Sweet Reminders Of The Past

From traditional kueh to the fanciest Western confections, Alexandra Village has it all 

6/30/2017 2:24:06 PM
written By : Nivruthi Prasad Print

American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer once said, “Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.” He could have been speaking for Singapore, where food is more than just a national pastime. As globalisation and our Instagram feeds pique a nation’s curiosity and craving for novel gastronomic experiences, traditional local fare becomes an ever more crucial link between its citizens and its heritage. The bakeries and confectionaries of Alexandra Village are a perfect example of how seamlessly tradition is juxtaposed with modernity in Singapore. Here, timeless traditional recipes and family heirlooms live on in the array of delightfully sticky kuehs and soft pandan cakes sold in decades-old shops which exist alongside newer bakeries with modern offerings like decadent cheesecakes, cupcakes and brownies.

At nine as the sleepy neighbourhood of Alexandra Village begins to yawn awake, shop shutters slowly open to beckon another day of business. Starting work well before the other shops are bakeries like Love Confectionary, a family-run business whose owners start baking at five in the morning. The shop, run by a Teochew family, has been in the same location for 38 years. At a time when even neighbourhood bakeries boast fancy confections with French-sounding names, golden oldies like Love Confectionary hark back to simpler times and tastes. The soft buns, light and spongy cakes, generously-sized custard puffs and array of biscuits on display are reminiscent of after-school treats that almost every Singaporean would have enjoyed. It is perhaps this nostalgia that draws people, both young and old, to the shop like a magnet; there is almost always a steady stream of customers visiting the shop. The shop’s owners, Ai Keow, who is 75, and Ah Chui, 80, man the bakery till about 10pm every day. Their three sons pitch in too; they come in as early as 5am to start baking, and leave around 12pm. 

Their neighbour, Chinatown Tai Chong Kok Confectionery Hue Kee, is also a family-run business that boasts a long history. They have been in Alexandra Village for 20 years, while their Chinatown branch has been around for 30 years. According to a relative of the family, it is run by an elderly couple and two of their three sons, who came to help after finishing their degrees. 

It is not only the items sold at these confectioneries that are reminiscent of the past; the way in which they are sold also reminds one of how trade used to be done. Here, nobody ever asks for a receipt and some items do not even have a price tag on them, indicating that the business is built upon years of trust. In swanky, highly-wired Singapore where technology plays a significant role in keeping businesses in check, bakeries like Love Confectionary are reminders of an older generation whose moral compass, built on generations of trust and honour, never failed to point true North. 

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