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Arab Street

Arab Street (12)

In Chinese, this street is called Jiau a Koi, or Javanese street, because this is where the majority of immigrants from the island of Java lived. On the other hand, in Tamil it is known as Pukadai Sadkku, or flower shop street, as these Javanese families grew and sold flowers, among other things. Nowadays, however, everyone calls it Arab Street.

It is a curious street, just under a kilometre long that runs from Beach Road to Rochor Canal Road.  The street is very true to its name as it is an authentic representation of the Arab lifestyle in Singapore.  Along with the Sultan Mosque, it is the true heart of Kampong Glam.

Some say that the name of this street comes from it once having belonged to Syed Ali bin Mohamed Al Junied, a nineteenth century community leader and important Arab merchant. Others, however, say the name came from Sir Stamford Raffles’ decision to deliver this area to the Sultan to build his palace here.  This led to many Muslims immigrating here, so they could be near the Sultan.

Whatever the origin of its name might be, for tourists, Arab Street is a veritable old fashion bazaar that delights your senses with colours and smells at every step. You’ll see Muslims going to the mosque to pray after the call of the minaret or drinking tea and smoking apple-scented snuff in their sheeshas, while women typically wear their black abayas.  But mostly, you'll be able to buy almost anything at a good price. Yes, you can find the best price but only if you are a shrewd haggler.

In these small shops you’ll find unique products and real bargains: antiques, valuable jewellery and costume jewellry, local crafts and imported Middle Eastern rugs, batiks from Indonesia, alcohol-free perfumes of all kinds, Indian sarees, camel skin leather goods, even furniture. Anything you could possibly want.

Most importantly, you must visit the silk shops. Whether Chinese, Thai or Indian, you will find a wide range of high quality garments. These stores are often crowded and offer better prices on the days right before Ramadhan and Aidilfitri, due to the large demand.

We would also like to highlight the beautiful handicrafts made in rattan, a cane typical of Asia and Africa. Rattan, like wicker, is lightweight, easy to work with and very tough.  Many interesting products are made out of rattan here such as baskets, vases, lamps and even tables and chairs, especially practical and decorative outdoor furniture.

As a final recommendation, and to renew your strength and continue shopping, stop by one of the small restaurants in Arab Street and taste one of its delicacies such as a good kebab, a Yemeni pudding, or at least a mint tea. You'll feel like you’re in the heart of the Middle East.

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