I have recently been moaning about my growing need to part with an enormous amount of money to buy a place I can call home here. The problem is that I have a few very strict requirements…
1. I’d like a house, preferably with a garden or postage-stamp-sized patch of grass
2. Property in Singapore is expensive but I don’t want to spend so much that all my eggs are in one basket. Living in the centre of town is therefore out
3. Spare room essential for visiting Grannies and friends
3. I want to live in an area that’s got energy and atmosphere and maybe some history to it. No great monolithic malls on top of me please (although as they are very useful, one nearby would be quite handy)
HW is part of my Tanglin Club urban family out here. And to the rescue he came this Staturday morning when he whisked us to his old kampong where he grew up as a boy: Katong.
He delineated the boundaries of Katong as being: Mountbatten Road, East Coast Road, Still Road, Joo Chiat Place, Dunman Road and Kallang Airport Road.
It makes sense as a formerly well-to-do area if you consider that Katong used to be by the sea, until it was pushed back through land reclamation. In the 1920s and 30s the wealthily elite (most of whom were Eurasian and Peranakan as far as I can work out) were sick of the crowded and polluted city centre so came to Katong to build very civilised seaside villas and mansions (see pics above). The Chinese followed suit which explains the very eclectic mix of architecture still here today, especially near Joo Chiat Road, which is my favorite part and thought of as Katong’s beating heart.
But I wouldn’t know any of this if it wasn’t for Henry. He walked us down the arterial road (East Coast Road) where the former police station is now a 24-hour roast duck joint, the Roxy cinema that fifty years ago screened movies for 50 cents (they showed the movies in Orchard first; six months later they came out to Katong where they were cut-price) is now a mall and his Beano comic shop now sells prata (happily this building hasn’t changed one bit).
I’m in love with the Peranakan shophouses that go back way more than they look like they do, when judging from their narrow facades. They’re classed as conservation houses which is nothing like as scary or restricting as a Grade I or even a Grade II delegation; you can pretty much gut these boys, just don’t knock ’em down.
Depending what state of repair you buy one in, it’s about the same price as a small glass-box-style apartment in the centre of town. Give or take. A good friend of ours just bought one, fully renovated, for less than a two bed central shoebox would cost. Sure, Katong’s not what it once was. Sure, you’re living in the east…but talk about bang for your buck:
I can’t talk about Katong without also talking about food; Joo Chiat in particular is famous for it.
We stopped for lunch – local of course, eating angmoh food is a crime in Katong, unless it’s a Fat Boy burger (a Henry recommendation) – at Glory. A well known supplier of pineapple tarts and pastry cases (kueh pie tee) and more, to places like Cold Storage, we were here to try the Katong laksa which as it’s name suggests, was born here. Their version is in a rich, thick gravy (pic above) made from freshly squeezed coconut milk – I’m not sure I can really tell the difference – but there was not a tin in sight.
Whilst the best popiah is always homemade, we also tried Glory’s which was pretty passable as long as you delete the carrot from it (Peranakan popiah containing grated cooked carrot is the sort of thing that reduces my mother-in-law to tears). Here it is (below) in all of it’s various stages; the fillings you see in bowls are all fairly benign individually but delicious together (egg, bean sprouts, lettuce, prawn, coriander, finely grated and steamed turnip, sweet sauce and chilli sauce):
Henry has sold me the area. Now, who’s going to sell me the house?