Want to try West African drumming?
What about eating authentic salami cured in Singapore, just like how the Italian artisans do it?
And did you know the only Buddhist temple outside Myanmar that features the Myanmar architectural style is right here?
Singapore may be small, but the diversity of dining and recreational options available means you can sample what the world has to offer without leaving town.
For an itinerary that lets you “travel” around the world in 12 hours, check out these 10 places that offer authentic experiences of other cultures.
All you need is a sense of adventure, a healthy appetite and some good company.
MYANMAR: 10 TO 11AM
Kick off the tour with a visit to the Burmese Buddhist Temple in Tai Gin Road in Balestier. With its gold and white facade and teak carvings, the architecture is typical of that of temples in Myanmar.
In fact, this is the only traditional Myanmar-style temple outside the country.
Myanmar national U Thar Hnin built the temple in 1878 to spread Theravada Buddhism in Singapore, a religion practised primarily in the Indochina region.
The Shrine Hall houses the largest enshrined Buddha statue carved out of marble outside Myanmar, which stands at 3.3m tall. It was made in Mandalay.
Next, head to the Meditation Hall on the third floor, which houses an impressive mural depicting the temple’s history. It moved from Kinta Road in Serangoon to its current premises in 1988.
“At the time, there were not so many Myanmar people who came to the temple,” says resident monk Venerable U. Tilokasiri, 66.
A typical temple celebration then drew only about 50 people, he adds.
Now, it is not unusual to see up to 8,000 devotees, mainly from the Myanmar community in Singapore, on special occasions such as Chinese New Year and Vesak Day.
They are usually clad in their traditional dress called the longyi, which resembles a sarong.
It makes for a vibrant cultural experience if you go on a special day, but even on weekdays, a regular stream of devotees offering prayer and seeking blessings are a usual sight.
Burmese Buddhist Temple
Where: 14 Tai Gin RoadOpen: 6am to 9pm daily
Info: Call 6251-1717 or go to www.bbt.org.sg
FRANCE: 11AM TO NOON
Be transported to a Parisian street at Cafe & Bar Gavroche in Tras Street. Owner and chef Frederic Colin, who is from Paris, says he has gone to great lengths to create a cafe experience a la Francaise here.
“It is 100 per cent authentic,” the 40-year-old says of the cafe, which he opened in 2012.
He points to the 1970s bar, which he sourced from Normandy, and a ceramic mural from Lyon, done in the style of Art Nouveau pioneer Alphonse Mucha.
Take a seat on the Maison Drucker wicker chairs commonly used in Parisian cafes in an area designed to look like an alfresco spot, with cobblestone floor and ornate street lamps.
Having breakfast the French way means going for the sweet stuff. You can opt for a classic Pain au Chocolat ($3.50), a croissant filled with chocolate, or a platter of “viennoiseries” or pastries ($16), served with French butter and jam for something more filling.
Egg lovers can go for the Oeufs Cocotte ($17), a creamy baked egg served with mushrooms and bacon.
Top it off with a pot of French brewed coffee ($9), and you are all set for the day.
Cafe & Bar Gavroche
Where: 69 Tras Street
Open: Noon to 2.30pm and 6pm till late (Tuesday to Friday); 10.30am to 2.30pm and 5pm till late (Saturday), 10.30am to 2.30pm (Sunday), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6225-4869 or go to www.cafegavroche.com
WEST AFRICA: 1 TO 2PM
With a sated belly, it is time to expend some energy. Try something unconventional and learn to play the West African drum, the djembe (say “jem-bay”).
The djembe, which you play with your bare hands, originated from the Mandingue region in Africa, which consists of countries such as Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea (above) and Mali.
Mr Kelvin Kew, who founded the Djembe Singapore Club in 2005, says the drums are easy for anyone to pick up. The classes are open to all and do not require prior experience with musical instruments. But playing the drum is not all that you pick up.
“You learn about African culture,” says Mr Kew. “Every rhythm has a story behind it – to go with the full moon or the harvest, for example.”
The 35-year-old Singaporean mastered the instrument in 2008 through a certification process that involved spending a month in Guinea. He is the vice-president and certified teacher of Tam Tam Mandingue International, the world’s first international djembe school which has branches in 18 countries, including Mexico, Japan and Germany. Singapore is its headquarters.
Mr Kew is not only proficient in the instrument, but also knowledgeable about the Mandingue history and culture
Ms Mouna Aouri, 40, an entrepreneur from Tunisia, started taking lessons at the club the first week she arrived in Singapore about four years ago. She is now a certified instructor who teaches beginners.
Even though Tunisia is not in the Mandingue region, she says their cultures overlap.
“I didn’t expect to find that African spirit here in Singapore. Kelvin has managed to re-create it here in the club,” she says.
Djembe Singapore Club
Where: Kallang Community Club, 45 Boon Keng Road
When: Beginner lessons are held every Saturday, 1 to 2pm
How much: Pay as you wish
Info: E-mail djembesingaporeclub@ liladrums.com or go to www.facebook.com/djembesg
AUSTRALIA: 2.30 TO 3.30PM
For a taste of the laidback Australian vibe, head to Sarnies, a cafe in Telok Ayer Street that serves sandwiches with generous fillings.
When Life! visited on Sunday, there were at least two Australian families enjoying a languid brunch.
But its Australian owner Benjamin Lee, 36, who hails from Sydney, says he did not set out to inject an Aussie atmospherewhen he set up the cafe in 2011.
“It wasn’t done on purpose. I just wanted to serve food that I would eat. Good, simple, wholesome food,” he says.
Entrepreneur Jol Champion, 41, says Sarnies reminds him of home. He even celebrated Australia Day there in 2011.
“There’s a friendly Australian culture here,” he adds. “It’s largely like that when you go to places back home.”
Sarnies serves all-day brunch on weekends, and Mr Lee recommends The Fry Up ($25.90, above), a hearty, indulgent dish that includes scrambled eggs, home-cured bacon, pork sausage, homemade baked beans, grilled mushrooms and sourdough toast.
Caffeine fiends are in luck: The cafe roasts its own blend in-house. Prices range from $4.50 for a long black to $7 for an iced mocha.
“People who’ve gone back to Sydney have told me that they miss the coffee at Sarnies,” says Mr Lee.
Where: 136 Telok Ayer Street
Open: 7.30am to 10pm (Monday to Friday), 9am to 4pm (Saturday and Sunday)
Info: Call 6224-6091 or go to www.sarniescafe.com
JAPAN: 4PM TO 5PM
You may be familiar with Japanese food, music and fashion.
What about Japanese art that offers insight into the culture?
At Mizuma Gallery in Gillman Barracks, a new exhibition titled Sweet Paradox features 22 artworks by five Japanese artists that look “kawaii” or cute from the outset, but contain deeper, more serious messages.
For example, in Balloon by Ohata Shintaro, you are first struck by a fluorescent pink 3D girl reaching for her balloon, standing in front of a 2D painting rendered in the same style.
What looks like a scene from Japanese anime is actually the artist’s attempt to capture the feeling of loneliness, or what the Japanese call “setsunai”.
Mr Ryo Wakabayashi, 49, the gallery’s adviser, says the word is hard to translate.
“It also means sadness, melancholy and even tranquillity,” he adds.
A quick check online reveals that it can mean feelings of cruelty or painfulness too.
The painting depicts the busy Shibuya crossing, and the girl represents a symbol of lost innocence.
It is a sad picture of loneliness which urbanites in a bustling but impersonal city can relate to.
The exhibition is curated by Mizuma Gallery owner Sueo Mizuma and his daughter, Ms Yukari Mitsuma, who runs Yukari Art, a gallery that promotes young Japanese artists in Tokyo.
To get the most out of the exhibition, expect to spend at least half an hour to 45 minutes here.
A gallery assistant will be on hand to share more insights about the works.
Where: Mizuma Gallery, Block 22, Lock Road, 01-34, Gillman Barracks
When: 11am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday), 11am to 6pm (Sunday), closed on Monday. The exhibition runs until Aug 10
Info: Call 6570-2505 or go to www.mizuma.sg
SOUTH KOREA: 5.30 TO 6.30PM
For a little pampering, head down to Garosu Hair Studio in Duxton Road. Garosu means “tree-lined street” in Korean and also refers to Garuso-gil, a hip district in Seoul which is peppered with galleries, boutiques and cafes.
All the four stylists, including its 29-year-old owner Hiro Lee, are Korean and were trained there.
“In Korea, fashion trends change rapidly, likewise for hairstyles,” says Mr Lee, who adds that they try to keep on top of Korean hair trends by reading Korean magazines such as Woman Chosun, watching Korean TV programmes and surfing Korean-style websites.
It is also common for customers to ask for hairstyles of K-pop stars, such as the members of popular girl group Girls’ Generation or rapper G-Dragon.
About half of Garosu’s clients are Koreans, and haircuts cost $35 for men and $45 for women. A haircut takes about 45 minutes.
Ms Kim Eun Jung, 28, a translator who has been a customer of the salon since it opened last year, says she feels at home there.
“I can banter with the staff in Korean and share news from home,” she says, adding that she spent the last New Year’s Eve there, celebrating with the staff and drinking champagne.
After the haircut, drop by Lotte Mart, which is a two-minute walk away, and pick up some Korean snacks such as Shin Ramyun beef noodles ($1.20 a packet), Orion fish-shaped red bean cakes ($5.50 a box) and Nongshim Shrimp Chips ($1.30 a packet).
Lotte Mart is a chain of supermarkets here that sells only Korean products, ranging from tidbits to kimchi and Korean rice wine. It has three other outlets in Lorong Kilat, Beach Road and Telok Ayer Street.
Garosu Hair Studio
Where: 59 Duxton RoadOpen: 10am to 8pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6220-0677 for reservations or go to www.garosuhairstudio.com
Where: 67 Tanjong Pagar RoadOpen: 10.30am to 9.30pm daily
Info: Call 6222-1646
RUSSIA: 6.30 TO 7.30PM
You should be feeling peckish by this time, and here is just the (exotic) thing for you. The dark wooden interiors of Buyan Russian Restaurant & Bar is seductive and mysterious, much like its name – “Buyan” refers to a mystical Russian island.
On the walls are illustrations of fairy tales in the style of Ivan Bilibin, a 20th-century Russian illustrator who specialised in art based on Russian folklore. Portions of wooden logs have been affixed to the walls to recreate the look of the izba, a traditional Russian house.
Managing director Natalia Makarova, 38, explains that Buyan features Soviet cuisine, which infuses culinary influences from countries in the former Soviet bloc, such as Georgia and Uzbekistan.
For a light bite, she recommends khachapuri ($12), a Georgian flat bread stuffed with cheese, or sprats ($8), a type of smoked fish served with bread.
For desserts, try the blini, a thin pancake served with condiments ($12, right), or a Medovik ($10), a honey cake cooked in cream.
Ms Makarova says the restaurant, which opened in 2011, aims to introduce Russian food and culture in a friendly way.
For example, it recently held an event to celebrate the Russian spring holiday, Maslenitsa, by serving blini, which symbolises the sun.
About one-third of Buyan’s customers are Russian. Ms Valentina Chemodanova, 26, a client relations manager, drops by at least once every two months to get her fill of Russian food. “I bring my Singaporean friends here to feed them Russian food. I don’t cook, so this is the easy way,” she says.
Like any respectable Russian establishment, Buyan has a wide selection of vodkas (from $11 a shot). Life! counted 52 types from the menu.
Do not indulge too much, though, for the night is still young.
Buyan Russian Restaurant & Bar
Where: 9 Duxton Hill
Open:Noon to 3pm (Tuesday to Friday), 6 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday). Bar is open till late. Closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6223-7008 for reservations or go to www.buyan.sg
MEXICO: 7.30 TO 9.00PM
As darkness falls, it is time to soak in the fun, raucous vibe of “lucha libre”, a form of professional wrestling in Mexico where the wrestlers wear colourful masks.
At Mexican restaurant Lucha Loco, you can see a funny spandex-clad masked wrestler mascot everywhere, such as on the menus and spray-painted on the walls.
On some nights, Australian-born owner Christian Tan, 44, dons a mask and gives everyone free tequila shots.
Mr Tan set up the restaurant in 2012 with two other partners to showcase Mexican street food and culture, especially the lucha libre matches which they saw when they visited the country in early 2012.
Ms Ise Aranda, 29, a Mexican engineer who has lived here for a year, goes to Lucha Loco every week. She says: “This place reminds me of the fun beach atmosphere in Mexico, like Cancun.”
Executive chef Mario Malvaez, 33, from Mexico city, says the restaurant concept is inspired by the Mexican taqueria, a small street-food stand.
Contrary to popular belief, he says Mexican food is not heavy. “We don’t have so much cheese. Our food is very different from what people think Mexican food is. It’s very fresh, it’s very healthy,” he says.
Popular items include the ceviche with prawn and octopus ($20) and the taco de pescado ($11), which comes with red snapper. Also try the elotes ($8), or corn on the cob served with cotija cheese.
The place can get crowded at night and on weekends (it takes bookings only for groups with eight or more people).
Sit outside by the garden and admire the authentic lucha libre posters on the wall.
Where: 15 Duxton Hill
Open: 5pm to midnight (Tuesday to Thursday), 5pm to 1am (Friday), 6pm to 1am (Saturday). Closed on Sunday and Monday
Info: Call 6226-3938 or go to www.luchaloco.com
ITALY: 9.30PM TILL LATE
Have a round of celebratory drinks and a nibble or two to round off the tour.
With its dark wooden tables, marble counter tops and stucco-painted walls, &Sons (say “and sons”, above) is modelled after a Venetian-style bacaro or wine bar. The name is inspired by the family-run bacaros in Venice.
“The real bacaro is small, with standing room only,” says its Italian owner, Mr Beppe De Vito, 42, who set up shop last month. But he promises his place to be just as friendly and inexpensive as the real thing.
Besides Mr De Vito, the 22-man team behind &Sons is made up of 18 Italians – 10 are from the kitchen crew, including the sous chef and junior sous chef, and eight are part of the service staff.
The food is authentic too.
Here, you can sample “cicchetti” or small side dishes (prices range from $8 to $28) that are meant to be enjoyed with wine.
The specialities here are homemade salami (cured sausage) and prosciutto (sliced dry-cured ham) imported from Italy, which cost $8 to $13 a serving.
A cafe by day and wine bar by night, &Sons has a salami room at the back which stores meat that can take up to six months to cure, like how the Italian artisans make it.
Its cheese platter ($18) is also interesting. The menu boasts 13 types of Italian cheese (right) such as Pecorino di Pienza, a Tuscan cheese made from ewe’s milk, and Ribiola Tre Latti, a creamy cheese made from cow, sheep and goat milk.
End the night with a glass of organic wine ($8 to $15 a glass) or a cocktail ($10 to $15).
It might be fitting to order the Venice Cup ($45, serves four), a mix of gin, aperol (an aperitif similar to Campari), galliano (a sweet liqueur) and lambrusco (a type of Italian red wine).
This red-tinged drink is a creation of &Sons that pays tribute to the spritz, a Venetian wine-based cocktail.
Where: 01-19 China Square Central, 20 Cross Street
Open: 11.30 to 1am (Monday to Friday), 6pm to 2am (Saturday). Closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6221-3937 or go to www.sons.com.sg