Soak Up the Rich Muslim Culture of the Kampong Gelam Enclave
From a thriving port village to a colourful heritage precinct, today’s Kampong Gelam is a pleasant contrast of the old and new. You will find an interesting blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European cuisine, shops and lifestyles all in one area. Yet, while being a melting pot that reflects the diversity of Singapore, the area is still one of the most important cultural and spiritual centres of Islam in Singapore, anchored by the majestic Sultan Mosque. Many age-old Malay merchants are still around today.
With its striking domes and magnificent structure, it is befitting that the Sultan Mosque (Masjid Sultan) stands as the favourite landmark of Kampong Gelam. Built in honour of Sultan Hussein Shah in 1824, it has played host to many visiting dignitaries and religious scholars and welcomes a steady stream of locals and tourists every day, many of them non-Muslims.
During Ramadan (the Muslim Fasting Month), the street in front of the Mosque transforms into a bazaar with stalls selling traditional food and snacks. After a call to prayer by Masjid Sultan, Iftar (the meal eaten by Muslims at sunset during Ramadan) is performed, and a bustling kampong spirit fills the area as families come together to celebrate this significant time of the day. As part of religious duty, Zakat (giving elms) is also donated especially to the less fortunate and is seen to signify the purification of wealth.
3 Muscat Street Tel: +65 6293 4405
Operating hours: Sat-Thu 10am – 12pm, 2pm – 4pm; Fri 2:30pm – 4pm
Jalan Kubor Cemetery
For the more adventurous, visit Jalan Kubor Cemetery, the official royal burial ground and a popular cemetery of choice for wealthy Malay merchants during the 1800s to early 1900s. The cemetery contains various Malay, Javanese, Ottoman and unique cross-cultural gravestones with inscriptions that are either incised, embossed, inked, marble or lead inlaid. Written in a variety of languages: English, Mandarin, Gujarati, Arabic or Malay, the tombstones form and epigraphies reflect the cultural diversity of the Muslim community that once existed here.
7 Jalan Kubor
Home to the first Sultan of Singapore, the Malay Heritage Centre showcases the history, culture and contributions of the Malay community to Singapore’s multi-cultural society. Six permanent galleries spread across two levels take you through an experiential cultural journey of Kampong Gelam and the Malay community in Singapore. Enjoy a free tour by volunteer guides at 11 am and don’t leave without exploring the fragrant Spice Garden located within the compound of the centre.
Throughout the year, various exhibitions, programmes and activities for people of all ages take place adding vibrancy and life to the area. The annual Malay CultureFest, a three-week-long festival that showcases Malay traditions and culture through activities, performances, talks and workshops is one of many events held, and as expected, is always a great hit with culture buffs!
85 Sultan Gate Tel: +65 6391 0450
Operating hours: Tue-Sun 10am – 6pm; Closed on Monday
Eat & Drink
No trip to Kampong Gelam is complete without drinking the famous teh tarik from Bhai Sarbat. Located just a minute away from Masjid Sultan, long queues are often seen at the stall, which promises the best pulled tea in the area. Catch tea-master and owner Mohammad Asgar in action as he pours frothy pulled tea from one cup to another in mid-air. Having taken over the reins from his uncle who retired in the 1990s, Asgar continues its thriving business of serving kopi, teh halia, and teh tarik, and has even expanded its brand with a new restaurant down the road from the original Bhai Sarbat stall.
Simply named Bhai Sarbat Restaurant, traditional Indian dishes such as dum biryani, korma, tikka, kebabs and butter chicken are served in a cosy, air-conditioned restaurant. End your delicious meal with their well-loved teh masala – you’ll leave with your tummies warmed and satisfied!
21 Bussorah Street, Tel: +65 8263 4142
Opening hours: 6:30am – 12:30am daily
Bhai Sarbat Restaurant
73 Bussorah Street, Tel: +65 8347 5559
Opening hours: 6:30am – 12:30am daily
Hummus & Grill serves up a delicious range of Lebanese and Middle Eastern dishes like tabbouleh, juicy lamb kofta, baklava and lavash at reasonable prices in a pleasant setting. Its huge selection of salads and low-carb wraps and rolls are popular among the health-conscious. The Fattoush, which is a mix of classic greens with dashes of Middle Eastern herbs and spices, will make an excellent choice.
23 Baghdad Street Tel: +65 9169 6520
Operating hours: 11am – 3am daily
Eat where the locals eat and it can’t be too wrong a decision. Primely located at the junction of Bussorah Street, Kampong Glam Cafe serves a fabulous mix of local, Malaysian, Indonesian and Western cuisine. Whether you are a morning lark in search of Soto Ayam at dawn or a night owl trawling for Nasi Goreng in the wee hours, you will find your cravings fixed here!
17 Bussorah Street, Tel: +65 6294 1697
Opening hours: 8am – 2am daily
All hail the Queen! If you haven’t pre-ordered your lempers (an Indonesian snack made of steamed glutinous rice filled with chicken, rolled up in banana leaves), chances are you will not be able to get your stash anytime soon as popular items get sold out fast. Ratu Lemper (meaning Queen Lemper in Bahasa Indonesia) began in 2015 when its founder Aliya Widjaya decided to create her own version of the Indonesian lemper as she was missing her hometown snack. Now a Singaporean, she continues to prepare everything in-house from scratch to respect the tradition and craft in creating these delicacies. Besides the signature lempers, mouth-watering favourites like ondeh ondeh, getuk ubi and talam cendol are also worth indulging in so be sure to get your orders in today!
31 Arab Street, Tel: +65 9813 2450
Opening hours: Tue-Thu 10am – 2pm; Fri-Sun 10am – 6pm
Located at a prime spot between the iconic Sultan Mosque and the Malay Heritage Centre, Rumah Makan Minang is the perfect place to savour traditional Nasi Padang. The food of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, Nasi Padang is steamed rice served with various dishes of fish, meat, vegetables and curry. Close to the authentic Minangkabau version, Rumah Makan Minang’s Beef Rendang packs a punch! Complete your meal with crowd favourites Tahu Telor (fried tofu in sweet sauce), a refreshing teh tarik (hot ‘pulled’ tea) and kueh kueh (bite-sized desserts) and you’ll soon be planning for your next visit here.
18 & 18A Kandahar Street Tel: +65 6977 7064
Operating hours: 8:30am – 7:30pm daily
A gallery that’s like no other, the Malay Art Gallery is located in a quaint shophouse, steps away from Sultan Mosque. It houses traditional artefacts, batik, antique weapons and handicrafts from the region, as well as musical instruments like the kompang, saron, gendér. Their extensive collection of the keris (a bladed weapon that is distinct to Indonesia and Malaysia) is an eye-opener. In trying to share more about the history of the keris, a cultural and traditional keris cleansing ceremony is organised every year.
31 Bussorah Street, Tel: +65 6294 8051.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10am – 8pm; Sun 12pm – 7:30pm
Arab Street is lined with fabric shops, all boasting of fine materials and other fabric essentials. Make sure to drop in at Molkan Fabrics, your one-stop shop for everything fabric-related. Well stocked with a large colourful variety of Asian and traditional favourites like silk, cotton, linen, pashminas, shawls and even bedsheets, these items are also available online so you can get what you want any time of the day!
72 Arab Street Tel: +65 6291 5703
Opening hours: 10:30am – 7:30pm daily
Step into the aromatic world of Sifr Aromatics and be uplifted by the astounding variety of customised perfume blends, home fragrances, natural essential oil blend, soy wax candles and scent accessories. Putting a spin to the heritage Attar (non-alcoholic perfume) business started by his grandfather, the owner of Sifr Aromatics, Johari Kazura, wanted to start afresh and experiment with new ideas. He sourced for the best essential oils and fragrances from around the world and progressed to blending his own exotic scents.
Take your pick from an exclusive in-house range and customised perfumed blends in beautiful hand-painted glass bottles bound to perk up your day. In addition, olfactory experiences, perfume workshops and demonstrations can be organised for friends, families and even company retreats. It will be hard to leave this wonderland without something in hand!
42 Arab Street, Tel: +65 6392 1966
Opening hours: Wed-Sat 11am – 8pm; Sunday & PH 11am – 5pm
Wardah Books, situated in Bussorah Street, the historic site of Malay print and publishing, is an excellent home to good Malay-Muslim literary reads. In-store and online book events with authors are held regularly and their website is a delightful trove of knowledge providing bestseller insights as well as readers’ perspective on various titles.
58 Bussorah Street, Tel: +65 6297 1232
Opening hours: 10am – 6pm daily
The Amazing Chambers Singapura provides you with an experiential and immersive experience based on Singapore’s history, its Malay culture and folklore through the use of an escape room. Housed in the historic Gedung Kuning (Yellow Mansion) that used to be the residence of the Royal family, the seven specially-curated themed rooms feature state-of-the-art special effects with 22 interactive chambers to explore. There’s no better way to learn more about the history of Singapore and have an amazing time with your family or friends!
73 Sultan Gate Tel: +65 6906 3271
Operating hours: 1pm – 10pm daily
Located just a few minutes away from the Sultan Mosque, As-Souq Arabic Centre offers services related to the Arabic language and culture. Camps, workshops and courses for kids and adults are curated to enrich learning and spread the Arabian culture. You may also purchase Arabic lifestyle products and merchandise such as perfumes, books or food and drinks online, a collaboration with their supporting partners and friends.
39 Arab Street #02-01/02, Tel: +65 6291 1617
Opening hours: Mon-Thu 12:30pm – 8:30pm; Fri 1:30pm – 6:30pm; Sat & Sun 9:30am – 6:30pm