Mar 1, 2013 - History, Singapore    No Comments    2,590 views

Food and Shopping in Singapore in the 1890s

Last month, we shared the top tourist sights for tourists visiting Singapore in 1890. But if cemeteries, asylums and ponderious government buildings are a little too heavy-going for your taste, why not check out the local food and shopping instead?

Adventurous travellers on the lookout to sample the exotic local cuisine need look no further than N.B. Dennys’ hefty 438-paged Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya.  His recommendations include Armadillo

“…the tinggiling of the Malays, found throughout the Penisula, and “cooked in the shell” is an attractive dish.”

 Dr Dennys has clearly been Singaporeanized – what good is wildlife if it can’t be eaten?  As further proof of his assimilation, Dr Dennys also devoted a full page to waxing lyrical about the durian, with a description so vivid and lyrical it would tempt even the most conservative of eaters:

“Its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich butter-like custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities. Then there is the rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid, nor sweet, nor juicy, yet one feels the want of none of these qualities, for it is perfect as it is. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it, the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact to eat durians is a new sensation, worth a voyage to the east to experience.”

Well said, Dr Dennys!

As for shopping, one can turn to the brochure from The Far Eastern Tourist Agency. The 1911 edition is purportedly a traveller’s guide, but the good stuff is in the advertisements on every other page. Who can resist the Nut Hide Leather Suit Case, “fitted with 2 ebonized hair brushes, silver top soap box” and much more, at just $75.00 at Robinson’s?  And how can one possibly leave without the “Oriental Hair Wash”, which promises “highly curative properties, increasing the growth of the hair” at a mere one dollar a bottle?

Image source: Far Eastern Tourist Agency (1911). Information for Travellers Landing at Singapore.)

Image source: Far Eastern Tourist Agency (1911). Information for Travellers Landing at Singapore.)

To read these travel guides online, head to BookSG, a website by the National Library of Singapore.


D’Aranjo, B.E. (1890). The Stranger’s Guide to Singapore with Maps. Singapore Press. Available online via:

Reith, G.M. (1892). Handbook to Singapore: with map and a plan of the Botanical Gardens. Singapore and Straits Print Office. Available online via:

Dennys, N.B. (1894). Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya. London and China Telegraph. Available online via:

Far Eastern Tourist Agency (1911). Information for Travellers Landing at Singapore. Available online via:


Post contributed by Tan Wen Sze, Librarian

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