Traditional bakeries in Singapore

 

Many of us love a freshly baked slice of butter cake or ham bun with our morning kopi, but do we really know much about the labour of love that goes into producing these delicious confectioneries?

My interest in these traditional bakeries was piqued when I chanced upon a newspaper article that shed some light on this industry. With the emergence of modern bakery chains, such old family-run businesses have been dwindling over the years. In fact, the estimates put those still plying the trade to be about a dozen island-wide. With the difficulty in getting workers and the tough nature of the job, it’s a challenge to keep these businesses afloat. 

To set up a photo shoot at these bakeries, I compiled a list of the more established bakeries and contact the owners one by one. To my dismay, I was rejected by every bakery. I was also turned down when I personally visited one of them. The reasons being, “we do not wish for any publicity”, “no, we are too busy”, or “no, we do not want to be interrupted.” I had a feeling that my half-baked Mandarin was unconvincing too.

Fortunately, I mentioned this endeavour to my photo buddy, who knew a good friend whose uncle owns a traditional bakery. However, this friend was working in France. An email and several phone calls later, we managed to secure a session one week later at the popular Serangoon Garden Bakery and Confectionery.

 

The Art of Baking in Singapore

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery1.jpgTraditional bakeries still need help from machinery. Getting that dough ready for thousands of buns, cakes, and rolls takes huge amount of energy and skill. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery2.jpgThe dough of sugar butter buns, ready and waiting to be baked.  

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery3.jpgLuncheon meat buns! They’re not ready yet, though – please be patient.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery4.jpgSesame buns waiting to rise before entering the oven.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery5.jpgA peanut bun – one of the shop’s most popular items.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery6.jpgGreat teamwork makes the cramped quarters more productive. There’s a fluidity and speed in the work that only years of working together can foster. The bakers hardly talk but they know what is needed.   

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery7.jpgThe machine may have helped plenty, but loads of human input is still required to get things done. Traditional bakeries are labour-intensive – their work hours start at 4am! Not many young people can take such tough work.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery8.jpgGetting ready for cake mixes – each master baker knows the ingredients needed by heart, having committed the recipes to memory long ago.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery9.jpgA cake is ready to go, and it’s perfectly baked! It looks easy and fun here, but you have to be able to take the heat – especially from the oven.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery10.jpgTrays and trays of cake dough await their turn in the oven. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery11.jpgThese freshly baked cupcakes are ready for your local version of high tea – throw in a latte and you’re good to go.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery12.jpgThese butter cakes are a perennial favourite among the shop’s faithful patrons. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery13.jpgWhen was the last time you had a cream puff? Taste nostalgia for just under a dollar.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery14.jpgThese hot dog buns are perfect for a quick savoury snack.  

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery15.jpgFreshly baked ham buns – still “breathing” after exiting the oven. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery16.jpgThe buns are about to be snapped up!

b2ap3_thumbnail_bakery17.jpgThis is just a section of the constant queue. Luckily, the staff get to pack up for a well-deserved rest by mid-afternoon.  

 

Support your local bakery

 

The 30-year-old Serangoon Garden Bakery and Confectionery is located at the Serangoon Garden Market and Food Centre. It’s closed on Mondays, but it opens daily at 7.30am and is usually sold out by 3.30pm. You can’t miss it – just follow the snaking queues.

Serangoon Garden Bakery and Confectionery is just one of the many local bakeries dotted around our tiny island, of course – look hard enough and you’ll find one in your neighbourhood.  

With this labour of love, I hope I’ve managed to pay tribute to these beloved bakeries – or just one bakery, in this case. Here’s hoping readers will enjoy this and support these heartland gems before they are all gone.