As I sat at a chain cafe drinking my usual decaf mocha, working away on essays and research, it dawned on me – the clear reality that I have never been to a café that both satisfied my need for drinks and intellectual stimulation. A place where staying long hours was encouraging, with drinks we all crave and all the material I could ever need to satiate my curiosity about a topic.
So, I did a little digging and found two amazing options, both in the heart of Singapore. Both have interesting and rich histories to their existence, and both pride themselves in their intellectual and gastronomical caterings.
The Grassroots Book Room
The Grassroots Book Room is right at the edge of Chinatown. Hidden among the shop houses, it’s a gem that showcases the best of local literature and Chinese works. By focusing on local works, their range of books dives into topics or issues that we all can relate to.
The Grassroots Book Room first opened as a book store in 1995, by Yeng Pway Ngon, but in 2015, he passed it on to Lim Jen Erh (former journalist and dramatist), Lim Yeong Shin (who runs the store) and Lim Wooi Tee (a medical doctor). Yeng himself is an acclaimed local writer, with three novels that have won the Singapore Literature prize: Unrest (2002), Trivialities About Me And Myself (2006) and The Studio (2011). His books can be found among many other local and acclaimed titles.
Sandwiched between a row of shophouses, The Grassroots Book Room sits unassuming among its neighbours. As soon as you step in, you are greeted with books from floor to ceiling with a generous mix of English and Chinese titles. You will immediately notice covers and artworks that depict local life in Singapore.
As you walk in further, you’re in the café section. Due to overcrowding from a reading event, I was not able to grab a seat or order off the menu. However, the prices seemed really reasonable, at $5-7 for a drink and $7 for a generous slice of cake – easily allowing you to satisfy your thirst and munchies as you go about your reading.
The Grassroots Book Room is the ideal cafe for the inner literary buff. Especially if you have a focus on both English and Chinese literature that covering a local perspective.
The Grassroots Book Room
25 Bukit Pasoh Rd
Just as the moon was the spark that pushed mankind to better understanding our place in our solar system, books at The Moon can helps us better understand our place within our society. With the aim of exposing their customers to a diversity of opinions and perspectives, The Moon ensures that half of their collection is written by women and encompasses people of colour.
Every book is carefully selected, with a member of staff designated to help curate every book, which are evaluated by every member on staff; everyone is encouraged to have an input on what to bring in next. In a bid to promote a healthier sense of self awareness, The Moon focuses their collection on topics like Philosophy, Mind&Body, Travel, and even graphic novels if it covers a topic we should pay attention to. Their collection aims to drive our curiosity to better understand ourselves and our society at large.
Sarah Naeem, the owner, had spent much of her childhood jumping between Singapore and Lahore, Pakistan. While in Singapore, she missed the bookstores she grew accustomed to back in Lahore, which were simple, lined with books and had seats littered around the store. Sarah fondly remembers spending hours at bookstores there, and never wanting to leave.
With the aim of recreating the homely feel of a bookstore in Lahore, The Moon has comfy seats, power points at every table, and a chilll ambiance so you can feel comfortable for hours. It’s a place to spend hours doing work, reading or meeting friends. And with staff who try to get to know you, you really feel welcomed.
As for food and drinks, they are all kept well under $10. The cold brew tea is fruity and sweet, while the iced chocolate substitutes dairy milk with coconut milk, catering to our lactose intolerant friends. The Moon tries to cater to people with allergies too – even the cakes don’t contain most common allergens, without sacrificing flavour or quality.
37 Mosque Street
For mind and body
With an ever-present café culture in Singapore and the decline of physical bookstores, both the Grassroots Book Room and The Moon are paving the way to a beautiful merger of the two. Retaining the comforts of a modern café and the nostalgia of our old-timey bookstores. With dedicated spaces at both cafes for events, food for cravings and thought-provoking books, it’s hard to not wander in, to grab a coffee while satisfying our curiosity.