East of Eden
If you're doing some soul searching in Singapore, come to Katong, an East Coast community full of character and characters. Easties grow up here and never leave (those who do spend the rest of their lives pining for the laid-back, everybody-knows-everyone village that lolls at the speed of an off-duty trishaw). Less than four miles from downtown and unfazed by skyscrapers and suits, the neighborhood is as original as the Peranakan (inter-marriages of Malay and Chinese ethnicities) families that colonized it. The singular uniqueness of this culture (Penang, Malaysia is the only other city in the world where it's significant) has given rise to its own patois, costume, design, customs, and cuisine. Oh, the cuisine! Generations of Nonyas (Peranakan women) gather in kitchens prepping complex dishes that take days to cook, resulting in platters of heady spices and flavors on the scale and drama of De Mille epics. The architecture is a mosaic of gaily painted ceramic tiles, carved porticos, and intricate lattices. If every building looked like a colonial-era Straits Chinese home, the welcome mat would never have been invented. Colors abound like a convention chaired by Kahlo, Pollack, and Monet as you wander in wonder amid these heritage structures built as early as the 1930s. Then, conquer the myriads of longtime family-owned eateries, bakeries, and coffee shops where you'll find Easties doing what they do best: feasting and shooting the sea breeze.
By Desiree Koh
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Chinese New Year Yu Sheng (Prosperity Salad)
Throwing and eating yu sheng (or lo hei in Cantonese) is a Chinese New Year tradition unique to Singapore and Malaysia. This celebratory salad is piled with shredded veggies, raw salmon, and condiments like lime juice and crushed peanuts—all topped with a sweet dressing. Each layer and ingredient symbolizes prosperity in some way for the New Year. Eating it is only half the fun, though—once the ingredients have been assembled everyone gathers around with chopsticks to help mix the salad, throwing it into the air. The higher it goes, the more prosperous the coming year will be. If you are here during Chinese New Year, a banquet at a Chinese restaurant complete with yu sheng is a must. Don't forget to offer the traditional "Happy new year!" greeting to everyone you meet: Gong Xi Fa Cai! (pronounced gong see fa chai).
By Arwen Joyce, AFAR Local Expert
181 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427452
+65 6247 8181