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By The Native Team
- October 31, 2020

Nostalgia is on the Menu at These Old-School Eateries

Wine and Dine . Singapore

Before the trend of hipster and thematic eateries, there were the old-school ones, just simple family-run establishments that serve up humble, yet delicious foods. These are the spots where our parents and even grandparents used to eat at during their youth - and would have brought us to as kids. Withstanding the test of time, what they lack in fancy dishes, they sure make up for in spades with good, honest food served with a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Tong Ah Eating House

Tong Ah Eating House
Tong Ah Eating House | © @kayutabi_

Once situated within an iconic art deco, red and white shophouse-style building (now home to the uber-trendy Potato Head Folk), Tong Ah Eating House has since relocated a few doors down along Keong Saik Road. This traditional coffee shop has been around since 1939, and is known and loved for its charcoal-toasted kaya toast and traditional Nanyang-style kopi and teh.

Breakfast spread at Tong Ah
Breakfast spread at Tong Ah | © @dorimingo813

A relic of a bygone era among the trendy bars of Keong Saik Road, Tong Ah is simply one of those eateries that keeps customers going back for more. Everything is kept plain and simple here – from the modest décor, to their humble kaya toast and kopi which they continue to roast with butter for that added richness.

Tong Ah Eating House

Address: 35 Keong Saik Rd., Singapore 089142

Contact: +65 6223 5083

Opening Hours: 

7 am – 10 pm Daily

Chin Chin Eating House

Chin Chin Eating House
Chin Chin Eating House | © @aldrinat

Situated along Purvis Street, also known as Hainan Second Street, Chin Chin Eating House is one of Singapore’s oldest Hainan restaurants. Opened in 1935, the 85-year-old Chin Chin Eating House is known for its Hainanese chicken rice and pork chop. Now into its 3rd generation of owners, Chin Chin remains continues to maintain its familial and unpretentious atmosphere. The sounds of the staff shouting out table orders, interspersed with snippets of Hainanese as they chat with regulars make for a lively setting for a simple yet delicious lunch. 

Chin Chin Eating House

Address: 19 Purvis St, Singapore 188598

Contact: +65 6337 4640

Opening Hours: 

11.30 am – 9 pm Daily

Zam Zam Restaurant

Zam Zam Restaurant
Zam Zam Restaurant | © @mstaronlineofficial

At 112 years old, Zam Zam is one of the oldest restaurants in Singapore and has stayed in the same location since its inception in 1908 – a remarkable feat indeed! Located in a two-storey shophouse a stone’s throw away from the Masjid Sultan, this legendary store is most known for their murtabak, nasi briyani and roti prata. 

Murtabak at Zam Zam
Murtabak at Zam Zam | © @shemomedjamo.yvr

Open 7 days a week, Zam Zam stands out for its methods of preparing traditional dishes. The murtabak, for example, is layered with an egg on top of the dough and sprinkled with minced meat, giving the stuffed dish extra crispiness. One bite of the murtabak and you’ll know why Zam Zam has managed to survive and thrive for the last century – no easy task in food-crazy Singapore.

Zam Zam Restaurant

Address: 697-699 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 198675

Contact: +65 6298 6320

Opening Hours: 

7 am – 11 pm Daily

Colbar

Cafe Colbar
Cafe Colbar | © @kei.cake.scone

Cafe Colbar has been open since the 1950s, and has been serving colonial-style brunch plates way before brunch became the coolest meal of the day. Once a canteen for the British army, classic, greasy but delicious English fry-ups are the order of the day here – though they also serve some local favourites such as hor fun.

Interior of the Colbar
Interior of the Colbar | © @aldrinat

Delicious though the food may be, what keeps people coming back for more is simply the relaxed vibe of the place. With its Kopitiam-like décor, wooden panels, lush greenery and stray dogs, the Col-Bar is a living relic of the good ol’ days. Coupled with its ulu-Wessex Estate location, the café makes for a great escape form the bustle of the city, proving a perfect spot to sit down with a cuppa and a good book for the afternoon – though you’ll likely find yourself inevitably drawn into conversation sooner or later.

Colbar

Address: 9A Whitchurch Rd, Singapore 138839

Contact: +65 6779 4859

Opening Hours: 

Tuesday – Sunday, 11.30 am – 8.30 pm; 

Closed on Mondays

Red Star Restaurant

Dim sum loaded on a pushcart, Red Star Restaurant
Dim sum loaded on a pushcart, Red Star Restaurant | © @nui_naaa

Middle-aged ladies pushing metal carts loaded with a myriad of dim sum treats while shouting is no longer a common sight nowadays. But one place where you can expect to enjoy your dim sum from such pushcarts is Red Star Restaurant, one of the few remaining, old-school dim sum restaurants – just be sure to be quick about your orders though to prevent scolded in Cantonese by your waitress.

Dim sum at Red Star |
Dim sum at Red Star | © @moooonlog

Opened by Chef Lau Yoke Pui, one of the four Heavenly Kings, the restaurant’s lay out and recipes have barely changed since they first opened in the 70s. With their classic metal chairs with red velvet cushions, carpeted floor and large wooden tables covered by a table cloth, , it almost feels as though you’ve stepped back in time when you enter the restaurant.

While the dim sum at Red Star is nothing to write home about, the classic sense of nostalgia here is something you cannot find anywhere else in Singapore. Indeed, many of us would have dined here at some point with our parents or grandparents as young kids, and the experience of recreating those memories are simply priceless.

Red Star Restaurant

Address: 54 Chin Swee Rd, #07-23, Singapore 160054

Contact: +65 6532 5266

Opening Hours: 

Sunday 7 am – 3 pm; 6 pm – 10 pm

Monday – Saturday 8 am – 3 pm; 6 pm – 10 pm

Capitol Milk Bar

Capitol Milk Bar
Capitol Milk Bar | © @broadwayamericandiner

Remember the Magnolia Snack Bar at Capitol Theatre? Once the go-to spot for ice-cream, milkshakes and cakes for those watching a movie at Capitol Theatre, many movie-goers have tons of fond memories of the family-friendly diner. While the snack bar was closed in the 1980s, it has since been reborn, finding its modern-day avatar in the newly-minted Capitol Milk Bar at The Capitol Kempinski's Arcade.

Milkshakes from Capitol Milk Bar
Milkshakes from Capitol Milk Bar | © @capitalkempinski

The retro-style furniture and decor will transport you to the 1960s and the Milk Bar's menu is filled with deliciously old-school treats such as the Banana Split, made of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream with caramelised bananas, banana vanilla espuma, freeze dried banana and banana rum glaze. There are also milkshakes served in local-inspired flavours such as Milo Dinosaur and Chendol, as well as other diner staples such as burgers and hot dogs.

Capitol Milk Bar

Address: 13 Stamford Road, Singapore 178905

Contact: + 65 6715 6874

Opening Hours:

11am - 9pm Daily

Hua Yu Wee

Hua Yu Wee
Hua Yu Wee | © Hua Yu Wee Restaurant

One of Singapore's original beachfront restaurants, this seafood spot still occupies the same Upper East Coast Road premises that it did when it opened in the 1920s. Housed in a white, sprawling colonial-style bungalow, seafood dishes remain the order of the day here and many regulars swear by its Chilli Crab, smothered in a thick, addictive gravy.

Chilli crab at Hua Yu Wee
Chilli crab at Hua Yu Wee | © @christhartono

Old-timers who visit today often reminisce about the days gone by when the beach was only a few metres away from the restaurant's steps. While there’s no deliberately retro decor here, the furniture is functional and the decor (down to the wait staff's uniforms) are all classically old-school.

Hua Yu Wee

Address:  462 Upper East Coast Rd, Singapore 466508

Contact: +65 6442 9313

Opening Hours:

11.30 am – 10.30 pm Daily

Heap Seng Leong

Kopi gu you and toast at Heap Seng Leong
Kopi gu you and toast at Heap Seng Leong | © @singaporeguidebook

A typical Singaporean breakfast would definitely consist of the holy trinity of thick kopi-o, perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs and melty kaya toast. And one of the best places to enjoy this humble breakfast is Heap Seng Leong, where your kopi-o is levelled up with a slice of butter for some added silkiness. Known as kopi gu you (literally coffee with butter), Heap Seng Leong is one of the surviving coffee shops in Singapore that still sells this old-school drink.

Uncle Shi making the coffee
Uncle Shi making the coffee | © @w.captures

Beyond its kopi gu you, diners also flock here for  its extremely old-school setting that is caught in a time-warp of the 70s, from the tables, chairs, tiles and décor. Time seems to have stood still in this nondescript coffeeshop with its rustic-looking walls, tables, old-school titbit containers and the butter aroma lingering in the air reminding one of Singapore in the 1980-90s. The perfect place to enjoy your breakfast with a slice of nostalgia.

Heap Seng Leong

Address: 10 North Bridge Rd, #01-5109, Singapore 190010

Contact: +65 6292 2368

Opening Hours

4am – 8pm Daily

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