Secret Journeys in Singapore: Stroll through retro Katong

Stroll through Katong with Serene Goh for a glimpse of the district’s sultry past.

The third-generation Katongite highlights places in the enclave that are often a tribute to the Peranakan and Eurasian cultures that once flourished here.

1. Joo Chiat Complex, 1 Joo Chiat Road

Nonyas still recommend this shopping centre, established in the early 1980s, for curtains, carpets and kebayas.

Before World War II, the site was a pungent wet market called the Joo Chiat-Changi Market, where my grandmother, one of many housewives in the then-newly established Peranakan enclave, would shop for groceries.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was touted as the second largest Malay market here after Pasar Besi in Beach Road, famed for its food and spices.

(ST PHOTOS: JOHARI RAHMAT AND CHEW BOON CHIN)

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2. 26, Still Road South

This mansion was once Karikal Mahal, a beach-facing bungalow built in 1917 by wealthy Indian cattle merchant Moona Kader Sultan. Once a Victorian-styled complex, it had contained four houses with large gardens, housing his extensive family.

In 1947, it was sold to Lee Rubber Company and turned into the 20-room Grand Hotel, which soon became a popular site for weekend tea parties. In 1973, the state acquired part of the land for the construction of Still Road, splitting the property in two.

But by 2003, it was accorded conservation status. Still, it was derelict for years until it underwent restoration about a year ago. The property still belongs to Lee Rubber Company, and works look to be completed soon, with a bright blue-and-white coat of paint and Peranakan tiles on its porch pillars worthy of its grand dame status.

(ST PHOTO: NURIA LING)

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3. Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie, 95 Joo Chiat Road (www.joochiatpopiah.com)

This purveyor of popiah skins has a history that dates back to 1938, and still makes its skins by hand.

Katong children would stand hypnotised, watching lumps of flour being swirled and smacked onto flat iron skillets to create paper-thin pancakes. Today, at any given time, you can still be mesmerised by the same folksy magic.

(ST PHOTO: NURIA LING)

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4. The Sea View condominium, 29-41 Amber Road

The newest Sea View holds one trace of its heritage – a restored beach house that is the condo clubhouse.

The site was formerly Sea View Hotel, which had been the new Sea View Hotel after the original 1906 property, established by Manasseh Meyer, was relocated from Meyer Road.

(ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN)

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The very first Sea View Hotel began life as a colonial bungalow which, true to its name, had a view of the Katong beach.

Today, that plot is Peach Garden condominium.

In 1969, the second Sea View opened at 26 Amber Close, where it operated until 2003. Eventually, reclamation works obscured its view, though its coffee lounge continued to be where Katong dwellers went for Western meals in air-conditioned comfort.

(PHOTO: ST LIBRARY)

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5. Eurasian Community House, 139 Ceylon Road

Eurasians keen to uncover their lineage can trace their roots with the help of the Eurasian Association, which was established in 1919.

(PHOTO: EURASIAN ASSOCIATION)

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Many of Singapore’s oldest family names, including Oliveiro (1844), Gomes (1949) and Dias (1921), settled in Katong in the 1920s and 30s after arriving from regional ports including Malacca, Macau and Penang.

(PHOTO: EURASIAN ASSOCIATION)

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See more places in the print version of The Straits Times National Day Special.