Let's Go Jalan Jalan: Rediscovering Jalan Besar
STORY: Ng Kai
10 February 2021
In this series, we help you (re)discover gems in your own backyard with the help of JalanJalan.me, a community project spearheaded by the people behind the #savefnbsg movement, and supported by Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Tourism Board.
1. Clothing to travel back in time with
Vintage shops aren’t just for retro frocks and psychedelic gear from the 60s. At Loop Garms, you will find a decidedly cool – rather than kitschy – range of vintage garments, or ‘garms. There is a strong focus on t-shirts from the 80s and 90s, with some shoes, snapbacks and bags making their appearance on its steel-pipe and wire boards. Before hopping on the train for a visit though, give their Instagram account a quick glance to see what's possibly on offer. If you're looking for more vintage shops in Singapore, check out our curated list on the best ones here.
Fun fact: You'll have to act quick if you see something you like – the store's owners Fenjia Sai and Isaac Ang do occasionally manage to score some holy-grail finds that you might just want to queue up before opening time for.
Located at: 635, Veerasamy Rd, #01-148, Singapore 200635 (map)
2. A notable mosque
Known as the Dunlop Street Mosque since it was built in 1907, this yellow and green-hued national monument didn't get its current name until the 1980s. The name change is a nod to its history. The plot of land was previously home to a timber structure built in 1859 to serve the Indian-Muslim merchants and East Javan Baweanese horsemen who worked at the racecourse at Farrer Park. Then Shaik Abdul Gaffoor - an enterprising law clerk - came along and constructed rows of shophouses and terraces on Dunlop St and Mayo St. The income from these shophouses were used to fund the construction of a new mosque, which commenced in 1907 and was completed in 1910.
Fun fact: Constructed with Asian and Western architectural details, the 2,449-sqm place of worship serves Tamil-speaking Muslims, offering madrasah classes in the language alongside its Arabic ones. When you do visit, see if you can spot at least 22 of the mini minarets on the roof of the building here.
Located at: 41, Dunlop St, Singapore 209369 (map)
3. The OG market
Thieves' Market was one of the defining landmarks of Jln Besar before the area was cleared for a new MRT station in 2017. A market in existence since the 1930s, it was a gathering of enterprising karung guni men and women who would hawk their finds on makeshift stalls on the small streets in front of Kelantan Lane. Several attempts to revive the flea market have been made since the clearing of the area, and the latest iteration is a two-unit space opened by non-profit volunteer group, The Saturday Movement, at the bottom of Blk 28, Kelantan Rd.
Fun fact: While the spread of goods isn't quite the kitchen sink it used to be, you'll still find plenty of vintage curios and old electronics crammed into Sungei Rd Green Hub, and by some of the same vendors who used to work the streets no less. Vintage lovers should definitely pop in for a spot of treasure hunting while on a walking tour of Jln Besar.
Located at: 28, Kelantan Rd, #01-125/135, Singapore 200028 (map)
4. Exclusive plants
It takes special planning to check out Jungalore in its full splendour. This plant store on the corner of Parc Sovereign Hotel is a like a magic forest, permitting entry to pilgrims for just a few hours on Sundays. When you do visit, you'll be rewarded with plenty of good vibes and plenty of rare, in-vogue plants to bring into your #plantparent life.
Fun fact: For a preview, check out their Instagram for glimpses of the beautifully variegated leaves of the black velvets, dieffenbachia, caladiums and orbifolias on offer, among other more standard offerings like edible herbs and succulents.
Located at: 165, Tyrwhitt Rd, #01-06, Singapore 207569 (map)
5. Memorable shophouses
The main Jln Besar drag is a densely packed district of some 230 shophouses in Singapore. It has tightly woven roads, but few of its side streets are as beautiful as Petain Rd. Once a pocket of the neighbourhood with somewhat of a seedy reputation, the highlight these days are the 18 shophouses built in the 1930s by British architect EV Miller for businessman Mohamed Bin Haji Omar. Snap a few pictures for 'gram while you're here - sure to get lotsa likes.
Fun fact: The Chinese Baroque style of adornment means that the external walls here feature a more-is-more aesthetic of patterned mosaic tiles juxtaposed against tiles splashed with motifs of flowers and birds.
Located at: Petain Rd (map)
1. Dozens of craft beers on tap
Craft beer. Cool Interiors. Quirky name that sticks. Druggists has everything it takes to be a trendy lifestyle hotspot, and it doesn't disappoint. Sharing a shophouse with the Singapore Chinese Druggists Association (an association of Chinese Medicine practitioners), this mosaic-tiled drinking room is where adventurous drinkers come seeking the more intrepid beer styles that Singapore has to offer.
Fun fact: With the 23 craft beers on tap here though, it's easy enough to dodge the barrel-aged milk stout or super sour lambic in favour of a tamer pale ale or lager, poured from its impressive row of beer taps by the friendly "beertenders".
Located at: 119, Tyrwhitt Rd, Singapore 207547 (map)
2. Aromatic kopi-o
There are cafes that pile on the themed decor to transport you to another headspace, and then there are spots like Apartment Coffee. This brightly lit space is a temple to the roasted bean, where white tones, a long bar counter and simple and well-made wood furnishings play a supporting role against the drinks on offer. The coffee here is served as pour overs or espressos, using beans sourced and roasted by Apartment's owner, Yeo Qing He, who's quite venerated among the local barista community.
Fun fact: You're in for an educational, rather than intimidating experience, as the menu helpfully provides keywords to guide you as you pick one of the seasonal beans on offer.
Located at: 161, Lavender St, #01-12, Singapore 338750 (map)
3. A variety of comfort food
With the wealth of dining options in the neighbourhood, we don’t blame you if you overlook this regular ol' hawker centre across the big street from Rowell Road. But this is where you can get a taste of some old-school dishes that are hard to come by these days. Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake (#02-34) offers fried peanut and ikan bilis-studded fritters stuffed with oysters, prawns, minced pork and chives. Close by at Fu He Turtle Soup (#02-40), owner Lee Hock Hoe serves up bowls of this delicacy that he has perfected through 30 years in the business.
Fun fact: Considered one of Singapore's oldest hawker centres, Berseh Food Centre was built in 1975. The pre-war shophouses surrounding the building give that added dose of nostalgia.
Located at: 166, Jln Besar, Singapore 208877 (map)
4. World famous laksa
Our country's hawker culture might have only just been recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, but we don't need a shiny new accolade to appreciate the best in our hawker landscape. Sungei Road Laksa is certainly one heritage hawker that we love, and here, they keep things old school. The dish is fired over charcoal and each bowl is cooked by hand. This hardly seen, laborious process of pouring and decanting laksa broth into a bowl of noodles and fixings is still alive and kicking in this kopitiam along Jln Berseh.
Fun fact: For $3, you get a petite bowl of cockles, fish cakes and thick bee hoon sitting in a prawn-rich gravy, so don’t forget to order two to make up for those calories you lost waiting in the queue.
Located at: Jin Shui Kopitiam, #01-100, 27, Jln Berseh, Singapore 200027 (map)
1. Local IKEA
If you are one who likes to DIY and are among the men and women who prefer to make their own furniture, have a go at playing carpenter at Ban Heng Long. While you won't find the commonly heard YouTube tutorial buzzwords such as "elm" or "oak wood", you’ll still be able to find the plywood and teak that can be cut to order if you give the helpful staff here the dimensions and specifications.
Fun fact: When the wooden panel at the bottom of your favourite IKEA dresser sags from all the clothing you failed to Marie Kondo, this spot might just spark joy as it can get you a replacement piece for a reasonable price.
Located at: 11, Syed Alwi Rd, #01-07 Teck Heng Long Industrial Building, Singapore 207629 (map)
2. Quirky costumes
Whether you are looking to up the ante when attending a long-awaited gathering with friends (yay Phase Three!) to binge watch "Money Heist" together, or surprising your relatives at Chinese New Year by dressing up as the God of Fortune, Customade Costume & Merchandise has you covered. This family-run company is on the pulse when it comes to designing and tailoring fancy dresses and has a staggering range spanning characters from trending movie and TV shows characters to retro mascots (here’s looking at you, Mamee Monster). It has clothed countless Halloween partygoers, as well as company dinner and dance, Chingay and National Day Parade performers in its 22 years in the business.
Fun fact: At its showroom in Kelantan Lane, 20,000 costumes are stacked deep on hangers for you to choose from, though if diving in feels a little too dizzying, there's always a website you can browse and book on. Rentals start from $48 for two days, and the rate even includes minor alterations so you don't arrive at your party looking like a saggy Luke Skywalker.
Located at: 3, Kelantan Lane, #01-01, Singapore 208625 (map)
3. Funky icecream flavours
There are hole-in-the-wall establishments, and then there is Gelato Labo. A miniscule room on Cavan Rd, it has just enough space for you to select your ice-cream and perch on one of the rarely available outdoor seats, or continue on your merry way. While small on real estate, they are big on imagination. The cones, for example, are studded with tiny lavender blooms and made fresh on site. In the cold box, you'll find a culinary bent in flavours such as the smoked sakura with artichoke and pear compote, as well as novel pairings the likes of Bronte pistachio and Himalayan pink salt, or naval orange with white chrysanthemum flower.
Fun fact: Clearly these intrepid flavours pairings have captured an audience too, as they've recently expanded into a fully kitted out cafe out west in Clementi.
Located at: 11, Cavan Rd, Singapore 209848 (map)
1. Turn it up
You can learn pretty much everything on Youtube these days, but if spinning music is on your list of resolutions, don't skimp on classes, especially when they're held at E-TracX. Co-owner DJ Edwin has been running the school since 2003, alongside his career playing at some of the city's top clubs.
Fun fact: On their roster of instructors here are some of the city's top DJ veterans the likes of Perk Pietrek, Shin and KoFlow - one of the world's top turntablists who has performed with icons such as Kanye West and Missy Elliot. Once you've got your skills up to scratch (get it?), you can also rent their studio for some practice time.
Located at: 411A, Jln Besar, Singapore 209014 (map)
2. Fresh cuts
When you can finally peel your eyes away from the beautifully restored pastel-hued conservation shophouse on the corner of Veerasamy Rd, you'll find Gosmack Barbershop and Supplies on the second floor. The concrete and wood crated interiors stand in stark contrast to its exteriors, but fall neatly into the aesthetic of most modern groom rooms on this island. Here, owners Nabil Dan and Art Mirzi offer cuts, razor shaves and even haircuts for the young ones.
Fun fact: Their Instagram page is a visual treat of the fresh cuts, tapers and fades they're experts at shaving down, and one perk of a visit here is the hot towel to relax you after your trip out to the barbers.
Located at: 109A, Jln Besar, Singapore 208829 (map)
3. Muddy arts and crafts
Enjoy getting your hands dirty? Sign up for a class at Mud Rock or just make a date to pop in for one of their occasional pop-up ceramic sales, if you aren’t in the mood to get dirty. Mud Rock is beloved by cup-making hobbyists as well as the restaurateurs who work with owner-artists Ng Seok Har and Michelle Lim. They offer classes that can take a novice from zero to a teapot-making hero. Young ones aged between six and 12 can even enroll for the child-friendly Little Mud Rock programme to spark a lifelong love for pottery. Great for weekend family bonding and as a school holiday treat!
Fun fact: They craft special tableware for F&B joints in Singapore, and have also been commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to craft gifts for the Vatican, and for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. Wah seh!
Located at: 85, Maude Rd, Singapore 208357 (map)
4. Pick up an instrument
One of your lifelong goals is to master an instrument – but if you aren’t about to spend a few grand on a Steinway or a Stradivarius, consider picking up the accessible ukulele instead. Ukulele Movement now offers virtual classes that you can book through their website to learn your favourite songs, or brush up on technique, but a visit to this store hidden in an HDB shop unit will start even the greenest of novices on the right foot - or rather, finger.
Fun fact: This shop unit stocks an extensive range of instruments, songbooks, and all the accessories you'll need to customise your new toy. Its experts can also restring your instrument if you get too carried away while jamming.
Located at: 2, Kitchener Rd, #02-87, Singapore 200002 (map)
For a full list of things to see, eat, shop and do in Jalan Besar, check out JalanJalan.me