Hello everyone! I’m back with the Hawker Heritage series! The last post I did was ages ago, and it was about Chinese steamed buns, aka pau.
A few months back (Yes, I’m terrible when I procrastinate blog posts), I went on a hawker heritage trail in Chinatown. My dad, the wise old foodie, knowing my interest in traditions and Singapore’s hawker culture, brought me to visit a few of the early hawkers in Chinatown area.
Kickstarting this series is Poh Guan Cake Shop!
I just realised that they even have a Facebook page, which is pretty impressive, considering that they’ve been open since 1930. Two thumbs up for the effort.
If you were scurrying past, as many of us do, you would probably disregard Poh Guan Cake Shop as any old school bakery. But if you just took a moment to slow down and look, you’ll realise that the goods that they have on offer are rarely found in other bakeries. Or at least, the sheer selection is hard to beat.
The assortment of kuehs are impressive, and I love seeing my parents getting all excited by their childhood snacks, as they eagerly point out their favourites. My personal favourite was the orange huat kueh that you see in the background of the above picture.
I think my foodie father influenced my love for it. I used peel the slices, and roll them into bite-sized balls and eat them as they were, sometimes with a dip of butter. Another way to enjoy them is in freshly-steamed slices… all you have to do is slather on some peanut butter while they are still hot, and you have a delicious breakfast. The more-ish-ness of the kuehs are hard to beat.
He also sells those traditional mooncake pigs I used to see when I was young, alongside the traditional mooncakes without all the unnecessary frills that we get with overpriced mooncakes nowadays.
The boss, Mr Chan Kim Ho, is no stranger to being in the spotlight, and has been featured in the news several times.
They were featured again recently for making traditional Teochew moon cakes, which are studded with sesame seeds, and the size of a plate. A rare sight in Singapore indeed! Apart from these Teochew moon cakes which can be filled with green bean/red bean paste (La Bia) or even steamed black sesame cakes (La Gao), he also makes traditional cantonese mooncakes filled with lotus paste. They may not look perfect, but they sure do taste good!
He sits there everyday, at the rustic cashier, with the olden day calendars lined behind him. I asked him if I could take a photo with him, and he readily agreed. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he commented something about rarely having a photo with young people nowadays. I strongly agree! We should still try to get to know some of our local culture and traditions, even as we progress as a nation.
The boss is in his mid 80s but he still has the most jovial smile on his face. Sadly, I didn’t get to talk to him in greater detail as there were other customers, but it was still nice to have gotten a chance to meet a pioneer hawker 😀
If you don’t recognise these cakes, these are colourful steamed cakes that are often eaten dipped in orange sugar. You can often find miniature versions sold in franchises, but the authentic ones are hard to come by.
The bright pink buns are chinese steamed buns which resemble longevity peaches, and are filled with a sweet lotus paste filling. They are one of my favourite traditional chinese snacks! They are usually served at birthdays or other auspicious moments to signify longevity.
We bought a couple of snacks, one of which was their tau sar piah. Tau Sar Piah is usually filled with a mung bean paste filling, and covered in a flaky pastry. My favourite is from Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah, but that’s a post for another time. (Spoiler: I saw the boss too!)
His Tau Sar Piah was average, much like the traditional ones my parents said they ate when they were young. But it was still fun to have a taste of tradition, quite literally.
Yet another local snack he makes are these sticky chewy peanut kuehs. Well I’m not quite sure if they are kuehs, but they have a very chewy consistency, and filled with sweet peanuts.
I didn’t try this from his stall, but I’ve eaten before, and I would say that it is an acquired taste, since there is an aftertaste that I can’t quite put my finger on, which lingers after the flavours from the peanuts have disappeared.
I also remember seeing this yellow spongey disc-like snack I used to eat, which was another childhood favourite of mine. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo and I can’t find a photo of it. If anyone knows what I’m describing, do let me know the name!
The photos were actually taken at the oldest Yakun outlet in Singapore, but that’s saved for another post.
I just want to give you a glimpse into the kind of pastries our parents ate when they were young, and perhaps raise awareness in the younger generations of the existence of these old school snacks and bakeries! Please try them in case they close down 🙁
Prices are affordable of course, and you get to enjoy a sweet treat which costs a tenth of those cakes you get in cafes. Poh Guan Cake Shop has everything from Beh Teh Soh (a pastry with a sweet chestnut paste filling) to Wive’s Biscuit (老婆饼）which is filled with a sweet winter melon paste and coated in a thin layer of pastry. There are so many variations, and some of these pastries even have interesting stories behind them.
Even though I didn’t know the names to some of these items, t hope you managed to learn a little bit about some of the snacks that were, and are, a part of Singapore’s food heritage. Perhaps you’re even feeling the urge to go on your own Chinatown food trail?
I mean, what better way to learn about your traditions than through food? 😛
Stay tuned for more updates in this series! I’ve got a couple more posts lined up for you, including Ya Kun’ oldest stall and one of Singpaore’s best kueh stores 😀
Address: #01-57 Hong Lim Complex, 531 Upper Cross St, 050531
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