Written by: Matt Newkirk
Visited: December 2017
Little India in Singapore is a great place to get a taste of Indian culture without actually having to set foot on the Indian Sub-Continent. If you are traveling around Singapore for more than a couple of days, this is definitely something that you should consider working into your itinerary.
With nearly 10% of Singapore's 5.7 million population hailing from Indian and Sri Lankan decent, it is little wonder that the small island nation is home to a thriving and vibrant Little India.
If you are traveling to Singapore as a backpacker, or simply on a budget, odds are that you will be staying in or around Little India, as this is where the majority of the hostels and budget hotels are located.
You can reach Little India with a short MRT ride from downtown Singapore to, you guessed it, the Little India MRT Station. The only way to really see this part of Singapore is to hoof it anyway, so MRT is a great option.
I would recommend planning about ½ day or so to just wander through the streets of Little India, taking in the vibrant sights and smells. As you exit Little India MRT, if you look around, you will see the colorful buildings of Chander Road.
Just keep headed this direction until you hit Serangoon Road. From here, turn right and head to the Little India Arcade located at 48 Serangoon.
The Little India Arcade is a small cluster of shophouses built in 1913, that is now maintained by the Hindu Endowments Board. Walking through the arcade, you will find shops filled with curiosities from all over India, along with souvenirs and stalls selling traditional Indian sweets.
From the Little India Arcade, I would recommend just wandering through the streets that surround Serangoon Road. Textile stores and gold shops line the streets intermingled with antiques dealers and delicious eateries. On the sidewalk, flower stalls and tailors have set up shop, alongside produce stands and tailors. The sights, sounds, and smells that can be found in Singapore's Little India are very rich indeed.
Be sure to stop off at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, located at 141 Serangoon Road. The most colorful of the Hindu Temples in Little India, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple was built in 1881 and is dedicated to the ferocious goddess Kali. Inside, a statue of Kali can be seen adorned with a garland of human skulls.
Eating In little India
One of the best things that Little India has to offer is all of the tastes of the Indian Sub-Continent packed into a few walk-able blocks. From naan breads to tandoori chicken, chaats and rich masalas, Little India offers a Smörgåsbord of food choices for vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.
If there is only one dish that you try in Little India, it should be the almighty roti prata. Roti prata, sometimes called roti canai, or roti paratha, is a type of crepe or pancake (I like mine filled with egg and cheese, but mushrooms, onions, and even sweet varieties are also common). With origins in India, but fused with the distinctive flavors of the Muslim population in South-East Asia, the roti prata usually comes with a small bowl of delicious curry, and may just be the best breakfast available in Singapore, or possibly anywhere else on Earth for that matter. Order a prata and a hot cup of teh tarik (literally “pulled tea” in the Bahasa language, it is made with black tea and either condensed or evaporated milk), and you will have an amazing meal, probably for under $5 USD.
Not Just for Budget Travelers
Stop by Sakunthalas Restaurant at 151 Dunlop Street for some of the best roti prata and teh tarik in Singapore. I always order the egg and cheese prata (not on the menu, but they will gladly make one for you). This is a must try, you will not be disappointed! Or, if you brought friends, order a mutton murtabok (like a giant roti prata filled with egg and lamb) to share.
Check out the funky and eclectic “Countryside Cafe” located at 71 Dunlop Street. The extensive menu features everything from American BBQ, to Thai food and Italian. They also have a wide selection of amazing Indian dishes. Don't be fooled by the huge menu, the food is delicious! The beer selection is truly impressive, and the atmosphere is straight from the American Wild West, complete with country music and honky-tonk on the sound system. This is a great place to take a break from walking, hang out, and have a few beers.
If you are looking for something a little more formal, try Khansama Tandoori Restaurant, 166 Serangoon Road. Featuring a wide selection of naan, tandoori, and kebabs, along with many other delicious Indian dishes, the upstairs dining area provides a great setting for a nice meal in Little India. I like the lamb kebabs, and the chicken tika. Be sure to get a few different naan breads to go with your meal.
A great place to hang out for a pint or two, Prince of Wales, at 101 Dunlop Street, is frequented mainly by backpackers and travelers. The drinks are a little cheaper than most places in Singapore, and the company here is always good. There is also a restaurant and hostel here, but I have only stopped by for the happy hour specials. They have an outdoor patio, and frequently offer live music.
Little India is home to one of my favorite mega-stores on Earth – Mustafa Centre, 145 Syed Alwi Road. Spanning several interconnecting buildings, and open 24 hours a day, Mustafa Center is truly a labyrinth of a department store. In fact, I have been lost inside of Mustafa on more than one occasion. Merchandise is packed floor to ceiling, and includes anything that you could imagine and more.
Part grocery store, electronics depot and part hardware store, Mustafa is certainly worth a look. My wife and I often joke that if Mustafa doesn't have it, it probably doesn't exist. By the way, this is the best place to buy masa (Mexican corn flour) if you are interested in making your own tortillas in Singapore.