Insider’s guide to Singapore: Peranakan culture and history at Katong Antique House

Enamel plates Katong Antique House HoneyCombersAsia

New in town or visiting Singapore and wondering what on earth ‘Peranakan’ means? Been here for a while but can’t get enough of Peranakan anything and everything? Head straight to the colourful heritage neighbourhood of Joo Chiat (home to all those candy-coloured shophouses and dive into Katong Antique House. Small group intimate tours of this beautifully preserved house on the East Coast – packed with everyday artefacts including tiffins and wooden kueh molds – will drop you right into everyday Peranakan life at the turn of the century.

What is Peranakan?
Peranakan means ‘locally born’ in Malay and generally refers to the children born of foreign traders (mainly Chinese men) and local women in Southeast Asia from as early as the 14th century. Peranakan males are known as babas while the females are known as nyonyas. For a more informative and detailed definition, visit Australian-Peranakan artist Jennifer Lim’s wonderful blog. 

Vintage enamelware and kebayas, oh my!
A real feast for the eyes, Katong Antique House on East Coast Road is an immersive experience of life in a Peranakan family home – a wonderfully intimate place to learn about the unique cultural practices of the Peranakan Chinese. Jennifer Lim organised our small group visit to this private house-turned-gallery, jam-packed with Peranakan goodies – however, anyone can organise a group visit, or alternatively you can call (6345 8544to see if you can join an existing group booking.

Katong Antique House treasures and delights include enamel ware and a Nyonya batik textiles

Katong Antique House treasures and delights include colourful enamelware and Nyonya batik textiles

Baba Wee, who is he?
Curator and Katong Antique House owner, Peter Wee, also known in the Peranakan community as Baba Wee, has spent decades collecting treasures that reflect the unique side of Peranakan daily home life. Peter inherited the 100-year old shophouse from his family and has since successfully recreated a typical household setup reflective of a time past.

Baba Wee taking us back in time with his wonderful story telling abilities

Baba Wee taking us back in time with his wonderful story telling abilities.

A peek into another lifetime
From the layout of the house to the rooms stuffed with treasures, visitors will be transported to Peranakan life – but also into Baba Wee’s life. Amongst the Baba’s electricity bills and personal effects, there is a wonderful casual display of Batik Sarong, Kebaya blouses, Kasut Manek gorgeous beaded slippers, Nyonya ware ceramics, enamelware and Peranakan tiles.

From the entrance hall to the kitchen, each room has been carefully restored to reflect the customs and practices of a typical Peranakan family at the turn of the century.

Katong House Enamel plates HoneyCombersAsia

Enamel and ceramics here, there and everywhere.

During the 45-minute tour
Baba Wee will welcome you to his home and tell you quite a lot about Peranakan culture by the way of stories around the many, many artefacts in the home, including the bamboozling home alter paying homage to Taoist deities, Buddhist religious decorations and the Catholic faith all at the same time!

The highlight of the tour was a spot of tea with Peter’s quaint tea cups and some pineapple tarts – another reminder of the elegant, hospitable and intercultural nature of the Peranakans.

Be sure to check out this amazing spot by booking a visit!

Tea and pineapple tarts at Katong Antique House

Tea and pineapple tarts at Katong Antique House.

After your visit…

While you’re in the neighbourhood, check out some of the local cafes and must-try Singapore dishes (this IS the home of Laksa). You might need our guide to favourite eats around Katong. 

Once your Peranakan appetite has been lit, you may want to check out Kim Choo’s workshops and guided tours. Look out for trinkets and souvenirs immortalising your Peranakan love, as well as the wonderful fine art and textiles by Jennifer Lim inspired by antique Peranakan tiles. Follow Jennifer on Facebook for details on her woodblock printing workshops, which often include Peranakan designs. 

Katong Antique House, 208 East Coast Road, Singapore 428907 p. 6345 8544
Cost: $15pp (this can vary, so please check when you make your booking), opening hours: 11:00am – 4:30pm

A review of Baba Chews at Katong
10 Instagram-worthy spots in Joo Chiat
Peranakan Restaurants in Singapore
Guide to Katong and Joo Chiat 
Museums in Singapore: guide to must see art galleries