When one thinks of cultural areas in Singapore, it is quite rare that Katong might pop come to mind. However, this area of Singapore is a cultural gem on its own, despite it being unknown to many foreigners. Today, Katong is a populous residential area, with many large and expensive houses tucked away in narrow streets.
Historically, Katong was located along the sea, making it a sort of “beachfront” housing for the rich. Many European foreigners would take up residence in the area, alongside prominent Peranakan (Straits Chinese) merchants. However, over time, due to the lack of space for homes, the government had to perform land reclamation on the area. Despite that, the authenticity and historical charm to the area still remains.
Like most of the other cultural gems that we have discussed, Katong is also lined with restored shop houses, which once upon a time used to be people’s homes but today, function as office spaces. However, the façade still remains, reflective of the baroque and Peranakan architecture. Till today, Katong is home to many notable names, such as Singapore’s former President, S.R. Nathan, who still lives in the area with his family.
Another aspect of Katong that is much loved for many Singaporeans is the variety of food that can be found in the vicinity. Katong is well known for a popular local dish – the Katong Laksa. This dish, which is a noodle soup, originated from the Peranakan community, who were living in the area. The ingredients used for Laksa is a fusion of Chinese and Malay spices and is usually made spicier by topping it off with sambal (chilli paste). In Singapore, when it comes to Laksa, many locals would unanimously agree that the only area that one should go to, to satisfy the craving is Katong, where rows and rows of shops selling Laksa exists. Today, you will find that there are many variations of the Laksa catering to different taste buds. You are likely to find a few different variations within the Katong area itself.
Katong is also one of the cultural areas in Singapore where the fusion between tradition and modern styles is apparent. Modern buildings, most of which are condominiums, can be found standing behind the rows of shop houses, juxtaposing historical Singapore and the fast-paced Singapore that we know of today. You will also find the older malls in this area, for example Katong Shopping Centre, which was opened in 1973, and home to numerous tailoring shops, employment agencies and little shops selling knick-knacks. A few kilometers away from this old mall is a brand new shopping mall, 112 Katong, which boosts a Gold Class movie theatre, popular eateries and many apparel shops.
While Katong may not have specific monuments and attractions to be visited, like many tourist sites do, it does have its own unique charm of the eclectic mix of tradition and modernity. For those who do plan to make a trip to Katong to check out this little gem of a place, we would suggest spending half a day there, and just let your feet be your guide, because within these streets are finds that will surprise you – be it restaurants and cafes or shops that can give you a blast from the past!