The Best-Kept Secrets of Little India

Wondering what you absolutely must do in Little India? Let us tell you what are the five areas Little India is known for and definitely not to be missed when you’re in Singapore!

Today, Little India is known as the most authentic ethnic enclave left as Chinatown and Kampong Glam have become more gentrified in recent years. It doesn’t have the glitz or polish the other two enclaves have, but that’s what makes it real.

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Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

A little history

Did you know that Little India was not a designated area for the Indian community under the Raffles Town Plan (like Chinatown or Kampong Glam), but grew organically instead?

Little India first started out as a residential area for the European immigrants in the 1840s, such as Isaac Raphael Belilios, who was a wealthy cattle trader. The area then transformed into a booming hub for cattle trading due to the proximity along Serangoon River, and with cattle trading being an Indian-dominant trade, many Indian immigrants begin settling down around Serangoon Road. This is also why many road names here are related to cattle, such as Buffalo Road and Kerbau (meaning buffalo in Malay) Road.

As the community grew, businesses catering to everyday needs, as well as places of worship, emerged. Immigrants set up shops selling Indian spices, garlands, saris, gold and more, while temples like the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple was built in 1855. 

Food

There’s no better place in Singapore for Indian food than Little India! The first Indian immigrants set up restaurants in the area and some have continued till today. Most of the restaurants offer South Indian cuisine since Singaporean Indians are predominantly from that region. Locals frequent Komala Vilas or Banana Leaf Apolo for their delicious and varied Indian food! Vegetarians and vegans, rejoice, as there’re tons of vegetarian and vegan choices around the area, such as Cafe Salivation. The real hidden gem for food is Tekka Centre, where you can affordable and delicious meals from Indian, Chinese and Malay cuisines. 

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Credit: Komala Vilas

Culture

With Hindu temples, Buddhist temples and mosques, Little India is just as culturally diverse as Chinatown! The Hindu temples here are a sight to behold, with towering gopurams (ornate gatehouse tower) depicting the different deities. Abdul Gafoor Mosque, with its charming and unique architecture, is one of the most beautiful mosques in Singapore. Finally, the Indian Heritage Centre is a must-visit for those looking to learn more about the history of the Indian community in Singapore.

Sights

Little India is not known as the most colourful ethnic enclave for nothing – the most colourful building in Singapore, also known as the House of Tan Teng Niah, is located here.

Then, go on a mural trail to find all the colourful murals, depicting the local culture, history and nature, dispersed all around Little India. You can find racehorses, pastel-coloured water buffaloes, jasmine flowers and even iconic Tamil film star Rajinikanth on the walls!

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Shop

If you’re arriving into Singapore in the middle of the night or early morning and at a loss for what to do, pop by Mustafa Centre. Open 24 hours, the department store is a supermarket, electronics store, jewellery shop and more combined into one! Even if you don’t intend on buying anything, just a walk around is eye-opening, and who knows, you might pick up something you didn’t even know you needed. Another early morning choice is Tekka Market, where vendors set-up as early as 5 am, selling fresh meat, seafood, vegetables and fruit, with the customers streaming in about an hour later to buy the freshest produce possible. 

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