In any given restaurant, almost anywhere in the world, I’ll always be the girl that gets handed the menu and immediately turns to the back page to look at desserts. My fingers have become conditioned to doing it instinctively. This inclination will not work out well for my teeth, my waistline or my heart in the future so believe me when I say, I do try and curtail it. That said, over in Singapore last year, some of the delicious deserts I came across were so unusual, unique and unfamiliar that I almost felt I had a duty to “research” them. Ahem..
Singapore’s Delicious Desserts
I always endeavour to try to find local food specialities during my travels but in Singapore, even local specialities are internationally inspired, since it is a country made up of a mix of populations including Chinese, Malay and Indian and large communities of ex-pats. I didn’t have a single bad meal in Singapore and the quality of the food there was just one of the things that surprised me about this little nation.
The sweet treats I have outlined below went some way towards reflecting the mosaic population so you’ll forgive me, I hope, for including some Japanese delicacies amongst this list!
A traditional dessert from Malaysia, this is easily the strangest dessert I’ve ever eaten and my portion was found at Plaza Singapura food court on Orchard Road. Served in a bowl and more akin to a semi slush-puppie / semi cold soup, this delicacy was made of crushed ice, coconut milk, pandan sugar shavings and sweet red beans.
The beans made it very filling, almost a meal in its own right and there was no way I was ever going to finish this volume of coconut milk. It was very refreshing in the humidity that was starting to take its toll on us and in a very bizarre way, it almost felt a bit virtuous with its bulk of pulses but although I was glad to have tried this dessert, I can’t say it was something I would be ordering again in a hurry. 😀
Pandan Chiffon Cake
Pandan leaves and flavouring are not so easy to locate in the UK, though I have succeeded in finding a handful of pandan cakes and products at Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown, London. Since my first introduction to pandan in Thailand a decade ago, I have yearned to sample just one more bite of its mild and sweet flavour. It is a common ingredient, used widely in East and South East Asia and the chiffon cake is one of the most loved ways to enjoy this flavour.
The chiffon cake is so-called because it is so light and airy that it just melts in the mouth. I found this one at a Malaysian dessert stall at the Paragon Mall and as an enthused but simple home-baker, I of course purchased a couple of bottles of pandan essence sitting proudly amongst my other, better known, baking ingredients.
Angku Kueh and Ondeh-Ondeh
These colourful, traditional Malay, sweet bites were found at the same stall as the pandan cake. Both are made from an outside casing of glutinous rice; the green Onde-Onde is filled with a molten sugary core that fills your mouth once you bite through (apologies for the lack of Ondeh-Ondeh photo but it was in my gut by the time I remembered) and the Angku Kueh (sometimes known as red tortoise cake) can come with a variety of fillings such as red bean, peanut, mung bean and palm sugar.
They were nice for a light bite, the kind of thing that would serve well as petits-four but I just didn’t gel (mind the pun) with the sticky rice exteriors.
Mr Obanyaki Pancakes
My final dessert of the trip was to be found at a food hall at Takashimaya. If you’ve visited Harrods or Selfridges in London, you’d be forgiven for thinking that is exactly where you are, as the layouts were quite similar and some concession brands were identical, such as Godiva.
What distinguished it, though, and what drew my attention were the abundance of Japanese desserts whether you just fancy a matcha and red bean ice cream (I wanted one of just about everything in this food hall but what was that thing about self-discipline I was mumbling about at the start of this post?) Instead, I opted for the more unusual Mr Obanyaki pancake with kaya jam and peanut.
I’ve been trying to think about how to describe it. Think of a pancake come doughnut, half filled with peanut paste inside the batter, half with kaya jam, which is like a sweetened curd made of eggs, coconut milk (and occasionally pandan.)
It reminded me of a very soft, peanut butter sandwich but with a decadent doughnut-like filling combining these flavours and housed in pancake-style batter. Perfect comfort food.
Ice Cream Sandwich
I’ve had ice cream sandwiches before. You see them in packets in England sandwiched between layers of biscuit or wafer but in Singapore, they are served in actual bread, soft enough that your fingers leave a gentle impression, rather like a brioche and with swirls of colour. A very generous slab of ice cream in stacked in the middle before the bread is compactly folded over for you to hold.
Always one to try something a bit different, I opted for yam, which was rather on the subtle side. Pumpkin instead went for mint chocolate, tasting identical to the standard tubs of mint choc chip we used to try as children. (I myself had never been a fan of mint and chocolate ice creams or desserts until this fine restaurant in Bali, which we had visited just a few days earlier, finally managed to persuade me.)
The ice cream flavours in the sandwiches were not particularly noteworthy in themselves but encased in one bite surrounded by a piece of bread so soft and buttery made it an ideal mid-afternoon snack, particularly as our clothes became progressively more sweat-drenched in the kind of temperatures our British bottoms were clearly not built for.
Japanese Cream Puffs
I’ll let you in on a confession about this cream puff. Despite the fact I have never been to Japan, I somehow managed to develop a bit of an obsession with the Beard Papa cream puff stores that opened in London a few years ago. My sister and I were regular frequenters down there but almost as quickly as it arrived on our soils, it vanished again, leaving us Londoners cream-puff-less. (If you know where I can find a similar cream puff dessert in London, I’ll be forever grateful!)
When I heard Tampopo mentioned as the place to locate the best cream puffs in Singapore, we got into a pricey cab and took a detour to grab one. How patiently Pumpkin navigates me from one cake shop to another. Can you imagine how our faces dropped when we got there and the lady told us “cream puff sold out.”
“But I came specially to try it”, I shrieked, my eyes revealing the extent of my disappointment. She stared back at me bemusedly, offering me a range of alternatives (and I am sure, secretly wondering how someone coming across as certifiably insane could have possibly made it through immigration?!)
As I sat drowning my cream puff sorrows in something else, slowly trying to come to terms with the fact that I ought to join a dessert support group (perhaps the meetings could be held at a patisserie), my ever-loving Pumpkin suggested we go back there the next day to try again and sure enough, it was second time lucky! The choux pastry with its delicious, custard filling, was worth all the drama and given that we had gone to so much trouble, we saw no point in sharing so also ordered a matcha flavoured choux bun.
Have you been to Singapore? Did you try any desserts or sweet treats out there?