A Perfect Day in Tiong Bahru, Singapore


As home to the towering Marina Bay Sands, Singapore may be synonymous with its iconic harbour skyline. But, Tiong Bahru takes visitors back to a time when mid–century buildings rose to a modest four storeys.

Named for a long–gone Chinese cemetery, the neighbourhood became the site of Singapore’s first public housing project in the 1920s. Nicknamed “aeroplane houses,” for their resemblance to airplane wings, these pre–war flats were awarded conservation status in 2003, preserving a delectable slice of history in the rapidly modernizing city.

April 24, 2024
Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice in Tiong Bahru, Singapore
Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice is known for its eponymous signature dish.   Photo: Gladys Tan/@yellowcarnivoreeats


The nerve centre of the neighbourhood is Tiong Bahru Market, where Singaporeans embrace their love of hawker fare. Once a myriad of makeshift stalls with zinc roofs and black tarpaulins that would appear in monsoon season, the market now stands in a two–storey complex. In the ground floor wet market, vendors hawk fresh seafood, meat and vegetables alongside spices, flowers and piled wares.

Jian Bo Shui Kueh's little restaurant in Tion Bahru, Singapore
Jian Bo Shui Kueh   Photo: Eatbook

Upstairs, many of the cooked food stalls display Michelin Bib Gourmand badges. Try Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice, where the name offers a good indication of what to order, or Jian Bo Shui Kueh for soft rice cakes topped with chai poh (preserved radish) and dried shrimp chili sauce. Polish things off at Tian Tian Yuan Dessert House — a third–generation stall with a name that’s a mouthful to pronounce, and traditional local sweets that make it worth the effort. Don’t forget to chope as the locals do: Reserve your table with a tissue packet.

A man and woman in front of Bird Singing Corner in Tiong Bahru
Bird Singing Corner   Photo: Singapore Tourism Board


Murals by self–taught Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong transform Tiong Bahru into a public art gallery. Bird Singing Corner, between Seng Poh Road and Tiong Poh Road, depicts a bird singing club gathering, a bygone morning pastime that saw old “uncles” sipping kopi (“coffee” in Malay) under the cages of their feathered friends. Wander the blocks in search of his other heritage murals: Pasar, Fortune Teller and Home.

Qi Tian Gong Temple entrance in Singapore
Qi Tian Gong Temple   Photo: Jayskyland Images/Alamy

If you’re lucky and it’s an auspicious day on the lunar calendar (the 16th day of the 8th lunar month), birthday celebrations will be in full swing at Qi Tian Gong Temple for the Monkey God (a mythological character from the Chinese novel The Journey to the West). Festivities at the Taoist temple, which houses more than 10 statues of the deity, include lion and dragon dances, and Chinese street operas known as wayang.

Next, head to Micro Bakery Kitchen in an unassuming shop under pre–war flats on Yong Siak Street for steaming–hot espressos from freshly ground small–batch beans, served in cups made by Thai ceramicists. If you have room, squeeze in some pastries or grab a sourdough loaf for the road.

A decorative plate from Cat Socrates in Singapore
Cat Socrates
A print from Ahhh.House of the silhouette of a woman with goldfish, flowers and beach balls
Ahhh.House print


In a city of mega malls, the indie stores on Yong Siak Street come as a relief. In the 2000s, these pioneer shops propelled Tiong Bahru to its current hip status. Pop into Cat Socrates for lifestyle goods with cat motifs, or Nana & Bird and Monument Lifestyle for capsule additions to your wardrobe. Drop into Ahhh.House for carefully curated prints and design objects.

The chic interior of Nana & Bird in Singapour
Nana & Bird

When you have worked up an appetite, head to Por Kee Eating House opposite Tiong Bahru Market for fab zi char (literally, “cook and fry”). Expect to find no–frills Chinese food, from yang chow fried rice to tender champagne pork ribs and steamed or fried chili crab, at a bargain. Feast outdoors on round tables covered with tablecloths, and wash it down with a Tiger Beer, Singapore’s first locally brewed lager.

The exterior of the grand Mondrian Singapore Duxton
Mondrian Singapore Duxton   Photo: Buy My Stock Picture/Alamy

Where to Stay

In the nearby Duxton Hill area, shuttered shophouses have turned into Michelin–star establishments. The 302–room Mondrian Singapore Duxton, which opened in 2023, blends historical Chinese shophouse elements with modern luxury, making it an ideal place to put up weary feet after exploring. From your window, watch lion dance troupes practise on rooftops, or head down and rub shoulders with locals doing tai chi in the morning.