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Joo Chiat with Dennis Tay
Dennis Tay has lived in Joo Chiat all his life ("half a century and counting") and refuses to move anywhere else. "The food is too good," reasons the retired naval officer, who lives with his wife, son and parents in the same shophouse he grew up in on Onan Road. But Joo Chiat is also more than just a foodies' paradise - the area is equally famed for its rich culture and history. Photography enthusiasts - young and old, local and foreign - coming by to take snapshots of the unique Peranakan architecture are a common sight. When night falls, the scenery changes as one stretch of Joo Chiat morphs into a neon-lit 'Little Hanoi', as the locals call it, for the Vietnamese 'working girls' who make their rounds of the KTV lounges there. "They do give the neighbourhood an international flavour," half-jests Mr Tay. A wave of nostalgia hits the 50-year-old as he reminisces about the disappearing sights. "In my younger days, I remember squatting outside the book shop off Ceylon Road browsing through issues of Shoot magazine and Dennis the Menace comics." But he is equally excited about seeing Joo Chiat change before his eyes: "The area might be considered old but you still see it attracting a lot of new businesses."
1. Katong Shopping Centre 1 Brooke Road. Singapore’s fi rst air-conditioned shopping was hip once, with a bowling alley and video game arcades that drew gangs of uniformed students. Now only the signature banana pie at the 20-year-old confectionery Dona Manis and the food court’s boneless chicken rice stall hold sway.
2. RetroCrates 448A Joo Chiat Road. Singapore’s newest vinyl shop run by Mr Tay’s wife Celia, is like a “home away from home” – read: plush living room with solid audiophile set-up. The shop specialises in 80s pop and stocks a healthy range of new and used titles.
3. Alibabar 125 East Coast Road. A coffeeshop turned into a kopitiam by day and a hawker bar by night. Wash down a plate of Yong Huat’s (in business since 1949) hokkien mee with ciders and craft beers from around the world.
4. Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata 7 Crane Road. The name says it all. Just avoid weekends, advises Mr Tay. Get a kick out of the drinks stall run by three brothers who shout out orders in a hilarious chorus.
5. Joo Chiat Complex 1 Joo Chiat Road. Old school shopping mall selling Malay textiles, foodstuffs, medicine and homeware. The makciks who shop there turn bargaining into an art form. Tail one if you want to piggy back on her discounts.
6. Cat Socrates 448 Joo Chiat Road. This indie lifestyle store has no guard dog but a guard cat – resident tabby Zoo-zoo. Its eclectic merchandise includes pots and pans, books or design magazines and even bikes.
7. AngMoh Noodle House 182 Joo Chiat Road. Tired of Fei Fei? Try AngMoh, a Joo Chiat institution since the sixties when founder Ao Yang used to sell from a pushcart. His Caucasian-like complexion and features led to customers nicknaming him ‘ang moh’.