A Staycation in Singapore: Strolling, Sweating, Savoring, Smiling (2nd in a series)

Part 1 here
Part 3 here

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Exploring a covered market, sweating over a bowl of customized laksa, and savoring a cup of specialty coffee.

I’m always on the lookout for kitchenware, and especially more so when I’m traveling. I read about Lemon Zest, a well-stocked store located in the open concept market called Pasar Bella (PB), so I head there. Situated far away from the center, it’s about a 12-15 minute cab ride from ION Mall on Orchard Road.

As I’m meandering through the stalls, I over hear a Singaporean woman say to her companion, “I hear business [is] no good here…” and that sentiment seems to sum up the locals’ view of this place. Research and talking to the stall owners reveal that the market suffers from criticism that it is nothing like the overseas markets it attempts to emulate. “Singapore is too contrived, too far from the source, and no farms, for it to be a true farmers’ market,” so go the self-proclaimed pundits.

As a visitor, I can’t add to the judgments but I can honestly say that my time at Pasar Bella is satisfying. The concept is well-executed, an artisan spirit is present, and there’s plenty to offer food lovers; all in all, an afternoon very well spent. Of all the markets I’ve been to in my travels, I say that PB most resembles Granville Island in Vancouver, Canada.

Since I’m here mainly to check out kitchenware, I head for Lemon Zest.

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I’ll just say that were it not for the weight limit on the flight home, I would buy more than I do. The store is stuffed with all sorts of obscene temptations to make me drool and fulfill my kitchen and styling dreams.

Pasar Bella houses over 30+ stalls boasting of bespoke items from kitchenware to craft beer. To avoid being afflicted with buyer’s-slash-glutton’s-regret, I do a walk-through of the entire space.

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Words of food wisdom that proclaim a vision statement(s) of sorts. My favorite is the very first one.

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Little do I know that the signs outside are a foretelling of what’s to come. This place is huge on the written word. Check out this organic veg store and the sign adjacent to it.

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A few steps away and a patisserie holds aloft yet another sign proclaiming words of truth.

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One of my favorite stores in Pasar Bella. Shabby Chic proffers pastels and fanciful notions by channeling Cath Kidston. I come away with ceramic spoons and dessert forks to go with an oversized porcelain cup and saucer. Expect to see them soon in my upcoming photos.

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The 1872 Clipper Tea Co. is where I stop for a cup of tea. I choose a variant called Healing Garden which is redolent with ginger and lemon grass. I breathe in deeply in between sips and watch the world pass me by. Ah, this is what a vacation is all about!

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The Dutch Colony Coffee is a 3rd Wave café owned by Indonesians, thus the name. All the baristas are hipster-like surrounded by some very serious coffee equipment including a massive roaster. The people here make a mean flat white.

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After a night at Marina Bay Sands, my Bin and I are spending the rest of our time in Singapore at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa. Sentosa is 20 minutes away from downtown Singapore and is replete with attractions like Universal Studios, Resorts World, Dolphin Island, etc. Above is the view outside of our hotel room, and the warning sign. Yes, monkeys are a common occurrence here. My Bin arrives in the room late one afternoon to see a monkey peering into our hotel window!

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Twilight at Siloso Beach. The vibe is very Boracay in feel. Dig this bar’s extensive spirits selection.

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Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa in the evening.

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On another day, I decide to venture out to Holland Village. Because I’ve been dealing with a mad craving for laksa on this trip, I’m drawn to this storefront like a crazy moth to a flame. Katong laksa is a variant of curry laksa, the other being assam laksa, which is fish-based. In Katong laksa, the noodles are cut into pieces so that the dish is eaten with just a spoon. The soup, which is really called a gravy, teems with fishcakes, shrimps, and clams.

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In Singapore, there are various katong laksa stalls, all with numbers in their names for differentiation. This one is 363 Katong Laksa and customers order via an iPad. Very high-tech. It’s really quite remarkable and there are even options for more soup, chili, herbs, etc. After I place my order, I go to the counter for payment and then I get a buzzer.

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My katong laksa, add an extra 30 cents for the tissue pack. Spicy and enriched with coconut milk, I eat it with loads of (what I assume to be) the sambal belachan in a jar alongside. It’s a hot day today, made even more so by the brief rain that anointed us all for mere minutes. I can see steam coming off the road, feel beads of sweat gliding down the back of my neck, and taste the fire simmering in my mouth. What is it they say about eating sour, spicy foods on a hot day? I sip, savor, and smile.

I always seek out at least one specialty coffee place during my travels and on this one, it’s The Assembly Ground. I walk the entire stretch of Orchard Road to get here, sweating shamelessly while lugging my recyclable tote of purchases. Who said traveling isn’t a workout?

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Open for less than three months, this third wave café reinterprets the relaxed energy of similar places in Melbourne, where the owner used to live. The interiors are very “now” with industrial statements, Edison lights, and walls peppered with (caffeinated) words of wisdom. It all feels very hip and I wish to enjoy it but first I need to catch my breath.

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The servers are super friendly, one brings me a pitcher of water, the entire contents of which I glug down in no time flat. Then I peruse the menu. All the usual coffee suspects are here, and hmm, all their iced drinks are made with ice cream. It’s too bad that I’m here while their kitchen is closed (3-6pm) because I could do with a meal. I hear that their sandwiches are terrific as are their poached eggs with salmon and hollandaise, a riff on an Eggs Ben that they dub Eggs Zoey.

There are some truly intimidating cakes on display, a Chocolate Brownie and a Banana Macadamia but each slice is monstrous and I’m trying to appear ladylike. Ha. So in the end and since I’m a purist, I have a pour-over coffee and a slice of the Earl Grey Citrus Pound Cake.

The Assembly Ground serves two types of brews, and when I order, I’m asked which one I want. There’s the 22 Martin blend by Common Man Coffee Roasters (darker, fuller-bodied with notes of chocolate), and the 4 Chairs blend by Nylon Coffee Roasters (fruitier with more acidity). These roasters are all big names in Singapore’s coffee scene and so I defer to the server’s choice. “What do you think I should have?” I ask. The server chooses the latter, reasoning it goes better with my choice of brewing method.

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He’s right, my coffee is everything it purports to be, with a clean finish to boot. The pound cake has just the tang I need to perk up too, and it’s especially moist.


Pasar Bella
200 Turf Club Road
Singapore 287994
Bukit Timah

363 Katong Laksa
29B, Lorong Liput, Holland Village, Singapore 277740
+65 6468 5415
Daily: 9am – 9.30pm

The Assembly Ground
The Cathay #01-21/22/23, 2 Handy Road, Singapore 229233
+65 67333375
10.30am-10pm (Tues-Sun), kitchen closes between 3-6pm.
Closed Monday.

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