Arab Street: A Thousand Arabian Nights (and Treasures)
About Arab Street , true to its name, epitomizes the Arabian way of life. Here, one can freely observe conservatively-dressed Muslims hurrying towards the Sultan Mosque once the call for prayer reverberates, robe-clad Arab men puffing away on their apple-flavoured sheeshas (tobacco pipes) and cigars and black abaya (robes for Middle eastern women) -clad women haggling over the prices of Oriental carpets.
That, coupled with the existence of various shop houses selling a variety of ethnic Arab goods (Qurans, prayer mats, muslim apparel, carpets, wicker products and more) confirm the very essence of Arab Street .
Although observably a Muslim district, everyone from all walks of life gather here to indulge in Arab Street's rich culture, if not to savour the ethnic cuisines, the souk-style retail experience or the rich history.
History Arab Street is believed to be named after a noble Arab merchant, Syed Ali bin Mohamed Al Junied, and was a residential kampong for Muslims of Arab, Malay, Indian, Bugis, Javanese and Boyanese descents.
During the 1820s, Arab Street was a bustling trading centre with businesses ranging from textiles, to spices and to rattan products, taking place at the rows of shop houses then.
Alas, the area was not resistant to fire, and many businessmen saw their shops go up in flames more than once. Nevertheless, the businessmen picked up where they left and preserved the bustling trading essence of the place – a feat that still exists today.
Oriental carpets Tawakal Oriental carpet store, owned by a frail Persian merchant and run by his sons, sells plush Oriental carpets that are imported from the Middle East. Despite the “ Sale ” sign that hangs on the glass door entrance of this store, the prices for the carpets are sky-high, but that is because of the authenticity, one-of-a-kind design and good craftsmanship of the carpets. The store offers after-services carpet-cleaning services as well –a plus which places it above the other carpet stores in the area.
Fabrics Textile boutiques selling all kinds of fabrics imaginable (Thai silk, Chinese silk, organza silk, Indian saris etc) stand at almost every corner of Arab Street. These boutiques are often crowded just before Ramadhan and Aidilfitri when Muslim shoppers engage the tailoring services provided for their baju kurungs (national costumes of the Malays). It is at this time, too, that the prices of the fabrics are discounted.
Rattan products All kinds of wicker and rattan home furnishing products –holders, stools, treasure chests etc –are sold at several stores here, with the goods either spilling onto the pavements or hung overhead.
Muslim apparel Muslim apparels ( baju kurung, baju kebaya, jubah, hijab, songkok, tudung etc) of both simple and extravagant designs are sold at many fashion boutiques here.
Non-alcoholic perfumes With the Muslim customer in mind, the perfumes stores here stock up on perfumes made of non-alcoholic ingredients. Famous fragrances from Estee Lauder, Christian Dior and Hugo Boss are expertly replicated sans the alcoholic ingredients at reasonable prices.
Middle eastern cuisine Relish in Arabian delicacies such as meat kebabs, Yemeni puddings, mint tea and Arabic coffee at the many Middle Eastern alfresco cafes or extravagant restaurants here. Almost all of these diners offer the sheeshas, so if you cannot stand tobacco smoke, request for a non-smoking seat.
Malay cuisine Local Malay foods like mee goreng (fried noodles) and nasi goreng (fried rice) are widely sold at the warungs (small coffeeshops) here.
Indian cuisine To many Singaporeans, Zam Zam Restaurant is arguably the home of Singapore 's best murtabaks and pratas.
Places of Interest
Istana Kampong Glam ( Kampong Glam Palace ) This palace was built by Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor in 1820, and used to be the residence of his heirs. Recently, it was converted into the Malay heritage centre that exhibits the history and culture of the Malay community in Singapore.
Sultan Mosque This is the largest mosque in Singapore. It was built in 1928. This mosque is often visited by tourists and school students on a Singapore heritage tour.