11 May 2022

Culture in Singapore: From Wet Markets to Shophouses

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Joel Conceicao A long-suffering Arsenal fan who will most likely reincarnate as a Himalayan goat.

In need of a bit of culture? Here are the best traditional things to try and do for culture vultures visiting Singapore:

 

The best way to get to know a city is to dive deep into its soul. The fabric of a place’s existence lies in where it comes. That means history, heritage, and culture. Singapore is a culturally rich and diverse city, whether it’s delicious hawker food, visiting unique museums, or even having a budget day out under $10. There are just so many things to see and do when having fun in town. But to truly get to know the real side of Singapore, you need to try things steeped in tradition. And it doesn’t matter if you are a first-time visitor to the city, a local who hasn’t stepped out of your comfort zone, or an expat looking to rediscover things. Here are the best ways you can get cultured in Singapore:

 

Wrap your head around local food
Wrap your head around local food
  • Hidden Gem

They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Well, the same applies to understanding a city. Learn the unique stories and culture of wrapped food. Your journey will take you around the hip hood of Tiong Bahru, where you can meet hawkers and owners of old-school stalls. You will learn about the different types of leaves and plants used for wrapping food and try your hand at folding a ketupat (rice cake) by yourself.

Explore Joo Chiat’s Peranakan culture
Explore Joo Chiat’s Peranakan culture
  • Heritage
  • Instagram-worthy

Peranakan folks are fiercely proud of their culture. Rightly so. The age-old Peranakan traditions have withstood the test of time in modern-day Singapore. And nowhere else is this more apparent than in Joo Chiat. Explore this quaint and quirky neighbourhood and see gorgeous architectural gems before learning to make traditional foods like popiah (fresh spring roll) and kueh pie tee (crispy pastry shell) before appreciating vintage handicrafts.

Learn how to cook local cuisine
Learn how to cook local cuisine
  • Hidden Gem
  • Couples
  • Group Travellers
  • Social Impact

As famous as Singaporean food is, the cuisine doesn’t have the same popularity and mainstream pull outside these shores. Singapore noodles? Really? If you want to go back home and show off your knowledge of local dishes, the best way to get cultured and embrace unique flavours is to learn how to cook up a storm yourself. Join a cooking class that lets you embrace Singapore’s food heritage and learn family recipes like Hokkien mee (stir-fried prawn noodles) and clay pot chicken.

Have a walkabout in a wet market
Have a walkabout in a wet market
  • Group Travellers
  • Hidden Gem
  • Heritage
  • Local Favourite

One day, hawkers and wet market vendors will be a thing of the past. These hardworking uncles and aunties that wake up early in the mornings to set up their stalls are a disappearing breed thanks to the influx of cushy office jobs that are popular with the younger generation. Witness how these inspirational and tireless old folk work from dusk to dawn. And try out some delicious local food while you’re at it at some of Singapore’s best hawker centres like Maxwell Food Market and Chinatown Complex.

See a different side to Geylang
See a different side to Geylang
  • Hidden Gem
  • Heritage
  • Group Travellers
  • Social Impact

Geylang is grimy. Geylang is sleazy. Geylang is the sort of place that you’d never dream of bringing your mother. While those may be why many people visit Singapore’s notorious red-light district, this wonderfully diverse and colourful area has another side that not many people see. Join a tour that lets you meet people from all walks of life and gain another perspective of one of the city’s most fascinating neighbourhoods.

Meet Singapore’s vanishing craftsmen
Meet Singapore’s vanishing craftsmen
  • Group Travellers
  • Heritage
  • Hidden Gem

Like any bustling metropolis, ancient crafts and age-old traditions fade away with time. Singapore is no different. But a few hardy craftsmen are doing their best to prolong their heritage, to prevent the past from slipping away. If you are a sucker for reminiscing about how things were once upon a time, learn more about the heritage of what used to make Singapore tick before technology came.

Discover the Gods of Singapore’s underbelly
Discover the Gods of Singapore’s underbelly
  • Group Travellers
  • Heritage
  • Hidden Gem
  • Couples
  • Families with Kids
  • Local Favourite
  • Pelago Exclusive
  • Solo Traveller
  • Tours

Don’t be fooled by the clean and green exterior. Every place has an underbelly, even somewhere as slick as the Lion City. Singapore’s grungy side is full of the feared and misunderstood deities of the Taoist pantheon. Think opium-smoking and soul-catching gods. Pay a visit to the wonderfully old school shop and hidden gem of Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop, an effigy-making shop where you can hear their story on a night walk along the back alleys.

 

Photo credit: Joseph Nair

Visit a 100-year-old antique house
Visit a 100-year-old antique house
  • Heritage
  • Hidden Gem

One of the last remaining bastions of Peranakan treasure in Singapore, the Katong Antique House is, as its name suggests, full of antiquities and vintage items. These folks really do subscribe to the notion that old is gold. Nowhere is this more apparent than the collection of artifacts, costumes, and furniture that most Singaporeans have never even seen yet laid eyes on – there’s really no better way to learn about the lives of the Peranakans.

Meet the OG female badasses of Singapore
Meet the OG female badasses of Singapore
  • Couples
  • Heritage
  • Hidden Gem

Think that Singapore’s heroes are male? Well, think again. Women were the backbone of the society before the city flourished as a developed nation, particularly the samsui women and majie (domestic helpers). These hardy women paved the way for today’s young women to land independence and financial freedom. Without their sacrifices in a society brimming with patriarchy, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Learn about these women on a tour that lets you see the best-kept secrets of Chinatown and Kreta Ayer.

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