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Joo Chiat, Singapore: Guide to living, eating and shopping in this East Coast neighbourhood

Argentinian expat Juliana Montani de Berczely traded Orchard Road for a quiet, laidback life in Joo Chiat.


Why did you move to Joo Chiat?

Like many expats, when we first arrived in Singapore we found a condo near Orchard Road. Shops were within walking distance, and I liked the idea of strolling along the riverside with my baby. After a while, I disliked taking the lift 16 storeys down so Georgie could go to the playground. And, sometimes I was the only mother among a lot of helpers.

To be honest, Singapore is so hot that I never walked to Orchard Road – I always used the car, even for short trips. So when our lease ended, we decided to look for a house. Through internet research, I found a house in Joo Chiat. We explored the area and, to our surprise, found it to be real old-time Singapore with small eateries, old Peranakan houses, and antique shops. Buildings are limited to three storeys, so we see the sky instead of high rises and noisy construction sites.

Best thing about living in this area?

I am a political scientist and a photographer, and I appreciate the neighbourhood from both points of view. Joo Chiat has a bohemian, creative flair. We are surrounded by a mixture of original 19th-century kampong houses and 1920s and 1930s Peranakan shophouses. It is a colourful and aromatic neighbourhood known for its kopitiams, pastry shops, and Peranakan, Chinese and Malay restaurants. Fortunately, we are used to the durian smell, so we don’t notice it anymore when the wrong winds blow! High-end restaurants, fashion and décor shops and art galleries are opening. There are preschools and schools nearby, and East Coast Park is a five-minute drive away.

Why this particular house?

I wanted a home with indoor space for entertaining and outdoor space that wasn’t 16 floors down! After living in cold Germany for seven years, a swimming pool was also a must. I really hadn’t considered Chinese houses because I thought they wouldn’t offer outdoor space or a pool. In general, I was unsure about managing a house because I’ve always lived in apartments. So when we walked into the enclosed garden of this Peranakan shophouse, I knew it was the one. It was the perfect solution – a house with a shared back garden (that I didn’t need to take care of) and facilities such as a pool, a playground, a gym, parking, and even a café for breakfast during the week! There is also a management office and 24-hour security.

Is public transportation easily accessible?

Eunos MRT station is a 10-minute walk from home. The number 33 bus takes us to Lavender MRT station or Bugis Junction, and Orchard Road is 20 minutes away by car.

What is missing from your area?

A Western coffee shop – this is my appeal to Starbucks! Once in a while, I need a fashion fix on Orchard Road or a chic lunch at Dempsey Hill with my girlfriends. But it is nice to get back home, kick off my high heels and feel comfortable again in my pool tunic and sandals. Life is more laid back here.

Are there any drawbacks to living where you do?

There are two main grocery shopping options, Parkway Parade (which has Giant and Cold Storage supermarkets) and a brand new Fair Price Finest in the area, but Katong Mall is undergoing redevelopment and is not expected to be finished until the end of 2011.

Preferred local restaurant for a special night out?

Private Affairs is excellent for sophisticated European dining with a local touch. Also, 1-Twenty Six at East Coast Park is great for cocktails and the best tapas ever.

Favourite “cheap and cheerful” restaurant?

The traditional Fei Fei at the corner of Joo Chiat Place and Everitt Road is open 24 hours a day. We sometimes invite friends over for dinner, lay the table, walk across the street with a serving bowl and ask them to fill it with wanton noodles.

Any hidden gems in your neighbourhood?

Katong Antique House. The museum’s owner, Mr Peter Wee, is an authority on Peranakan culture. This sanctuary of old Peranakan items, some of which are for sale, is also Mr Wee’s home. You can arrange a tour of the house that includes tea and typical sweets. Sometimes after attending mass at Holy Family Church on Sundays, we stop by for some of their homemade dessert specialities.

Complete this sentence: This neighbourhood is perfect for…

Those who want to be surrounded by old Singapore, but without relinquishing the comforts of contemporary life.