The first hints of it? Rows of shops selling fresh produce: ripe red tomatoes, aubergines a royal shade of purple, and potatoes still caked in the soil they were grown in. Then there are the humble eateries blasting music as the aroma of spices waft through the air. Make a turn along Dickson Road and quirky hotels that suit every budget come to your attention.
Indeed, the area is alive with a culture that’s absent in other parts of Singapore. These little alleys are picture-perfect postcards of Singapore’s diversity, starting with its food offerings – from dim sum supper spot Swee Choon to Mustafa Centre’s very own rooftop restaurant, Kebabs & Kurries.
Our Michelin inspectors made several visits to the area earlier this year and brought forth a list of good eats and stays including a one Michelin-starred restaurant and two Bib Gourmand eateries. Here’s what they have to say.
It’s up the stairs and off with the shoes to eat at low-set tables in this popular Indian restaurant in the middle of Little India – although there are some regular tables on the ground floor if you prefer. The chef-owner serves dishes from all parts of the country, but you do get to make your own decision on the level of spiciness. Those who like their food particularly fiery can join the Chilli Challenge on full moon nights. 6 Upper Dickson Road. laagna.com
Don’t be put off by the disconcertingly long menu at this modestly decorated Indian restaurant near the impressive Lasalle College of the Arts building, because the food is carefully prepared and full of flavour. Try the North Indian dishes like Mahal Ka butter chicken and the biryanis, or explore the Nepalese specialities such as momo. Vegetarians will also find they have much to savour, with dishes like reshmi saag paneer and gobi matar. #01-20, Village Hotel Albert Court. shishmahal.com.sg
Putian people are known for putting their guests before themselves – and service is certainly friendlier here than in many similarly simple restaurants. Opened in 2000, this was the first branch of this small chain which has another 8 or so shops in Singapore. Dishes may not always resemble their pictures on the menu but are fresh and tasty. Signature dishes include seaweed with mini shrimps, braised pig intestine and stewed yellow croaker. 127 Kitchener Road, putien.com
Cantonese roast meats prepared in a traditional way (with just a hint of Western leanings) lure plenty of customers to this relaxed and friendly restaurant. There’s roast duck and crispy pork belly but it’s the meltingly tender BBQ pork that really stands out; other Cantonese dishes on offer include seafood and stir-fried noodles. It occupies two floors – the ground floor’s large round tables make it better suited to family gatherings. 363 Jalan Besar
Some may consider this self-styled 'urban resort' hotel, which opened in 2014, a little too far from the city centre but Farrer Park MRT station is directly underneath the 20-storey building. The large spa and 50m swimming pool certainly adds to its appeal, as do the many pieces of artwork. Longer staying guests should consider the Loft Apartments of Sky Villas. 1 Farrer Park Station Road.
A converted school from the 1920s in lively Little India is the setting for this charming and vibrant hotel with a look all of its own. What the bedrooms lack in space they more than make up for in their decoration; each floor has its own theme and each room is different. The ersatz-industrial looking restaurant has communal tables and a French menu. 2 Dickson Road.
Further reading: Little India not big enough for you? Click here for more travel stories on subcontinental India