10 Singapore Heritage Bakeries and Shops – For Old School Cakes And Kueh
Originally, I had wanted to publish a book on old-school bakeries and cake shops in Singapore, to remember bits and pieces of memories of my childhood.
Finding these shops, getting the owners to share their histories and stories, and documenting through photos and recordings, was way more challenging than I envisioned. Especially when I am still holding on to my day-job.
However, I WILL NOT GIVE UP, and hope that I can complete this piece of work.
If you are the owner of an old-school bakery, or have personal contacts to any, do let me know.
10 Singapore Heritage Bakeries and Shops – For Old School Cakes And Kueh (in alphabetical order)
105 Clementi Road Street 12 (Sunset Way) #01-06 Singapore 120105
Tel: +65 6779 2064
Opening Hours: 9:00am – 8:00pm Daily
While Singapore gained her independence in 1965, Balmoral Bakery opened in December the same year, founded by Hainanese ‘Ah Kohs’ (big brothers) as a complement to the famed Balmoral Steak House at Holland Village which was frequented by the British armed forces.
The owner then loved all things English, named his shop after a castle in Scotland, and sold English treats such as butter cake, rum balls and beef pies. Balmoral’s pastry chef picked up his baking skills at the cake section of Robinson’s Department Store (which was destroyed by fire in 1972).
The shop continues to be frequented by customers, many to buy their Cream Horns filled with rich buttercream, and old school buttery Beef Pies.
Hainan Xiao Chi
22 Toa Payoh Lorong 7 #01-35 Singapore 310022
Tel: +65 93381903
Opening Hours: 7am – 1pm
The Hainanese has a saying, that a piece of kueh cannot be complete without coconut. This represents the importance of coconut palm sugar in their cakes and snacks.
The Yi Buah is something I have never really seen before, a Hainanese kueh made of glutinous rice flour then stuffed with fillings such as coconut, sesame and peanut. The word “Yi” represents memories, and the cake has come to symbolise bliss, joy and harmony among families and friends.
Hainan Xiao Chi continues to make Yi Buah by hand, and sells other Hainanese food such as “ji shi geng”, literally meaning chicken poop soup because the ingredients look like it. Don’t worry – it is actually cooked from the root of a herb.
230 Victoria Street #01-01A Bugis Junction Towers Singapore 188024
Opening Hours: 8am – 9pm
Original outlet: 30 Seng Poh Road, Tiong Bahru Market, #02-25 (Closes 2pm)
Behind the signature homemade glutinous rice and Nonya kueh of Harry Ann, is a wonderful story of love and family ties.
The stall was founded by couple Harry and Ann who learnt traditional Nonya kueh making from Harry’s mother. Harry’s mother Mdm Chia had to raise the family up single-handedly through selling glutinous rice, after their father passed away suddenly in a freak accident at the Singapore River.
So the taste of the chu bee png has largely remained unchanged, and cakes continue to be made by hand.
Le Café Confectionery & Pastry
264 Middle Road (Opposite Wilkie Edge behind Rochor Beancurd)
Tel: +65 6337 2417
Opening Hours: 10.30am – 7.00pm Mon–Sat ; 10.30am – 4.00pm Sun & PH
Le Café’s lady boss Betty, still clothed in a 60s style of sleeveless dress and orange spectacles, is proud that heavenly king Andy Lau had once ordered his Golden Horse awards celebration cake from her – and it was Le Cafe’s signature black forest cake.
Le Café was established in 1949, and has been in same the Middle Road location for 60 odds years. But few would know they started off as a zhi char shop, and started selling cakes in the 60s when ‘Guo Da Li‘ (betrothal gift exchange) cakes became widely sought after. Though they are more known for their pineapple golf balls and beancurd tarts now.
These ‘Guo Da Li’ cakes were traditionally given to the bride’s family two weeks before the wedding to be distributed to friends and relatives together with the invitation card.
Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery
Blk 84 Bedok North Street 4 #01-21, Singapore 460084 (Near Feng Shan Food Centre, Tanah Merah MRT, take bus no 14, 4 bus stops).
Opening Hours: 6:30am – 6:00pm (Mon-Sat), 6:30am – 2:00pm (Sun)
Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery, located at Bedok North, started back in 1967 in a simple kampong kitchen at Changi Village. Although the family is Teochew, owner Madam Sing learnt the skills of nonya cake making from her father’s Peranakan ‘shi-fu’.
While she was initially happy making kueh for the kampong, her ‘Ang Ku Kueh‘ (red tortoise cake) became too popular in the 1980s precisely because Singapore had a baby boom, and many families ordered that as first month cakes for the newly born to symbolise blessings. She eventually opened her official shop in 1987 which, until today, has remained at the same location.
Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-50 Singapore 150122
Tel: +65 6278 2385
Opening Hours: 12pm – 10pm
This is one bakery where residents around Bukit Merah (opposite the Alexandra Village Food Centre) continue to go to for their butter cakes, custard pastries and hotdog buns.
Nothing much has really changed in terms of décor and offerings from as far as I can remember, where an uncle would be behind a counter, and you can get slices of creamy cakes covered in chocolate sprinkles.
Ng Kim Lee
4 Chun Tin Road Singapore 599591
Tel: +65 6466 3515
Opening Hours: 9am – 9pm (Mon-Sat), 9pm – 1pm (Sun)
Ng Kim Lee at Bt Timah has been around for more than 60 years, selling Teochew-style pastries and old school Western cakes.
Some Teochew families still continue to order wedding cakes and betrothal baskets from them. Other than the old-school tau sar pia, they are known for their mushroom pies, muffins and butter cakes.
Blk 6, Beach Road #01-4869 Singapore 190006 (near Beach Road Army Market)
Tel: +65 6295 3965)
Opening Hours 7am – 8pm Daily
Sembawang Confectionery was first set up in Katong back in 1962, then at Thomson Road and was well-liked for its chicken pies, curry puffs and sausage rolls. However, popularity of these items went down due to the widespread opening of modern bread shops.
Even then, the owner refused to be stingy on ingredients, while insisting on keeping prices low. He shared three formulas to keep his customers loyal: Use quality ingredients; make good food; and sell them cheaper than others.
Its present location at Beach Road would zap you into a time machine back to the past, with its tiled flooring, red lanterns and sale of old-school cakes. Of course I was surprised to find the Traffic Light Cake ($1.20). I haven’t seen these since I left primary school.
Updated: Sembawang Confectionery has been bought over by Cooking Art.
Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry
55 Tiong Bahru Road #01-39 Singapore 160055 (5 min walk from Tiong Bahru Market)
Tel: +65 6324 1686
Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 9am-9pm, Closed Mon
When asked the year Tiong Bahru Galicier was founded, owner Jenny Soh looked a little stunned (as if nobody ever asked that question before), “Before the world war, before I was born!” and laughed. She still had a photo dated 1975 of her old shop located at Orchard Road, and said she would have been a very rich woman had her shop not made way for the shopping centres.
Fans of nonya cakes have to be careful stepping into Tiong Bahru Galicier. It sells so many old-fashioned kueh you would feel like buying the entire shop! Getting to know their products is an excellent food history lesson!
Their variety include the orange Pandan Tapioca Cake (60 cents), Ondeh Ondeh (60 cents), Kueh Kosoi (70 cents), Kueh Ambon honeycomb cake ($1.20) and Kueh Salat (90 cents).
Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring
970 Geylang (Onan Road Mr Teh Tarik Coffee Stall) #01-12 Singapore 423492
Tel: +65 94229017
Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm (Mon-Thurs), 11am – 11pm (Fri-Sat), 10am – 11pm (Sun)
This stall at Onan Road was very busy during noon time, with 4-5 ‘makcik’ dressed in ebony white, making putu piring in quick precision and systematic rhythm.
These Malay desserts look like the Chinese kueh tutu, but the origins are said to be from India.
The round cakes were made of ground rice flour, filled with gula Melaka (palm sugar) in the centre, covered with another layer of rice flour and then steamed in metal conical moulds for about 5 minutes.
Owner Mohamad Hashim first learnt how to make the putu piring from his grandmother, and had continues to do so for 20 years. His son and daughter-in-law continued to manage one of the two stalls.
Many of these treasures are fast-disappearing, replaced by machinery, I find it even more crucial to document them before they are long gone.
Some of these interviews, turned out to be reflective and emotional, as owners retold their journeys from learning to selling cakes. Many of them were forced by circumstances, to raise a family during times of uncertainty.
It was during these conversations I learnt more about Singapore and appreciate what I have more.
* Thank you to the owners of several heritage bakeries for sharing your stories. If you are the owner of an old-school bakery, or have personal contacts to any, do let me know at [email protected]
March 22, 2017