With new openings and refurbishments, the Orchard district continues to have retail relevance for the discerning shopper. Those searching for the highest bang-to-buck ratio should take a day or two to explore the road’s entire stretch (www.orchardroad.org), for its malls run the gamut of sizes and specialities. Ngee Ann City, ION Orchard and Paragon carve up a large swathe of the designer-label fashion and accessory market between them. The smaller Scotts Square, Wisma Atria and Mandarin Gallery also feature many top lifestyle brands; Forum The Shopping Mall has lots of children’s stores; Tangs, Singapore’s first luxury department store, is a hub for beauty as well as fashion; while Plaza Singapura and The Cathay are home to many arts-related businesses, from cineplexes to craft stores, and whimsical clothes to homeware boutiques. Should malls begin to pall, head out of the city centre for a more colourful shopping and sightseeing experience. Chinatown (www.chinatown.sg) has treasures aplenty, if you know where to look. Start along the side streets branching between South Bridge Road, New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street, Chinatown’s three parallel backbones. For instance, duck down Temple Street, along the side wall of the multi-hued Sri Mariamman Temple, and you’ll find kitchen supply store Sia Huat (www.siahuat.com), where Vitamixes and sous-vide machines (water ovens) are found next to carbon-steel woks and carved wooden mooncake moulds, which are as beautiful as they are functional.
Tiong Bahru, an old suburb of art deco apartment blocks, leafy garden areas and conservation-status shophouses, is well into its second life. Gentrification means that hipster hangouts sit next to old-school provision shops, and French bakeries can be found amid the fish congee specialists. Foodies will revel in the juxtapositions: a day’s food crawl might begin with generously-stuffed, traditional dumplings from Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh at Tiong Bahru Market (stall 02-02), before proceeding to 40 Hands (www.40handscoffee.com) for a cup of bespoke Java, followed by a slice of curry-scented baguette by Parisian baker Gontran Cherrier at Tiong Bahru Bakery (www.tiongbahrubakery.com). Finally, succumb to a gravy-doused dish at local landmark Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice (diagonally opposite Tiong Bahru Market’s entrance). And spend the evening at one of Books Actually’s (www.booksactually.com) fortnightly dinner-cum-talks, showcasing local authors. For a more formal setting, look no further than Cherry Garden at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. It serves classical Chinese cuisine informed by flavours from Southeast Asia and further afield; hence there are delights such as broad beans crisply crusted with salted egg yolks, and baby abalone baked with fresh mushrooms and chestnuts.
The culture of the Straits Chinese, or Peranakan, people is an intricate intertwining of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian and Indian influences, passed on through cuisine, art and language. Singapore’s Peranakan Museum (www.peranakanmuseum.sg) brilliantly showcases this fascinating community in a historic building with an airy atrium. Take an afternoon to wander around the three floors of interactive exhibits, and see how Peranakans revel in the complex: stunningly detailed silk and glass-bead embroidery, colourful porcelainware for serving exuberant but labour-intensive cuisine, and opulently glittering jewellery. Want to find out more? Wander a few doors down to Select Books (www.selectbooks.com.sg), which specialises in tomes on Asian cultures and societies, for even more illuminating browsing.