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Breakfast for S$1.50 and a ‘walk on the moon’: How Little India mixes heritage and hipster cool

How To Not Waste Your Annual Leave starring Chua Enlai is a guide to escaping work-from-home fatigue. Singapoliday, anyone?

Chua Enlai and Siti Khalijah take off on a Singapoliday to rediscover Little India. Watch the video embedded in this story! PHOTO: SPH
Chua Enlai and Siti Khalijah take off on a Singapoliday to rediscover Little India. Watch the video embedded in this story! PHOTO: SPH

We know Little India for fabulous discounts at Mustafa Centre, the colourful sari shops, striking temples and Komala’s hearty masala thosai. But there’s so much more to this cultural district than these well-known haunts. Insta-worthy hotels, an elevated indoor playground complete with bouncy nets for the young and young at heart… and of course, food, glorious food.

So, if you’ve got leave days to clear, and want to escape work and the sameness of home, why not check in for a staycay in one of the boutique hotels in the area? Instead of just taking Friday off, skip the crowds and check in on a less-busy (means less people too) weekday for your own Singapoliday. Hotel rates are usually cheaper too!

Imagine you’re actually on holiday, turn office group chats to mute, and explore the vibrant stretch of Serangoon Road and little streets where olden-day trades collide with hip, new galleries and cafes.

Add these places and attractions in Little India to your must-see list.

Take a walk on the moon

If you love a bit of adventure or have kids you need to exhaust — yet not be in the sun, check out this indoor elevated playground. Airzone sits like a floating jewel as its bouncy nets are suspended across Levels 2 to 6 of City Square Mall, with slides connecting one level to the next.

There are distinct themed zones with fun activities, such as a 3D net maze, a net bridge slide, and giant inflatable balls you can attempt soccer or dodgeball with.

But before you get started, you’ll need to get accustomed to the floaty, bouncy feeling when walking on the nets. Some describe it as a combination of walking on the moon and walking on water! Your knees may feel wobbly at first, and you may feel like you’re in quicksand, but once you get accustomed to the elasticity of the nets, you’ll be sinking-bouncing away with every step.

Fearful of heights? Airzone says each layer of netting can support the weight of two fully loaded buses, and there’s an added safety net at the bottom.

Airzone has been certified SG Clean by Singapore Tourism Board and abide by guidelines set by the Ministry of Health. There’s temperature taking at the entrance, safe distancing measures and there’s a maximum group size of five.

Where: 180​ Kitchener Road, City Square Mall #02-K4/K10, Singapore 208539
Tel: 6631-9789​
Email: info@airzone.sg
Opening hours: First session begins at 11.40am; last session at 7.50pm. Each session of​ play lasts 50 minutes.
Website:https://airzone.sg​/

Little India’s most Instagram-worthy hotel

“Do it for the ‘gram’,” they say. A quick look-see around The Great Madras will leave you with a deeper appreciation for millennial speak.

What lies behind the simple, modest-looking facade is a hip, whimsical boutique hotel with cool selfie backdrops at every turn. No filters needed!

This former budget hotel underwent a massive two-year refurbishment, but the owners had to maintain the URA-protected building’s facade. So, while the hotel reopened its doors in 2017 with an exterior proudly boasting The Great Madras’s colonial heritage, the interiors brim with whimsical charm and playful details and illustrations, drawing loose comparisons to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If pavement pounding isn’t on your itinerary for the day, grab a book and lounge by the retro pool (don’t forget to head up to the top floors and check out the photogenic pool tiles from above!). A new in-house cafe is slated to open in December, with plans to house a new barber in the pipeline as well, so don’t miss out on updates from the hotel.

Where: 28​ Madras Street, Singapore 208422
Tel: 6914-1515​
Email: guestservice@thegreatmadras.com
Website: ​www.thegreatmadras.com​/​

A special passage to India

It’s the ideal place to delve into Indian history and culture in Singapore. The Indian Heritage Centre at Campbell Lane also offers a great photo op as the sun goes down, when the modern building literally lights up, vibrantly glowing through its glass facade.

Its architecture draws upon the Baoli, an Indian stepped well that is known to be a traditional meeting place for communities. The permanent galleries on Levels 3 and 4 are divided into five themes from the 1st to the 21st centuries, examining the long history of interaction between India and Southeast Asia, and also highlight the contributions of South Asian communities here. Free admission for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents.

To make sense of the exhibits, the Centre has subscribed to the Smartify mobile app, available on Android and IOS, to allow visitors to discover the stories behind the over 500 artefacts. It’s the first museum in Asia to do so.

Where: 5​ Campbell Lane, Singapore 209924
Tel: 6291-1601​
Opening hours: 10​am to 7pm, Tuesdays to Thursdays; 10am to 8pm, Fridays and Saturdays; 10am to 4pm, Sundays; closed on Mondays
Website: https://www.indianheritage.gov.sg/

Learn to tie a sari

When on holiday, we often join walking tours to discover hidden nooks and crannies of a town or city. It’s no different in Little India.

Local bespoke tour agency Journeys, which came up with the popular The Original Singapore Walks® series, offers heritage walking tours of Singapore’s cultural neighbourhoods​ and provides an insider’s perspective on their rich history.

One of its signature tours is Dhobis, Saris & A Spot of Curr​y™,​ which brings guests on a fascinating journey into the culture, traditions, religion and way of life of Singapore’s Indian community.

Highlights of the tour include visiting a paan and garland store to discover how flowers play an integral part in Indian life, learning the art of tying a sari and understanding the significance behind Indian body decoration. You’ll also get to savour a meal at one of Little India’s oldest restaurants, Komala Villas, and take in the vibrant street art the precinct richly offers.

Where: Meeting point is at Little India MRT Station, outside Exit E (Buffalo Road); tour​ happens every Tuesday from 9.30am to noon
Tel: 6325-1631​
Email: fun@singaporewalks.com
Website: https://www.journeys.com.sg/tosw/ 

Cosy up for cocktails and comfort food

This quaint heritage-style bistro and taproom is lovingly decorated with a mash-up of eclectic​ vintage pieces like antique wooden sofas, well-loved upholstered armchairs, gilt-edged mirrors and splashes of Oriental flair. It’s an ode to its neighbourhood, where East and West, old and new, coexist.

The Singapura Club offers a cosy respite from the sun and buzzing streets, and diners can​ enjoy a wide menu of Asian and North Indian dishes, including their raved-about butter chicken and naan. Its bar offerings are even better, and many love to sit back with a Pina Colada in hand as they enjoy being in the most colourful part of Little India.

Where: 102​ Dunlop Street, Singapore 209421​
Tel: 6957-3369​
Opening hours: 11​am to 10.30pm
Website: www.facebook.com/thesingapuraclub/?rf=99222339414769​5

Get your masala thosai breakfast for $1.50!

Many may know about the Tekka Centre, yet never had a chance to explore the iconic multi-use building complex that comprise Tekka Market, the largest wet market in Singapore, the food centre and shops.

The original Tekka Market was built in 1915 and, over the decades, has become known as the go-to place to shop for hard-to-come-by ingredients. food items. With 284 stalls, you’ll​ find everything from spices to Sri Lankan crabs. You can also get your spices customised by the stalls’ “spice connoisseurs”.

If you’re not feeling the usual mouthwatering fare of biryani, Tandoori breads and masala, try some tiffin dishes (stalls with “tiffin” in their name sell a mix of South Indian breakfast and lunch items), such as thosai, idlis (a type of savoury rice cake), appams, lentil vadais and upma (like a thick porridge). Out to find a good deal? Look for the Sri Tiffin Stall, which serves a masala thosai for $1.50.

After having your fill, head to the upper floors and check out the silk fabrics and accessories, as well as trinkets that make pretty gifts (Christmas is round the corner!).

Where: 665​ Buffalo Road, Tekka Centre, Singapore 210665
Opening hours: 6.30​am to 9pm daily

Indulge your sweet tooth

If you have a penchant for sweets, you’ll be drawn to the storefront of colourful candy at Moghul Sweet Shop at Little India Arcade.

Specialising in handmade traditional North Indian sweets, the shop offers decadent treats such as ​gulab jamun​ (fried dough balls dunked in syrup), barfi​ (delicious squares of condensed milk and sugar) in flavours such as chocolate, almond and pistachio, and soan​ papdi​ (a delightfully crisp and flaky, pastry-like snack).

Moghul’s selection of sweets changes from time to time, so basically, it’s like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get (which does add to its draw). It’s also a great spot to pick up Diwali treats.

Where: 48​ Serangoon Road, Little India Arcade #01-16, Singapore 217959
Tel: 6392-5797​
Opening hours: 11​am to 9pm, daily
Website: https://www.moghulsweets.com/

Dining barefoot

A one-of-a-kind dining experience awaits you at Lagnaa Barefoot Dining, an Indian concept restaurant in Little India. You’re invited to slip off your shoes, get comfy on the floor and partake in award-winning Indian fare.

Master chef and owner of Lagnaa, Kaesavan, is a self-professed curry and chilli advocate, who created the restaurant’s signature Arusuvai curry set ​comprising six flavours that​ Indian cuisine encompasses: Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent.

The best part: You can choose your spice level —​ from one for those who prefer it mild to a​ 10 for chilli heads. In fact, Chef runs the $10,000 Chilli Challenge for those who dare to put their money where their mouth’s at — the first to finish a full portion of the Level 10 curry takes home $10K!

Where: 6​ Upper Dickson Road, Singapore 207466
Tel: 6296-1215​
Opening hours: 11.30am to 11.30pm; closed on Mondays​
Website: https://www.lagnaa.com​/
 

She’s behind The Singapore Original Walks® series of tours that showcase the many gems of Singapore’s ethnic precincts, including Little India. So it was only natural for us to check in with licensed tour guide Savita Kashyap, executive director of heritage tour company Journeys, on her must-eats in Little India.

In partnership with Singapore Tourism Board