I’ve alway said I love Singapore.
While Malaysians may grimace at my remarks about how much I love the food in Singapore, I’m still steadfast to my opinion that GOURMET food in Singapore rocks (in comparison to Malaysia) and damn, Singapore chicken rice is just darn tasty.
This trip to Singapore was kindly hosted by the team at Days Hotel and Ramada Hotel on Zhongshan Park.
If you wish to know about both hotels and the food served, you can refer to my links at the bottom of this post.
We have a bubbly guide who shared tales of Singapore as we strolled down the street, embarking on our “Balestier Heritage Trail” which tells a tale spanning nearly 180 years and has borne witness to Singapore’s remarkable journey from a British trading post to a modern city state.
This trail is about 4km, demarcated with trail markers.
You can opt to wonder out on your own, or arrange for a guide.
Our guide Lily did her job well. She kept us interested, answered all our queries, fed us bean curd, made sure of our safety and pointed out landmarks and items that may be of significance for us to photograph.
Lest you think that the Balestier Heritage Trail is ‘another run of the mill, hastily put together walk for tourist; I’ll like to clear any potential misconception here.
The Balestier Heritage Trail is a result of extensive archival research as well as interviews with residents and business owners who have witnessed the growth and development of Balestier Road.
Information shared are accurate and the walk will take you to key venues of relevance and within this district where notable moments of the 1911 Chinese Revolution were hatched and classic Malay films were shot, where coffee was, and still is, brewed in the traditional way.
From sugar cane plantations to shops filled with sweet and savoury delights, Balestier had seen much progression.
Today people made a beeline to the area to feast on chicken rice and bak kut teh and pack boxes of tau sar pneah home.
Commercially the area is known for the healthcare (which includes beauty and cosmetic operations) and home and bath lighting solutions.
Hospitals and Healthcare Centres in the area: We noticed that there are many beauty salons, skin & cosmetic surgery clinics as well as skin specialist centres in the buildings along Balestier.
The Thompson Hospital is within the vicinity as well.
But it is really the lighting and home business that dominate the streetfront, judging by the sheer volume of lighting stores for Balestier is also known as Singapore’s “designer lighting-shop district”.
I reckon there are more than 50 of them along the main road itself.
The traditional shophouses that survive to this day reflects a number of architectural styles. However one universal feature is the five-foot way which offers pedestrians shelter from the sunlight and rain.
The notable style is known as the “Art Deco”, an architectural trend popular in the 1930s to 1950s.
One such example is the Hoover Hotel, 246 Balestier Road.
Ranging from 2 – 5 storeys in height, traditional shophouses often doubled up as business premises and family dwelling, although it is common for the upper floors might be tenanted by different dwellers.
279, Balestier Road is the address for Balestier Point.
A more contemporary expression of this trend can be seen in this building.
Resembling an assembly of colourful Lego bricks, this made the headlines of “The new boy on the block” when it opened in 1986.
The 18 -storey building brings to mind the cubist structure of Pablo Picasso.
What’s inside it?
When it was built, it cost 35 SGD million and it housed 62 retail units on the 1st 2 floors, car parks on the 3rd and 4th and 13 floors of residential apartments which has 2-3 bedrooms.
Pre-war terrace houses is another sight that greets you if you venture off the main roads into the side lanes.
Another common feature of the tall buildings here in Singapore are the circular stairways at the back. It was rumoured that these stairs were the getaway route for cheating spouses. 😀
Religious places of worship here includes Tong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sin Sia, Leng Ern Jee Temple, Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong, Masjid Hajjah Rahimabi Kebun Limau and the more prominent Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple.
We stepped into the Burmese temple as part of our tour and found it to be a beautiful sanctuary.
The temple was originally located at Kinta Road off Serangoon Road. Today it is at 14, Tai Gin Road. This design followed the advice of Burmese architects to reflect its historical ties to the country.
The tiered roof is adorned by woodcarvings made from 19 tonnes of of Burmese teak and there is a golden pagoda on the roof which houses a Sima House for religious discussions.
On the temple walls are figurines of tha-djar-min, a King of celestial deities who is also the Guardian of Buddha Sasana (the meaning of Buddha’s teachings).
Who hasn’t heard of Sun Yat Sen ?
Flash your room key card (if you are a guest at Ramada or Days Hotel) and enjoy complimentary access to The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall museum, a wonderfully well kept, air conditioned house that tells the stories of the revolutionary political leader.
The gallery within house important artefacts, paintings and photographs that trace the story of Dr. Sun and also highlight the contributions made by Chinese communities in SEA to the Revolution.
Balestier Food Court is a place for variety, but Balestier is known more for Bak Kut Teh while for Chicken Rice it’s Boon Tong Kee or Loy Kee.
Founder BKT is one of the oldest around, but there are plenty about there.
As the sellers usually open late in the day til wee hours of the morning, the ideal meal time would be dinner or supper.
I find Boon Tong Kee chicken rice pretty good!
While both Loy Kee and BTK has been mainstays for years, there are a number of chocken rice stalls along the same stretch, one of which is Hock Nam, which also offers stewed duck rice.
Rochor Beancurd House:
I find the soybean curd a bit too light in soy flavour for the chilled one but the warm ones were decent. The fried durian rolls were the bomb though!
Loong Fatt tau sar pneah:
Their fame has been long and strong, as Loong Fatt is reputedly to be the first to sell the traditional confections. It started out with 2 varieties, sweet or salty.
Now there are permutations of all flavours from durian to red bean to yam.
For my Malaysian friends, don’t expect it to be anything like our tau sar pneah. This is way flakier and greasier for both pastry and fillings.
The filling reminds me of our mooncake paste.
Other food to try?
Eastern Rice Dumpling sells traditional rice dumplings and it was founded more than 30 years ago. It is still a family run business currently run by the 3rd generation, following the original recipe created by the grandmother of the present MD Mr Lim Cheng Hwee.
Before the time of Starbucks and coffee art, coffee was appreciated solely on the flavour of the beans and the formula of beans to milk and water was measured by experience.
For Lam Yeo coffee, little has changed for they still supply to most (I’m not claiming all) of the overpriced cafes in SG and coffee shops.
Lest you think that the coffee here is of the “local ” variety, you’ll be surprised (just like I was) to read labels such as Guatemala, Ethiopia and Luwak here.
A neighbour of Lam Yeo but of even older origin is Lim Kay Khee Optical & Contact Lens Centre (330, Balestier Road).
Here one can find retro-style frames and watch as he mould frames into the shapes he desires using old-school wooden tools.
Calculations are still done via an abacus!
There are more to the Balestier Heritage Walk than what I’ve covered above. However that would read like a history book if i were to include all details here.
Take your time to browse through the site www.nhb.com.sg for more of Singapore’s rich history. 🙂
Thank you Days and Ramada Hotel for having me!
* The Balestier Heritage Trail is a joint effort by the National Heritage Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and supported by the Mooulmein Citizens’ Consultative Committee and the Whampoa Consultative Committee.
Last but not least, I’ll like to share a tip on getting good flights to Singapore.
I’ve been to flying to SG almost every month and from my experience, flights on Malindo Air is the cheapest even at the 11th hour (usually SGD50 ++ – RM150 or so each way).
Legroom is spacious, there is complimentary snack and entertainment on board plus the customer service is warm.
IF you are willing to top up your budget Malindo Air offers Business Class seats too!
BELOW: Business Class.
BELOW: Economy Class.
More on Days Hotel and Ramada Hotel:
More on the halal food at Rajah on 21 (Days Hotel) and Flavours (Ramada Hotel):