I grew up in Joo Chiat and along with it came wonderful sounds and smell that filled your senses. The latter more or less refers to the food choices in the area. Since I was a little boy, I have snacked on a rice dumpling from a little store there. But first, let me tell you a little about the history of the place. Katong refers to a species of sea turtle that is no longer found in Singapore, and Joo Chiat is the name of a wealthy plantation owner who used to own plots of land and coconut plantations here.
In the 1930s, many communities moved eastward out of the city centre and this area was an idyllic seaside retreat for the wealthy. There were beautiful bungalows and shophouses, and it was a melting pot for Eurasians, Straits-born Chinese (or Peranakans), Malay, Indian and Chinese. Contrary to popular belief, Peranakans are not linked to a particular race, nor are they people who inherited the bloodline. The word “Peranakan” literally means “locally-born descendants of foreigners”. It is very much about the marriage of different cultures, and not about the marriage of two different races.
Kim Choo Kueh Chang on Joo Chiat Place
Kim Choo Kueh Chang. Photo courtesy of Jane Goh.
The story of Kim Choo Kueh Chan began with Lee Kim Choo, who first sold Nyonya (Straits-Chinese Peranakan woman) rice dumplings under a banyan tree along Joo Chiat Place in 1945. This entrepreneurial grandmother of the current owners had dumplings are to die for.
They have changed over the years and they now sell a repertoire of local cakes, coconut jams, sambals, pre-mixes and local cookies. Kim Choo has another outlet on East Coast Road, but you want to come to this outlet as you can peek inside glass doors to see the little factory where they churn out the goodies daily. In fact, they have also moved on to customisations of sarong kebaya and batik (traditional Peranakan costumes), wholesaling of Peranakan porcelain, and hold guided tours, talks, and workshops to promote our Nanyang-Peranakan heritage.
Surprisingly, the rice dumpling serves as a comfort food. Just like music, you link food at times to certain experiences in your life. Rice dumplings bring back the memories of cycling around the neighborhood, play marbles and flying paper aeroplanes! I’m sure that you have your selection that definitely stirs the stomach and soul. What do you reach out for when you need some comfort?
For me, it’s dumplings and a whole host of food! More rumblings for the tummy to follow.
Part of my nostalgia series.