Tatler Tours: Rebecca Eu Takes You Around Chinatown | The Best Food, Activities And Spots
The third episode of Tatler Tours features social entrepreneur Rebecca Eu, who gives us a glimpse into the culturally-rich neighbourhood of Chinatown—where a street is named after her great-grandfather Eu Tong Sen
Rebecca Eu may have been based in Manila, Philippines—which she calls her second home—in recent years due to her social enterprise Mei’s Own, but she definitely knows her way around town. The third episode of Tatler Tours sees us going around Chinatown, a neighbourhood that is especially significant to Rebecca’s family.
For one, there is the 110-year-old flagship of her family business, traditional Chinese medicine provider Eu Yan Sang, on South Bridge Road (which recently closed in September). Then, there is Eu Tong Sen Street, named after the tin mining magnate and philanthropist, who is Rebecca’s great-grandfather.
Once designated as a Chinese kampong by Stamford Raffles in his 1822 master Town Plan, Chinatown is Singapore’s largest historic district today, and continues to be one of the country’s liveliest neighbourhoods. It is a favourite for local and traditional delicacies, sewing and craft materials, as well as popular religious institutions from the Sri Mariamman Temple to the ornate Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Rebecca guides us on a trail of her favourite spots.
Watch the video below:
Sitting on Mosque Street, The Moon is a bookstore, cafe, and events space within a quaint shophouse. The Moon’s eclectic collection pays special attention to books by writers of marginalised genders, writers of colour, queer writers, and more; and the shop also stocks merchandise from local and Southeast Asian creators, which resonated with Rebecca when she discovered this place.
“It’s really important that we surround ourselves with things that inspire us, and I think The Moon does a very good job of that. The way that they feature female writers and people of colour, reminds me to stay motivated and passionate about what I do.”
Reflecting on her social enterprise Mei’s Own, Rebecca shared that it has been very difficult to stay focused since she returned to Singapore due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
To be honest with you, it was hard just because I wasn’t there and I haven’t been back in Singapore in a long time. Interacting with businesses like The Moon kind of puts things in perspective and reminds me to stay on track.— Rebecca Eu
The Moon’s book store and cafe share the first floor, where you will often spot students sipping on a cuppa while diving into a book.
But if you want a little more privacy, a roomy multi-purpose space on the third floor acts as a cosy haven for readers and is also an event hall for occasions like poetry nights, art exhibitions, and book clubs. There are also activities for self-expression and introspection in the form of a beading workshop, astrology reading, and tarot card reading conducted on the mezzanine.
The Moon | 37 Mosque St, Singapore 059515 | themoon.com.sg
Designed by Swan and Maclaren—the architectural firm behind Raffles Hotel and Victoria Memorial Hall—and built in the 1920s, The Majestic was once the grandest building in Chinatown with its ornate tiles and colourful mosaics. Located on Eu Tong Sen Street—it is also a landmark steeped in Rebecca’s family history, which is why we were joined by Rebecca’s father, Richard, during the tour.
“Eu Tong Sen Street used to be known as Wayang Street, and Eu Tong Sen himself bought property along the street, which included the wayang theatres. Because he was a lover of Chinese opera, he wanted to build a good theatre where the opera troupes could perform at instead of the makeshift wooden stages on the street,” explained Richard, chairman of Eu Yan Sang.
Also, one of his wives was very keen on Chinese opera, and legend has it that she forced him into building this theatre. Of course, he does what his wife tells him.— Richard Eu
Next to The Majestic, the iconic Yue Hwa building has an equally rich history, as Richard shared. Formerly the Great Southern Hotel, it was reportedly the first Chinese hotel with an elevator.
“The Great Southern Hotel was the equivalent of Raffles Hotel for the local businessmen because only Caucasians were allowed to stay at Raffles in those days. This was the premier hotel for the Chinese travellers whenever they came to town.”
The Majestic | 80 Eu Tong Sen Street, Singapore 059810
Chinatown Complex Food Centre
Originally named Kreta Ayer Complex when it was built in 1981, Chinatown Complex Food Centre is not the oldest hawker centre you can find in Singapore. But with more than 200 food stalls under its roof, it’s definitely the largest, or as Rebecca called it, “the granddaddy of hawker centres”.
Amongst the food centre’s many iconic stalls, Outram Park Roasted Meats offers a delectable selection of Cantonese-style char siew, roast duck, and roast pork served with rice.
“Roasted meats, rice…queuing up, getting yelled at by the hawker—this is all part and parcel of being a proud Singaporean,” Rebecca mused.
Outram Park Roasted Meats | #02-14 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, 335 Smith Street, Singapore 050335
After a hearty meal, visit 115 Tang Shui (a short walk from Outram Park Roasted Meats), a quaint stall serving up traditional desserts made the old-fashioned way. Founded by Madam Wong Len Chen in 1966 on Temple Street, the stall is now helmed by her son Tommy Toh. His youngest son, Fabian, has also picked up the tradition to carry on her legacy.
“Everything here is prepared by hand with all-natural ingredients and no preservatives. They are super traditional, which I love,” Rebecca said.
According to Mr Toh, preparation work begins as early as 1.30 am. Ingredients are de-shelled by hand and ground using a motorised stone grinder that has been with the family for 50 years.
Featuring an extensive lineup of permanent menu items as well as a weekly roster of daily specials, 115 Tang Shui offers classics like sesame paste, peanut paste, almond paste and walnut paste, which they encourage customers to mix and match in a bowl.
They are also known for the fragrant herb green bean soup which features rue, a herb that was widely used for hot desserts in the past, but difficult to acquire nowadays.
115 Tang Shui | #02-206 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, 335 Smith Street, Singapore 050335 | facebook.com/115TangShui
Golden Dragon Store
Tucked away on the second level of People’s Park Centre, Golden Dragon Store offers handicraft supplies for all kinds of hobbies from knitting to crocheting.
“I used to come here a lot when I was a fashion student at Lasalle College of the Arts, and I think this is where my obsession with crafts started,” Rebecca said.
Opened in 1949, Golden Dragon Store is a favourite amongst handicraft enthusiasts, and you can sometimes spot hobbyists asking the experienced staff for advice on materials or sewing tips. The store also conducts craft workshops, but if you’re like Rebecca, you can also pick up a hobby through the Internet.
I picked up knitting from Youtube a couple of years ago. Back in Manila, I didn’t have a very strong internet connection, so I would just knit at home by myself to pass the time and it’s very therapeutic.
“I also knit on long bus rides, and a couple of weeks ago, I saw someone taking a photo of me. That was super embarrassing,” Rebecca recalled.
“I’m pretty sure floating around on someone’s group chat, there’s a photo of me knitting on the bus. If you took that photo, that was me.”
Golden Dragon Store | #02-51 People's Park Centre, 101 Upper Cross Street, Singapore 058357 | goldendragon.com.sg
Housed within a traditional shophouse in the Boat Quay conservation area, Restaurant Ibid is a contemporary Chinese restaurant co-founded and helmed by MasterChef Asia 2015 winner Woo Wai Leong. It was listed in the Michelin Guide Singapore 2019.
“I’ve actually been a beneficiary of [Wai Leong’s] cooking from a very young age because we grew up together. He’s a very good friend of my brother’s, and I remember them doing crazy things in the kitchen when they were teenagers and I was still very small,” Rebecca said.
On the dinner menu when we visited was the Australian Wagyu Short Rib, served with slow-cooked garlic purée and Sarawak white pepper; youmaicai finished in kaffir like zest, and veal jus infused with ginseng.
Rebecca also revealed that she had a stint at Chef Woo’s pop-up restaurant, A Meeting of the Minds.
“This is actually something that they served during the same dinner service, and I’m so glad that it has become a classic Ibid dish.”
“We kept the spirit going. That one meal built the format for what Restaurant Ibid is today, but we’ve always changed up the components," the chef said.
“It’s really not about cooking modern Chinese or modern Asian, but about understanding three things—tasty food, happy colleagues, and happy guests."
Restaurant Ibid | 18 North Canal Road, Singapore 048830 | restaurantibid.com
OTHER AREAS TO TAKE NOTE OF, AS SHARED BY REBECCA EU:
Glitzy Fingers: “The best way to describe Glitzy Fingers is haute couture nail art. I was introduced to Belle (the founder of Glitzy Fingers) by my best friend Christie who routinely does the craziest nail art I've ever seen. The beauty salon next door is run by her mum! Come here for nail extensions and nail art—these technicians are truly the Picassos of our time.”
Burnt Ends: “This is hands down my favourite restaurant in Singapore. The food is unpretentious, delicious and downright sinful. I was able to get a table there once and I've been fighting my way back in ever since. Book the Chef's Table and try their steak. Chef Dave will not let you leave until you're bursting at the seams.”