Peranakan means “born here”, which quickly explains exactly what this culture is: It‘s the descendants of traders from China, India and the Arab world who settled here in Singapore and made a connection with the locals (Malays). They differ in Chitty Peranakan (Hindu/Indian), Jawi-Peranakan (Muslim/Indian), the Babas (Chinese) and Hadhramis (Muslim/Arabic – today’s Yemen). But also Arabs from Afghanistan, Oman, Iraq settled in Singapore.
The typical Peranakan houses are mostly colorful, artfully decorated and have decorative tiles. The most beautiful and probably most photographed Peranakan houses are in Katong, in the Koon Seng Road (right of the Joo Chiat). Come with Bus 32 (Exit opp Roxy Sq on East Cost Road) and then walk in the Joo Chiat…
If you don’t want to walk that much, take bus no. 16 to Marshall Lane. In the Joo Chiat, the former center, there are also Peranakan restaurants and shops.
The food is a mixture of cultural influences (Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Indian, Dutch, Portuguese and English) and ranges from Rendang, Assam fish to fish head curry. The famous coconut noodle soup Laksa and the colourful dessert Kueh have long since become national dishes in Singapore.
Visible, even if today but mostly on holidays, is in Singapore also the traditional clothing – Kebayas, artfully embroidered blouses, which are closed by three magnificent brooches (Kerosangs). But if you flew with Singapore Airlines, you could already admire them at the stewardesses.
Each Peranakan direction, however, has its own characteristics that can only be found there. In Chinese Peranakan houses, the gossipy kitchen god Datok Dapoh still rules today. In order to prevent him from telling his ancestors everything about the house, once a year victims are made to him in the form of sweets in order to glue his mouth 😉.
At the Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street you could experience the most comprehensive collection of exhibits on the life and everyday life of the Chinese Peranakans in Malacca, Penang and Singapore. The building and the street itself are worth a visit, although the museum itself will be renovated by 2021 ☹.
The Intan: This private collection/museum is ideal for the inquisitive. However, you can only visit this museum if you book a tour in advance.
And where else in the city do you meet this culture?
The Neil Road and the Blair Road are also known for their beautiful houses, like the NUS Baba House (tours by appointment only).
You can also see beautiful Peranaka houses in Amoy, Telok Ayer Street and Emerald Hill Road. Traces of the Peranakans can be found everywhere in the city centre (e.g. Tiong Bahru, River Valley Road or Kim Yam Road). Many museums sell especially batik art and other Peranakans items. So don’t worry! There is no way past them 😉 .