The savoury side of Geylang
Geylang is more than its streetwalkers. Besides fantastic food, it is becoming the go-to place for late-night shopping. Analysts also say sites here are some of the best value-for-money property you can get
The unsavoury reputation of Geylang did not put restaurateur Sally Packire off. She feels it is a goldmine.
"There is good human traffic and while there are many coffee shops selling Indian fare, we did our homework and found there was no restaurant offering Indian cuisine," says Ms Packire, 41.
So, six months ago, she and a close friend, who wanted to be known only as Mr Guruu, poured in $150,000 to open their second Buhari Restaurant in Geylang, near Lorong 42.
Their first outlet had opened a month earlier in Ang Mo Kio.
Ms Packire says she is pleased with the steady flow of regular customers to the Geylang outlet.
"Most of our customers are Caucasians - the expatriates who just love fish head curry. We also have lots of local Chinese and they are the ones who come from all over Singapore," she says.
Indeed. Geylang to many may be a den of vices. But go beyond the sin tag, and it is a food haven.
People from all over the island - and around the world - flock to this nearly 2km-stretch for the variety of famous dishes from crab beehoon to claypot rice and delicacies such as frog porridge and fermented tofu.
Mr Chew Kok Wah,who was a tour guide for 10 years before he turned cabby, says Geylang was No. 1 on the list of must-visit spots when he led the groups.
"It's the place to go to for the best selection of food, and prices are not all cut-throat since it isn't really the 'official' tourist spot," he says.
Other cabbies also tell The New Paper on Sunday that Geylang tops their list of recommendations to tourists.
Mr Lim Ah Hien, 50, says he has no qualms about taking passengers through the winding lorongs to give them an idea of the sleaze before dropping them off at a restaurant.
"(Some) people like to complain that Singapore is boring," he says in a mix of Hokkien and English, "but I tell them, I give you sideshow first, then take you to good food."
And a good pick for him is Sin Huat Seafood Restaurant near Lorong 35, which has been featured on Discovery Channel and in The New York Times.
Chef Danny Lee's famous stir-fried crab beehoon earned rave reviews from US chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain.
Another famous stall that had Bourdain waxing lyrical is Geylang Clay Pot Rice at Lorong 37.
Reservation is recommended to avoid the 30-minute wait on weekdays or an hour on weekends for a taste of the charcoal-fired rice that comes with a generous helping of fragrant waxed meat, tender chicken, hidden slivers of salted fish and, to complete the dish, crunchy burnt bits.
Manager Lau Yee Sang, 44, who has been working at the stall since 1990, says: "We have office executives who come here for lunch on weekdays and then return over the weekend with their family and friends."
Customers and food operators say the food landscape in Geylang has been changing, particularly in the past five years.
Other than coffee shops and stalls that offer a pick of local Chinese favourites such as Teochew porridge, zhi char, old-style beancurd dessert and dim sum, there are also Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.
Dotted along both sides of the road are the more than 60 restaurants that offer cuisine from different parts of China.
Like Jing Wu Ya Bo, near Lorong 27. Customers love the Wuhan duck's neck - a popular street snack that originates from the capital of Hubei in central China - for its peppery and spicy flavour.
Ms Shen Yuhui, 40, a language teacher, says: "The real pleasure comes from gnawing and nipping at the scant meat that is attached to the bones of the duck's neck."
Another famous delicacy is "smelly tofu" from Hong Kong.
The story goes that the boss of Mini Star Fermented Beancurd, Mr Steven Ong, started selling the beancurd at a stall in the Kreta Ayer Food Court in December 1997.
But some hawkers could not stand the smell, which has been compared to that of a rubbish dump, and signed a petition to get rid of him.
When his stall was vandalised a month later, Mr Ong decided to move to Geylang, near Lorong 41, and has remained there since.
Mr Tony Seh, 50, a lawyer, says the pungent smell is a real turn-on. He and his wife, who is from Hong Kong, make it a point to have the dish once a month.
And if fermented beancurd is not quite your idea of delicacy, the popular Eminent Frog Porridge at Lorong 19 is ideal for a light supper.
The piping hot porridge that is cooked to a perfect consistency is served with fresh and well-marinated frogs cooked in a different flavours.
"The meat is so tender and juicy that I can eat up to six frogs cooked in two different sauces at one go," declares businessman Roger Moh, 60.
Want a haircut at 2am? This is the place
Haircut? Manicure? Foot reflexology? What about last-minute shopping?
Business owners and customers tell The New Paper on Sunday that you do not have to look further than Geylang for these.
And it is not just residents who enjoy the convenience of late-night services.
Miss Olivia Leong, 30, a restaurant supervisor, finishes works most days after 10.30pm.
"By then, there are almost no shops that I can go to for my hair wash or manicure," she says.
So she was delighted she could get a hair cut or a facial even at 2am in Geylang.
Says the Tampines resident: "I don't mind, even though I have to take a cab down. At most, I just have my supper there to make full use of my cab fare."
Miss Yi Zhi, 30, who is from China, says she decided to open Prince Image Consultant in Geylang, just before Lorong 28, in July last year.
"In China, such late-night beauty care services are very common and cater mainly to the working professionals," she explains. "And I realised that is missing here."
The salon's clients include a good mix of both men and women, who come for a range of services in the spacious and brightly-lit premises.
If you badly need a massage to knead away your fatigue, there is Duo Duo Foot Spa off Lorong 25A, which also offers full body massages and traditional Chinese medicine treatment massages.
A group of seven young men in their early 20s walk in at nearly 1am on Thursday. One of them tells us that they are back since they have tried the services and found the therapists to be quite good.
The shop manager, who declines to be named, says: "We can open quite late because most of our staff sleep in after we close. So they don't have to worry about paying late-night cab charges to get home."
The 24-hour chain supermarkets, from NTUC FairPrice at Lorong 38 and I-Tec after Lorong 21 to smaller outfits like Greenbegger Supermarket, are also a hit with the late-night crowd.
Mr Jonathan Bariller, 27, an engineer, who is from France, has been coming here for nearly a year. He lives in one of the private apartments in Geylang and says he loves the convenience of the place.
"From good food to late-night shopping, I can get everything done at one go," he says.
At Lorong 25A, Holi Department Store offers a range of items, from T-shirts, cardigans and bermudas to underwear, pillows, slippers, luggage and waist pouches.
Mr Cheng Weikang, 30, who picks up a box of underwear for $3.90 and a pair of slippers at $2, says that he is buying them for a friend who is sleeping over.
Bringing ritzy into the sleazy/NEXT PAGE