How to seek out Peranakan culture in Singapore

The Straits-born people have a culture that’s wonderfully unique ... and often misunderstood. Here’s a quick orientation.

  • Alison Goh
  • October 2019

Contrary to popular belief, Peranakans aren’t just people of mixed Malay and Chinese ancestry. In reality, they refer to ethnic groups that descended from the migrants who came to the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, and intermarried with the Malay locals. While Peranakans who have Chinese ancestry are more common, there are also small communities of Indian and Eurasian Peranakans.

The different subgroups might retain their own ethnic and religious practices, but their culture and language are shaped by the Malays. For instance, Peranakans in Singapore speak a language called Baba Malay — a colourful creole of Bahasa Melayu with a Hokkien influence. The traditional costume for women, the nyonya kebaya, is an adaptation of the Malays’ baju kurung.

Peranakan culture is rich and complex, but the best way to learn about it is to experience it first-hand. Here are five ways:

Head to Joo Chiat and Katong

Koon Seng Road in Katong is one of Singapore’s most Instagrammable spots, with pastel-hued shophouses lining both sides of the short street.

Many Peranakans settled in these neighbourhoods in the early 20th century, and the area is filled with pre-war shophouses with colourful facades and traditional ceramic tiles.

Learn how to cook like a bibik

The nyonya laksa is an iconic Peranakan dish of rice noodles, prawn and fish cake in a rich broth made of coconut milk and spices.

Find out how to cook infamously complex and laborious classics like nyonya laksa from a real Peranakan grandma, Rosaline Soon of Grandmothers’ Recipes opens in new window.

Address: 81 Gardenia Road, Singapore 578856
Tel: +6564597549 opens in new window

Eat your fill at Violet Oon Singapore

The Nyonya Poh Piah party is a DIY affair, giving you the chance to pack each poh piah skin with your preferred fillings.

This modern Peranakan chain opens in new window has opened its largest outlet to date at Jewel Changi Airport. Exclusive to this outlet is the Nyonya Poh Piah Party, which comes with six poh piah skins and over 12 fillings and condiments including steamed prawns, Chinese sausage and fried garlic.

Address: 78 Airport Boulevard, #01-205/206, Singapore 819666
Tel: +6598349935 opens in new window

Shop for kebayas at Rumah Bebe

At Rumah Bebe, you can get ready-made as well as custom-tailored kebayas.

Head to this shophouse opens in new window to get your very own nyonya kebaya, a sheer blouse decorated with intricate embroidery and beadwork in floral and animal motifs.

Address: 113 East Coast Road, Singapore 428803
Tel: +6562478781 opens in new window

Have tea at The Intan

The Intan Tea Tour includes a chance to try homemade Peranakan kuehs like the multilayered kueh lapis and grated coconut-covered kueh kosui.

This private home opens in new window doubles as a museum that displays the owner’s collection of Peranakan artefacts. You can book an hour-long Intan Tea Tour, where you’ll get to snack on traditional kuehs before going on a tour of the two-storey shophouse.

Address: 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore 427231
Tel: +6564401148 opens in new window