1. Perakan Porcelain
Peranakan porcelain was one of the key exports from China to Singapore back in the 19th century, and was in high demand by the affluent layers of the local society. Traditionally, each Peranakan piece carries beautiful patterns drawn across the surface, with a distinct Chinese flavour. As before, Peranakan porcelain is fairly expensive but, with a bit of bargaining, you can reach an affordable price.
Peranakan porcelain can be found in the Antiques of the Orient, located at Tanglin Shopping Centre (19 Tanglin Road), or Rumah Bebe, located at 113 East Coast Road.
Many of the traditional dresses across the ethnic cultures of Singapore, such as the Peranakan, Indian and Malay cultures, are made from batik-textiles. They are typically colourful and adorned with interesting patterns. Not only are the designs numerous, but they are also extremely comfortable to wear. The prices range from S$8 for table clothes all the way up to S$1,000 for high-quality pieces, depending on what type you wish to buy.
Batik-textiles can be found in the many shops lining Arab Street, which is near Bugis MRT station. Among them are Silk Studio, Warna Fabrics, Basharahil House of Batik and more. The choice is really spoiling. If you cannot find what you want, Little India also has a wide array of textile shops, the biggest of which is Mustafa Centre (320 Serangoon Road).
3. Merlion Statue
Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore, representing Singapore's origin as a fishing village in the past and Singapore's original name, Singapura. In itself, the statue is the very image of Singapore, and one cannot say they've been to Singapore unless they've seen the Merlion statue and/or bought a miniature copy thereof for themselves.
A wide variety of Merlion statuettes in various forms can be found in the small shops along Chinatown, which cost around $5 to S$20 dollars apiece, depending on the size. One of the bigger shops would be in the Chinatown Heritage Centre, which is near Chinatown MRT station (opposite Hong Lim Complex).
4. Risis Orchid
The orchid has been a uniquely Singaporean gift since the 1960s, when a Singaporean chemist came upon the idea of preserving beautiful orchids as a gift for his fiancée. After a series of experiments, the RISIS orchid was born – a fresh orchid preserved in a coat of copper, nickel and, finally, pure 24-carat gold. The RISIS orchid is a gift that perfectly captures Singapore's natural beauty and her rich Asian heritage. It comes in various forms, such as the Den Li Min Eng Orchid Pen Holder, costing S$90, or the Aerdv Vieng Ping Orchid Brooch, costing S$56, or many others.
RISIS orchids can be found at the RISIS gift galleries in Suntec City Mall (3 Temasek Boulevard) or Centrepoint Shopping Centre (176 Orchard Road).
5. Traditional Beadwork
Unique and attractive beadwork articles stand out on clothing, shoes or cloth, and generally make them more beautiful as a whole. Materials for such beadwork have been in high demand across the many ethnic cultures of Singapore, such as the Peranakans. The latter are particularly renowned for the excellent beadwork they make and for trying hard to preserve their culture in Singapore.
Fortunately, courtesy of their efforts, items with traditional beadwork and materials for their making are still readily available in the right places throughout Singapore. One such place, that offers not only custom-made Peranakan items but also classes in beading, is called Rumah Bebe and found at 113 East Coast Road in Katong. Other, smaller shops can be found along Arab Street as well, which is near Bugis MRT station.
6. Malay Jewelry
Much like in any other culture, Malay females adorn themselves with attractive jewellery pieces unique to their culture, including exquisite gold jewellery in flowery designs. Other Malay brooches, pins and assorted jewellery can be purchased for a bargain in several locations in Singapore. With a bit of haggling with the vendors, they are relatively inexpensive. Such jewellery would be an excellent gift for any female companion or partner.
Similarly to the textiles, Malay jewellery can be found along Arab Street, which is near Bugis MRT station. Another place with a wide choice is Joo Chiat Complex (1 Joo Chiat Road).
7. Local Snacks
If there's one thing Singapore is famous for worldwide, it is definitely the local food. Every ethnic culture in Singapore boasts its own variety of snacks and pastes, and given the many ethnicities present in Singapore, it is no surprise that one would be spoilt for choice here, food-wise. Popular snacks, such as Chinese kueh, Malay chempedak and goreng pisang, and Indian jalebi and kesari, are just a few of the favourites enjoyed by locals and foreigners alike. The best part is that they can easily be purchased for less than a dollar each almost anywhere in Singapore.
The largest variety of ethnic snacks and pastes can be found in their respective hometowns. For Chinese snacks, Chinatown would be the place to go. For Malay, it would definitely be Kampong Glam. Indian snacks can be found in abundance at Little India.
8. Traditional Dresses
Each culture in Singapore has its own unique set of traditional dress. Malay traditional wear, for example, such as Baju Kurung, Baju Melayus and Hijabs, boasts an array of bright colours and comfortable material. Each article of clothing costs about S$15 to S$20.
Chinese traditional dress is simple and elegant – common articles of Chinese clothing include cheongsam and qipao, each costing about S$40 to S$70, and can be found along Chinatown in abundance, especially during the Chinese New Year season.
Malay traditional wear can be found in the small shops along Arab Street, which is near Bugis MRT station, such as Aladdin's and Warna Fabrics.
9. Tiger Beer
Tiger Beer is one of Singapore's finest products. Having won over 40 international awards and accolades, it is sold in more countries around the world than any other Asian beer brand. Indeed, this beverage in a way is representative of Singapore's growth from a village to a thriving city, and should definitely not be missed.
Tiger Beer can be found almost anywhere in Singapore – in coffee shops, supermarkets, or any small mini-mart, with the price ranging from S$3-4 per bottle or S$2-3 per can.
10. Traditional & Custom-Made Perfume
Fragrances and perfumes are unique to each culture in Singapore, and some cultures even believe that natural oils possess healing properties. In fact, different perfumes are specifically made for different occasions. Mixing perfume oils is a fine art that has been preserved by each respective culture over many years, and these special fragrances are relatively easy to find in Singapore, much due to their fairly low prices, dependent, in turn, on the type of fragrance chosen.
Jamal Kazura Aromatics specializes in perfume oils, and stocks perfumes under its own brand, JR Fragrances. These can be found in Kampong Glam, Mustafa Centre or Joo Chiat Complex.
11. Ya Kun Kaya
Back in the early 1900s, half-boiled eggs, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee or tea were a favourite menu for breakfast among coolies, merchants and even businessmen in Singapore. A century on, this breakfast set is still much popular among the old and young Singaporeans alike. One of the most popular eateries that specialize in this set is Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestall. For instance, one can get a 290-gram bottle of Ya Kun's popular kaya for breakfast every morning, or a twin pack of 80 grams per bottle of kaya, which costs about S$5.
Ya Kun's kaya can be found at any of the Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestalls in major shopping centres all around Singapore.
12. Bak Kwa Chocolates
'Bak Kwa', or barbequed pork, is a popular gift among the Chinese in Singapore and, increasingly, even among other local ethnic groups as well. It is usually given out during the Chinese New Year. Going a step further, Cacao7 has incorporated this favourite snack into their chocolate repertoire, calling it 'Bak Kwa' choclates. A box of 20 costs between S$30 and S$40.
Cacao7 'Bak Kwa' chocolates can be found at Cacao7 Chocolate & Low Carb Bar @ OC, in Orchard Central (181 Orchard Road).
13. Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling
Singapore's famous Sling cocktail was invented in the early 1900s, originally through mixing together gin, Cheery Heering, Benedictine, and fresh pineapple juice. However, its most distinctive ingredient is the foamy top that is created by mixing in Sarawak pineapples. It is indeed a cocktail that is both unique and sophisticated. Nowadays, the Singapore Sling Original Mix can be purchased for personal mixing. If one would like to indulge himself in the cocktail immediately, there is retailed Singapore Sling Cocktail Drink available. For a different taste, chocolate connoisseurs can enjoy the Singapore Sling Chocolates as well.
Each of the above-mentioned items can be purchased at the True Heritage Brew's Singapore Sling Boutique shop located in the heart of Clarke Quay (3B River Valley Road), for prices ranging from S$10 to S$150, depending on the item.
14. Traditional Musical Instruments
Back in the old days, musical instruments in Singapore were used primarily for entertaining the royalty and/or important guests. Today, they serve mostly as unique and melodious, sweet-sounding gifts set to please the ears of music lovers and collectors alike. Instruments, such as pipa or liuqin, are of portable size and, hence, are easy to carry around.
Several music stores throughout Singapore, namely Ranking Sports and Music at Bras Basah Complex, hold a decent stock of traditional local instruments.
15. Bak Kwa
Bak Kwa', or barbecued pork, is a favourite snack of the Chinese. Each slice is marinated and barbecued to rich, juicy perfection, and is guaranteed to treat one's taste buds well. As if that's not enough, Singapore-based Bee Cheng Hiang company added its own unique taste – cheese – to the flavor, making it absolutely delicious and uniquely Singaporean. The cheese 'Bak Kwa' is sold in tiny 'EZ packs' and costs $30-40 per pack of 600 grams.
Cheese 'Bak Kwa' can be found at any of the 37 Bee Cheng Hiang outlets in Singapore. Its main branch is at 1359 Serangoon Road or 189 New Bridge Road.