Geylang Serai is the “bad boy” of Singapore – a gritty, rough-around-the-edges neighbourhood by Singapore standards – which is to say it really isn’t. Catch up on more Foodwalker adventures in Geylang here.
Not as tidy and ordered as other parts of Singapore, Geylang Serai is crowded and bustling with few tall, shady trees. Intermixed in this urbanized area are numerous Chinese and Buddhist clan associations and small ornate temples on nearly every street, making for a delightful walk filled with both food and culture.
Like a chameleon, the neighborhood changes complexion dramatically from day to night, both in terms of its more infamous trappings (pub crawling and prostitution) and the options for remarkable food. Indeed, many locals argue that Geylang is the best food neighborhood on the island, with excellent, hole-in-the-wall eating houses serving savory dumplings, stir-fry, vegetarian and seafood dishes at almost any hour.
It’s impossible to sample all of the great foods available along the two main arteries of Sims Avenue and Geylang Road, so this month’s foodwalk will cover an area that many ignore – the North side of Geylang. (A future foodwalk will cover the rest).
Start your foodwalk at the Aljunied MRT exit toward Sims Avenue. Just a few steps along Lorong Avenue 25A, is Mufiz Restaurant (#58 Lor 25A) offering murtabak or roti prata and a curry gravy that’s robust and delicious. Or for a classic, if not lesser-known, Penang (assam) laksa, step into Penang Seafood Restaurant (#76 Lor 25A). Completely different from the more common nonya laksa found everywhere, assam laksa is fish based, with sweet and sour flavors and chunks of pineapple mixing with the noodles.
At the corner make a left onto Sims Ave and head down a block to Lor 27, where the Ho Kee Pau stall makes excellent dim sum, dumplings and congee. The silky hor fun noodles are delightful. Up Lorong 27 is Yes Natural Cakehouse (#53-55 Lor 27) for a selection of – yes, natural – Chinese pastries and confections. Their specialty, tau sar piah, a Hokkien bean paste pastry, is hard to find better than here. But don’t go close to Chinese New Year or the queue will stretch down the block.
If local, homemade sauces appeal, head further up to Kwong Cheon Thye Chinese grocery store (#61-63 Lor 27) to poke around the many hard-to-find kitchen goods as well as tools of the mooncake trade and other Chinese confection cooking. When done, retrace back to Sims Ave. and make a left.
Sims Avenue is filed with many small shops along the traditional five-foot way lining both sides of the street. Here you will find Buddhist products and a general array of Malay goods and dried foods. Medicinal herbs and health-improving food is very popular in this area. At Kwan Inn Vegetarian Food stall (1-2 Sims Ave) an enormous clay, lacquered pot is filled with small bowls of tonic soups prepared to cure what ails you: core cooling, body warming and energizing elixirs which have been consumed for centuries in China.
The next large intersection is Geylang East Avenue 2 where you should make a left and walk a block to the spectacular Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery (87 Geylang East Ave 2) which houses a beautiful 9.9 meter Goddess of Mercy statue. The Main Shrine Hall presents an interesting look at Tang Dynasty architecture unlike any in Singapore, including six matching statues of monks and a gorgeous 5-story pagoda. As if this monastery isn’t attractive enough, next door is the Sri Sivan Temple (24 Geylang Ave East), a unique Hindu place of worship with an octagonal structure and detail of uncommon beauty. A casual tour of each of these hallowed structures is often overlooked by hungry foodwalkers in Geylang but should not be missed.
Back at Sims Avenue cross over and to your right is the Tomlinson Collection (460 Sims Ave), a well-respected antique shop and gallery with exceptional quality Chinese furniture and sculptures. Just a couple of doors away you can satisfy your sweet tooth at Hong Kong Creameries (324 Sims Ave), where many street vendors provision their bicycles in the mornings. The ice cream is cut into large rectangles, ready to become sandwich slices, but if you are really nice the guy may give you a smaller sample.
Make a left onto Lorong 27 and you will see the Nan Hai Fei Lai Temple (#35 Lor 27), where parents pray for their childrens’ success in school exams. Continue down the block to the corner of Geylang Road, turn right and stroll past the Chong Tuck Tong Temple (477 Geylang Rd) with the gold Goddess of Mercy standing atop its roof. Several stalls along here sell an array of duck parts which, though odd to see, taste delicious.
At Lorong 25 turn right and make your way past a collection of attractive shophouses and eating establishments, like Pu Tien Cuisine Restaurant (#2 Lor 27) where if you are still hungry you can get a taste of the little-known Hing Hwa dialect food from China’s Fujian province. From here you can make a left on Sims Road and follow your nose to the ticklish fragrance of a Geylang trademark – durian – sold at several fruit stands along the street, including Metro Trading Fruit Company (183 Sims Ave) who sells different varieties of the king of fruits like D15 and the most popular quality: D24. Across the street, seal your stomach with some excellent, fresh-made dim sum at 218 Tim Sum (corner of Sims and Lor 17) before heading back along Sims, pausing briefly to birdwatch at Aik Guan Pet Trading (198 Sims Ave) on your way to the Aljunied MRT where you started.
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