As the economic hub of Southeast Asia, people from across the region are drawn to Singapore to try to make a buck. These groups add to Singapore’s colourful cultural diversity and, as the communities grow, they establish their own restaurants, temples, and even shopping malls. Golden Mile Complex is the domain of the Thais, Lucky Plaza fills with Indonesian and Filipino domestic workers every Sunday, and Peninsula Plaza has become Singapore’s own “Little Burma”.
Over 50,000 strong, Singapore is home to one of the larger Burmese communities outside of Burma itself. Singapore is one of the rare countries that has a good relationship with the Burmese military government and Burmese citizens, who are usually very limited in their ability to travel, are able to get work permits and study visas to Singapore without too much trouble.
At first glance, Peninsula Plaza seems like an unremarkable mix of money changers, travel agencies, and souvenir shops. It’s not until you’re inside and can see the signs in the beautiful, curving script and get a whiff of the fish sauce that permeates the air it is clear that Peninsula Plaza has become a home-away-from-home for Singapore’s Burmese community. The clothing shops sell traditional longyi (a unisex wrap skirt), convenience stores stock Myanmar Lager, and there’s even a Burmese-language library.
Peninsula Plaza’s basement has become a full-on food bazaar with stalls and restaurants specialising in Burmese curries, stir-frys, soups, and noodle dishes. While it probably won’t blow your mind – I’d describe Burmese cuisine as an earthier, oilier version of Thai food – you’ll otherwise need to go to Yangon for a taste of authentic mohinga (fish noodle soup). The cheapest of the basement Burmese food stalls don’t have English menus (staff will do their best to translate) or, for a less intimidating introduction, try Irrawaddy Restaurant or Maw Shan where we had some excellent Shan noodles on a recent visit. My favourites are the pickled tea leaf salad (a crazy mix of flavours and textures, S$4.80) and Shan tofu fritters (S$3).
Though Peninsula Plaza has money changers dealing in dozens of currencies, they do not buy or sell Burmese kyat. This currency is officially unexchangable outside Burma, but with a little persistence you may be able to strike an off-the-records deal with one of the Burmese shopkeepers.
If you’re planning a trip to Burma, the Burmese Embassy in Singapore may be able to help you out with a tourist visa and Travelfish has a handy article titled "Everything you need to know before you go to Burma".
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 1st May, 2015.