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Exploring Arab Street, Singapore

- Kathryn

The Sultan Mosque, hookah bars, and iznik tiles are not things commonly associated with Singapore. Instead, as I heard the loud mosque sounding off a call to prayer and strolled alongside women wearing their hijabs, I felt like I was back in Amman or Istanbul.

“Arab Street” in Singapore was where my friends had suggested we wander, now that we returned to the city as tourists rather than residents. We have all just finished our first year of college and were ready to explore the home that we’ve missed!

The name “Arab Street” is a bit of a misnomer because nobody who regularly shops or sells on the street speaks Arabic or comes from the Middle East. Instead, the area is known for Malays and Indonesians (two Islamic Southeast Asian countries). Nevertheless, I could spot an Egyptian restaurant and three Turkish restaurants in the same area as a cafe called “Kampong Glam.” Kampong Glam was packed whereas the places we went to seemed more geared towards tourists.

The first restaurant we stopped in was a Turkish place named Alaturka. There were iznik tiles everywhere and decorative plates on the walls. Still longing for Istanbul, I was hooked. It was still only 4 p.m. so we just had tea and coffee. Their apple tea was good, but the coffee was a bit sour. Also, I was confused for a second when the waitress asked whether I wanted sugar. In Istanbul, you order your coffee by how much sugar you want — none, medium, or a lot. “Kafve orta” means coffee with medium sugar, what I was used to ordering. Later that night, we would eat at another Turkish restaurant for dinner.

My favorite part of Arab Street is all the little shops. This is where Singaporeans go to buy fabric. It’s especially popular for Muslim women who want to create appropriately-lengthed dresses. When your dress is expected to be floor length, straight cut, and maybe long-sleeved, the design of the fabric is very important. Material for saris can also be bought there, reflecting the ethnic diversity of Singapore. There’s also many bead stores and at least one perfume shop. We stopped in the perfume store so Yuvika could buy some amber perfume. Perfumes that aren’t created by designer brands and bought in a shopping mall just seem more appealing to me. I’ll probably go back to get some coconut and vanilla perfume. A small, unadorned bottle, only costs a few US dollars.




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