Old-school kopitiam desserts
To me, a bowl of green bean soup is akin to my grandmother telling me, “Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” It’s what I grew up to - homemade green bean soup piping hot in the kitchen after long, tiring days in the classroom.
We’ve already covered Singapore’s veteran stalls that still prepare their dishes the traditional way, but nothing tastes more like home than old-school desserts. Inspired by its superpower as a timeless source of comfort, I embarked on a journey around Singapore to find the best traditional desserts in our kopitiams. Here’s a list of my top 11 favourites.
1. Xing Xing @ Maxwell
Mr Ang Tiong Guan wakes up at 3am every morning. Just like how we get out of bed to brush our teeth, cooking sweet potatoes has become part of his everyday routine. Together with his wife, they keep alive the hawker tradition of his parents, who used to peddle their dishes along China Street more than 60 years ago.
Two batches of Ondeh Ondeh ($0.50) are made fresh daily at 7am and 11am. While many stalls use pandan to make the kueh these days, here you’ll find the classic version with a handmade sweet potato ball. So good, it’s sold out within 2 hours. If you miss it, try their Tapioca Cake ($0.50) that’ll also give you a treat with its pillowy texture and light sweetness.
Address: 1 Kadayanallur Street, Maxwell Food Centre Stall #01-31, Singapore 069184
Opening Hours: 7am - 2pm, Closed on Sun
Contact: 9730 2833 / 9863 2833
2. 115 Tang Shui @ Chinatown
Hawker business is serious business for the Toh family, who runs 115 Tang Shui. Everything from the cooking, to the grinding of beans, and even the selection of ingredients are carried out by the family members and no one else.
Their dedication is evident with a taste of their traditional Cantonese style desserts. Featuring various traditional pastes such as peanut paste, black sesame paste, almond paste, and pumpkin corn paste, all the flavours haven’t changed since 1966.
Address: Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Blk 335 Smith Street, #02-206, Singapore 050336
Opening Hours: 7.30am - 5pm daily, Closed on Tue
Contact: 9820 6001
3. Cendol Geylang Serai @ Geylang Serai
Believe it or not, cendol existed even before the invention of ice - that’s how long its history dates back to. But it was only after shaved ice was added to the dish, that it became hugely popular in the region.
This corner stall at Geylang Serai prides itself as serving original Cendol ($1.50), with homemade cendol strips and sweet-salty coconut milk. Opened in 1952, the business is now run by a 2nd generation of brothers. A notice on the stall front proudly states “NO RED BEANS” - red beans are a sign of inauthenticity, I assume.
Address: 1 Geylang Serai, Geylang Serai Food Centre, Singapore 402001
Opening Hours: 8.30am - 6.30pm daily
Contact: 9485 5845
4. Zhao An Granny Grass Jelly @ Golden Mile
This is a story about a boy who decided to carry on the passion of his grandmother. Mdm Sim Sai Geok started selling grass jelly as a street hawker in 1946, back in the days of roving pushcarts. While she thought her legacy would end there, it was reignited by Mr Yeo Hwee Seng in 1996 with his grandma’s recipe.
It’s hard to find homemade grass jelly today. Knowing it’s made from scratch with a recipe that passed through generations adds a special charm to the Chin Chow ($1.30) here. And well, nothing beats an icy bowl in Singapore’s tropical heat!
Address: 505 Beach Road, Golden Mile Food Centre #01-58, Singapore 199583
Opening Hours: 11.30am - 8pm (Mon-Sun)
Contact: 9146 7313
5. Tiong Bahru Tao Suan @ Tiong Bahru
Tau Suan is one tough dessert to perfect. Made with split mung beans, you have to be careful they aren’t overcooked that they become mushy. The stall at Tiong Bahru succeeds in achieving the right bite and consistency, and it pairs superbly with their freshly made You Tiao. You don’t want to resist a bowl of Tao Suan ($1) next time you’re in the area.
Note: Tao Suan is only for sale in the morning until they’re sold out.
Address: Blk 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-55 Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre, Singapore 168898
Opening Hours: 7.30am - 3.30pm, Closed on Tue
6. Zhen Jie Dessert @ Amoy Street
Ask anyone to think of a uniquely Singaporean dessert, and an image of Ice Kachang will almost always come to mind. It worked for me, and 99% of my friends. This shows how quintessential the dessert is as part of our local food culture.
Zhen Jie Dessert is one place I was surprised to stumble upon while on my hunt! The stall used to be at Clementi more than 20 years ago, before moving to Amoy Street. While the stallowner's typical desserts are all still made by hand, I opted for the classic Ice Kachang ($2.80). It has all the traditional toppings like red bean, corn and sago, and a modern twist with a dash of matcha!
Address: 7 Maxwell Road, Amoy Street Food Centre #02-113, Singapore 069111
Opening Hours: 11am - 4pm (Mon-Fri)
7. 75 Ah Balling Peanut Soup @ Golden Mile
I loved Ah Ballings as a kid. Almost like a Kinder Surprise, biting into a ball without knowing what’s inside always got me all tingly and excited.
More than 60 years of tradition goes behind the Ah Balling ($2 for 4) at Golden Mile. And they’re the very best, with starchiness of the rice balls made possible only by hand. You can choose from 5 different flavours of fillings - peanut, sesame, red bean, yam and green tea. But I’ll say get them all!
Address: 505 Beach Road, Golden Mile Food Centre #01-75, Singapore 199583 (2nd outlet at Blk 85 Bedok North St 4, Fengshan Market & Food Centre #01-25)
Opening Hours: 11am - 8.30pm (Mon-Fri), 10am - 8.30pm (Sat-Sun)
Contact: 9760 5710
8. No Name Cheng Tng @ Bedok South
Bedok is famous when it comes to some local foods, and Cheng Tng is one of them. While their name isn’t plastered all over the newspapers - probably because they don’t have a name - word on the street is that No Name Cheng Tng is the lesser-known gem that gives them a run for their money.
Unlike the overpoweringly sweet syrupy versions, their Cheng Tng ($1.60) is filled with natural goodness from all the generous ingredients served - dried longan, white fungus, gingko nuts, dried persimmon, sweet potato, and more.
Address: Blk 69 Bedok South Ave 3, #01-468, Singapore 460069
Opening Hours: 3pm - 8.30pm (Mon), 12.30pm - 8.30pm (Tue-Sun)
Contact: 9181 1909
9. 75 Peanut Soup 57 @ Maxwell
Not to be confused with 75 Peanut Soup at Golden Mile, this little stall has been around for more than 60 years, moving to Maxwell after the transformation of China Street. It’s now run by Mr Peh Cheng Giap - a 3rd generation hawker and 63 years old.
His Peanut Soup ($1) is so rich and wholesome with a nutty aroma that I couldn’t stop till I wiped the bowl clean. Those who prefer more salty flavours should order the You Tiao as a side. In a nutshell, this is a MUST-TRY.
Address: 1 Kadayanallur Street, Maxwell Food Centre Stall #01-57, Singapore 069184
Opening Hours: 7.30am - 4pm daily, Closed on Mon
10. Xi Le Ting Dessert @ Commonwealth
For the most old-fashioned sweet desserts, this is one stall not to be missed. Made by an old granny who’s been a hawker since the 1960s, you’ve got to try her Red Bean Soup ($0.80) and Green Bean Soup with Sago ($0.80). They’re little bowls of home with the ability to teleport me back to my childhood days instantly!
Address: 31 Commonwealth Crescent, Commonwealth Crescent Food Centre #02-70, Singapore 149644
Opening Hours: 12pm - 10pm daily, Closed fortnightly on Mon & Tue
11. Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring @ Haig Road
With its legendary longevity, Haig Road Putu Piring is the evergreen traditional dessert. No other stall can compete with this one - it’s been around for 5 whole generations since 1985!
Even in the middle of the day, you’ll find long queues. But they work like an organised production line, churning out steamed cakes within mere seconds. The only way to eat the Putu Piring ($2 for 5) is with your bare hands. And eat them while they’re hot, and enjoy the gula melaka filling oozing out and melt in your mouth.
Address: Blk 14 Haig Road, Haig Road Market #01-07, Singapore 423492
Opening Hours: 11am - 10pm (Mon-Sat). 10am - 10pm (Sun)
Contact: 9456 7573
A sweet taste of nostalgia
Traditional desserts will always have a special place in our hearts. When you have a bad day, a bowl of old-school desserts never fail to work their magic and turn things around for the better. And they’re all found at our local kopitiams, so you won’t have to burn a hole in your pockets for a simple but sweet taste of nostalgia!