I love venturing out to new neighbourhoods. Especially when discovered by accident. Jalan Besar is the area connecting the top of Little India to Lavender Street. Although if you were being precise, you’d say it is actually the road itself. As a coffee aficionado, I’m pretty good at sniffing out the hipster hotspots of a city. But for some reason, I’d never taken the time to stroll around Jalan Besar.
Jalan Besar means ‘big road’ in Malay and was actually a track running through a betel nut and fruit orchard, surrounded by swampland. Having clocked it on a MRT map, I’ve always been fascinated by Lavender train station and its surrounding area. But forget Provencal fields of wild lavender… the area was named as an amusing antidote to the smell of nightsoil (ahem poo), used by farmers in the area.
Where to begin
There’s lots of lovely places to begin your exploration, depending on what you are looking for. For us, it started with the temptation of an American style BB. Having forgone our annual roadtrip, we were missing brisket and ribs. I’d read about the Red Eye Smokehouse and couldn’t believe I’d missed a trick. Opened in 2015, this place had somehow escaped our BBQ radar. Their BBQ is outstanding, the best I’ve eaten in Singapore. I love the rustic, industrial vibe. Go early as once the meat has run out, that’s it for the day! Don’t forget to head next door to Japanese inspired Sweets Craftsmen for their insane Summer Berries Meringue.
If you’re looking for brunch, there’s a huge number of options. Artisanal bakery Two Bakers, flagship coffee house Chye Seng Huat Hardware and for signature fried chicken and waffles, For The People. I didn’t have any room for chicken and waffles but I can attest their chai latte and pastries are delicious.
Rather than give you a route, it’s best to follow your nose (and stomach). This is a beautiful area for capturing colourful pictures, particularly of the shophouses and street art. Along Cavan road, I was taken by the facade of former ship repair shop, Kwong Soon & Co. It was only after searching its history that I realised it is now home to the Singapore Arts Club.
Stroll through Cavan, Horne and Tyrwhitt roads to begin with. Then see where the wind takes you! We rejoined Jalan Besar and ended up at the aladdin’s cave of Mustafa Centre.
I can’t mention Jalan Besar without pointing you in the direction of the Petain Road shophouses. Remember Singapore has a fantastic history of the shophouses in the area. To quote the article, ‘One of the most beautiful and well-preserved ones along Petain Road, made up of 18 double-storey pre-war terrace houses (terrace houses are the residential version of shophouses). Built in the early 1930s, they are the classic examples of Chinese Baroque-style shophouses in Singapore, designed with symmetrical lines, delicate ornaments and ceramic tiles on both the floors and walls.’
Petain Road is not without its convtroversies. They are named for Philippe Petain, a French war hero who was later sentenced to death due to his heading the French collaborationist government in WW2. In later years Petain Road was also seen as unsavory, home to a red light district and gangsters.
Also of historical note is the Jalan Besar Stadium. Mr Jetlag is obsessed by stadiums and our road trips often turn into stadium spotting routes. Jalan Besar Stadium was opened in 1929 and known as the birthplace of Singapore football. During the Japanese occupation it was used for Sook Ching screening (to identify and eliminate suspected anti-Japanese elements among the Chinese community in Singapore). It was also used as a centre to teach Japanese to civilians. After WW2 it was turned into a hub for community and national events.
For a more in depth guide on where to eat & drink, check out Honeycombers