Saturday, September 13, 2014

Charms of Katong Part 1

The history of Katong begin as early as 1823 when Francis Bernard, the son-in-law of William Farquhar, started a coconut estate plantation in the district.This part of the land belonged to the rich and prestige in the past. It started mainly as mainly as plantations, then to a wealthy suburb, and now a residential area.

Katong is the name of an extinct species of sea turtle. It also means the rippling effect of a sea mirage when looking at a shoreline. Katong used to be near the sea. That is before the government reclaimed the land.

What does Katong reminds you of?
It reminds me of a very nice Malay song, Di Tanjung Katong. In this post "Charms of Katong Part 1" and "Charms of Katong Part 2", I would introduce some of these places shown in the video.

Where is Tanjong Katong?
Tanjong Katong used to be a beach stretches from upper East Coast Road to Tanjong Rhu. It is now residencial area. I just found out that there is a Fort Tanjong Katong . It is currently being reburied.

I went for the Katong Trail organised by Read! Singapore with a group of people lead by the very author of Sherlock Sam, Adan Jimenez. The authors behind the Sherlock Sam series is written by a husband and wife team under the pseudonym, A. J. Low which stands for Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low- Jimenez. To be very honest, I have yet to read Sherlock Sam series prior the tour, hence, I was quite surprised when I got to know he was the one leading the tour! No offence but I truly had expected a local born Singaporean to do it because of Katong's rich history. 

Adan introduced himself in the beginning of the tour at Marine Parade Public Library. He was born in California and immigrated to Singapore after he graduated in New York University. He lives here for 6 years. His wife is Singapore born and is a Peranakan! She used to live very near Katong and hence, Katong become the first place for Sherlock's first case. Unfortunately, she had an operation then and was not able to join us for the tour though she very much would like to do so. 

Adan said they have actually did a lot of research before writing the book, "Sherlock Sam and the missing heirloom in Katong." And I was taken by surprised that the author actually gave us an handout with loads of details about the places we were to visit in the trail. The authors (although Felicia was not there) were definitely very well prepared and full of passion about this place. 

Marine Parade Public Library and the Marine Parade Community Centre does appear in the story of the missing heirloom. These were the places Sherlock retraced and suspected Auntie Kim Lian may have lost her heirloom on her way to these places.
Author Adan Jimenez showed us where he and his wife got their inspiration to wrote the first book, Sherlock Sam and the missing heirloom in Katong.
I was so suaku (ignorant). I did not know that Katong is actually very near the library. I had expected a tour bus to take us to the destination! 

1st Stop : Former Renaissance Grand Hotel
This is located at Still Road. It was originally the Karikal Mahal or Karikal Palace, located just next to sea. It was named after the first owner's (wealthy cattle merchant Moona Kader Sultan's) hometown. That is before reclamation after Singapore gained independence. The estate now belongs to the Lee Rubber Company. The mansion was originally comprised of 4 houses with gardens. 

The place was bought by Lee Rubber Company in 1947 and was converted to Renaissance Grand Hotel. Now it is a  temporary warehouse for unwanted furniture. 

In 1973, the construction of Still Road splits the land into 2.  The former mansion and hotel are on the east while the gardens and a few old huts are on the west. I have noticed this building when I got off the bus to the library. It is truly a lovely building.

The authors had wanted to include this in the story but this building is not accessible to public and it is impossible for Sherlock or Auntie Kim Lian to be able to access to it. Hence, this place was excluded from the story.
We were opposite the mansion and hence could not take a closer shot of the building.

I have to admit yet again I am a mountain tortoise (ignorant), I have never stepped into Katong all my life till that fateful day. (That explains why Katong reminds me only of the Malay song, Di Tanjung Katong.) I can't really describe how I felt when I saw these rows and rows of shophouses. I mean, besides places near CBD (eg Chinatown, Tiong Bahru and Bugis), these shophouses are still surviving in Singapore? Clearly, it shows I have not been travelling much in Singapore. 
Rows of shophouses
2nd Stop: Nonya Laksa Stalls

Which stall sells the best Nonya Laksa? We do not know, neither do the authors. Nonya Laksa, a peranankan crusine, is spicy noodle made with a rich and creamy coconut gravy. The reason Adan brought us to 328 Katong Laksa is because this is being ranked as number one on the list of things to do in Singapore by Lonely Planet Travellers.

Another interesting fact about the stall, Mr Ryan Koh of 328 Katong Laksa had successfully defeated Michelin- starred celebrity chef Gardon Ramsay in a highly publicuised "hawker heroes" cook-off in July 2013.  

328 Katong has 2 branches. Below are the addresses.

51/53 East Coast Road,
Singapore 428770
Operating Hours: 8am - 10pm

216/218 East Coast Road,
Singapore 428770
Operating Hours: 10am - 9pm

Spot Ramsay's photo!

3rd Stop : Katong Antique House
Mr Peter Wee, 4th generation Baba Peranakan, inherited this shophouse from his grandfather in 1980s and this place is full of Peranankan furnishing, from batik shirts, kasut manek (beaded slippers), nonya kebaya, his grandfather's old dairies and even Peranakan heirlooms donated by other families. Currently, he still runs it as a part shop, part museum. If you are lucky, you can visit it when its door are open. Otherwise, please do call for an appointment. 

This is one of the places mentioned in the book Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong.

I would recommend visiting this place on a Sunday. From what I know of, they would prepare kuehs and cakes of such and sell it on Sunday morning. 

Street 208 East Coast Rd
11am-6.30pm by appointment only ( I read that there is a charge for tour, please do check) 
Telphone :65 6345 8544

Open house! Yeah! Appointment was made so in we go!

Look at these collections! These are only a small part of it! 
Left: In Kitchen: Things that you would need to make Peranakan Cusine
Right Top: Oh my God! Painted Peranakan Metal Plates fills the ceiling! I am sure I used one before although I am not a Peranakan!
Right Centre: Wooaahhh! Antique Lamp!
Right Bottom: A water feature in the air well of Peranakan home

Peranakan tiles! Not all belong to Katong Antique house, the one on the bottom right belongs to Peranakan Inn which is just next door!
Mr Peter Wee talking to one of the visitors

This is supposed to be the family hall. (Just behind the reception hall where Mr Wee is featured) Look at the photographs on the wall! Do you notice the Peranakan tiles on side of the stairs too?
4th Stop: Chin Mei Chin Confectionery (C.M.C)
This old-school coffee shop has been around since 1925. It is one of the last remaining Hainanese coffee shop of old world charm (1950s) with its ceiling fans, marble top tables, wooden chairs and floor and wall tiles! Its toasted kaya bun is famous. We were told the food here get sold very fast. Hence, you have to come early in the morning to get the freshest food before it runs out of stock, especially Sunday morning when the worshippers from the adjacent Church of the Holy Family flock here after their morning services.

Sherlock's favourite seemed to be the kaya bun, as well as cream cone and cupcakes. 

I did not get to eat on this trail though some members of our trail did purchase takeaways. I made a mental note to visit with my family, which I did on Teachers' Day.

Side track: On Teachers' Day ,we reached at around 11am. We have to queue to get a seat. We can choose whatever pastries we want but have to let the auntie count them before we consume. Orders like toast, drinks and soft boiled eggs have to be made through the auntie. They would be served later. A point to note, this shop makes its own buns. Payment can be made later when you are leaving. 

We tried the toasted kaya buns, egg tarts, cream puff, curry puff, sausage pastry and luncheon meat buns. We did not see any cream cones and I think I did not see any cupcakes too. We do recommend the kaya buns and egg tarts as all the 4 adults love it. Little One recommended the sausage pastry, it is up to you to believe her judgement because none of the adults tasted it.

204 East Coast Road
Tue - Sun: 08:30 - 16:00
Closed: Mon

A queue worming out of a coffee shop! Not a very common sight in Singapore.

At 10 plus, it is quite a spread, isn't it?

5th Stop: Conserved Terrace Houses off East Coast Road.
These single storey terrace house used to stand beside a former sea wall where the beach used to be. These terrace are built on a raised ground to protect against raising tides from the nearby sea then, almost like the kampong houses on stilts.

The unique architectural style show an eclectic mix of traditional local architecture infused with Western influence, as seen with the elaborate fascia boards and decorative plaster motifs.

150 East Coast Road

Don't you wish that you are living in one of these houses?

Check out various tiles and mosaics used for the stairs and look at those air vents.
Top Middle: I love these cute little stones which the owner used to decorate its basement.
If you like this post, please do check out part 2. 

Credit: Most of the stuff written here comes from the handout prepared by AJ Low (Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez)


  1. Chin Mee chin's chocolate cupcakes are a must!!!! Oh that east coast road stretch. I would love to live there. Love love love to! Or maybe Kuo chuan avenue.... Sigh I miss katong!!!

    Ps that book sounds interesting!

    1. I would love to try the chocolate cupcakes! On both occasions, I didn't get to see it! I think I must really go very early so as to try everything!


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