch of bars between Koon Seng Road and Joo Chiat Place. But, after the sun goes down, Joo Chiat is the neighborhood to find excellent bánh mì and pho.

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We started our late-moring walk at Paya Lebar MRT station. Our first stop? Ailin Bakery House (845 Geylang Road, #01-48, Tanjong Katong Complex), a treasure trove of cookie cutters, sugar sprinkles, and more. We could have spent hours there, but Karen told me that we needed to be first in line at stall 11, Geylang Serai Makan Place when it opened at 11am for putu piring, AKA breakfast.

A putu piring is a steamed rice cake stuffed with melted gula melaka (palm sugar), topped with shredded coconut, and garnished with pandan leaves. This streetside sweet is heaven wrapped in brown paper. And SG$1 for three!

After our decadent meal, we passed by Egg Three (260 Joo Chiat Road), a boutique, and Cheryl Shuen (268 Joo Chiat Road), a bakery. “This part of the neighborhood is gentrifying,” said Karen.

These newer shops sat side-by-side with mom-and-pop businesses, such as Chung Hing Printing Company (344 Joo Chiat Road) and Yiem Woh Confectionary and Bakery Factory (368 Joo Chiat Road). We peeked into the workroom at Chung Hing and admired the traditional printing press from afar.

We took a detour to Koon Seng Road to gawk at the neighborhood’s elaborate shophouses. These terrace houses are decorated with dragons, birds, and flowers. The photograph at the top of this post is of one of the brilliantly glazed tiles that adorn these conserved buildings.

We ended our morning at the other end of Joo Chiat Road, at the intersection of East Coast Road. I had a lime juice and Karen had a barley water at 328 Katong Laksa (216 East Coast Road). Several laksa stalls here claim that they are the source of the original Katong laksa.

Other neighborhood highlights:

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Karen, many thanks for the introduction to your eclectic neighborhood. I know I’ll be back to explore again soon.

(Additional credits: Stationery texture via Pugly Pixel.)

2 responses

  1. Brilliant! We are moving to East Coast in March and are looking for a place in this neighborhood, a favorite of ours.

    We like how lively it is and all the little shops popping here and there. A shophouse would be an excellent option, but they come at a high price these days ;).

  2. I felt that Singapore has changed so much I don’t even recognize it!! I have never heard of Joo Chiat, so it was nice to learn about it. How cool is it that you can buy bunh mi and pho there! Karen seems like a super talented individual. Her design work at Manic Design is amazing and she even owns a shop, Fairground Studio and Baked Ideas, an online bakery shop with her mom? I am speechless! I peeked into Snog Blog. What a neat blog! Thanks for sharing these. I am coming to your blog for ideas when I have a chance to come visit Singapore. I imagine your blog can be printed as a travel guide book some day!