Forget flash-in-the-pan dessert trends—these heritage gems dish up sweets beloved for centuries

Basque cheesecake and cronuts have had their moment, but time-tested classics are iconic for a reason. From ang ku kuehs by the Tohs of Ji Xiang to sago gula melaka from Nonya Bong’s Jeffrey Chia, the towkays of these beloved names sell local speciality desserts that are a veritable labour of love.

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1. Jin Jin Hot/Cold Dessert

An established name in ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre, this storied stall of Ultimate Hawker Fest fame is run by half-Indonesian ex-DJ Ewan Tang and former insurance agent Calvin Ho. Foiled in their attempts to secure a good spot for a beer garden, the enterprising pair settled on selling desserts, despite neither boasting the required expertise. A round-Asia research tour and two decades later, Jin Jin is a mecca for favourites like Penang ice kacang, tau suan (split mung bean soup) and the wittily named Gangster Ice—shaved ice, cubed mango and durian ice cream, with the name a play on the Chinese pronunciation of both fruits.

But die-hard fans are really here for the Power Chendol, an Indonesian treat of shaved ice slathered generously with condensed milk and house-made gula melaka syrup, boiled using premium raw palm sugar from the archipelago. It’s accompanied by the usual accoutrements: red beans, noodle-like pandan jelly, sweet attap seeds. There’s a second branch at Tekka Centre.

Jin Jin Hot/Cold Dessert | 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-21, S(150006) | 90932018 |

2. Nonya Bong The Peranakan

Pre-Covid, one could savour the raved-about private dining experience in the Choa Chu Kang home of ex-hawker Jeffrey Chia, but at least delivery’s still an option. Nonya Bong is the name of Chia’s former Balestier Road coffeeshop stall selling Nyonya chap chye (braised vegetable stew) and a nod to his mother, Vivian Bong. 

These days, the lineup includes two outstanding desserts: sago gula melaka and pengat, a sweet stew of coconut milk, pandan and palm sugar cooked with a carby fruit, often durian, banana, yam or sweet potato. The choices may be few, but their quality is exceptional: the septuagenarian is fastidious about techniques and employs family recipes that date back to the 1940s (both sets of grandparents are Peranakan). The outcome? Unadulterated heritage goodness. For one, his fresh-squeezed santan (coconut milk) for the sago gula melaka is made by de-husking, chopping and cold-pressing the flesh of mature coconuts. Then, a pitcher each of the milk and premium gula melaka from Malacca are drizzled on a massive steaming dome of sago pearls. No wonder food guru KF Seetoh’s a fan. 

Nonya Bong The Peranakan | 663 Choa Chu Kang Cres, Block 663, S(680663) | 96191949 

3. Ratu Lemper

The star item of this Insta-famous brand by husband and wife duo Carol Aliya Widjaya and Amin Yusoff is lemper, an Indonesian snack of glutinous rice and shredded chicken steamed in a banana leaf. The soft rice, soaked overnight and twice-steamed, does double duty in the impressive—and halal—kueh selection, made daily by Jakarta-born Aliya. 

Seven types of kueh are available daily: bingka ubi (baked tapioca cake), kueh kosui (gula melaka rice cake), kosui kaya (kaya custard, gula melaka), bakar pandan (pandan custard cake), lapis sagu (rainbow steamed layer cake), putri salat (glutinous rice layered with pandan custard) and bika ambon (tapioca cake with a honeycomb structure). From Friday to Sunday appear ondeh ondeh, talam ubi (steamed tapioca cake), badak berendam (glutinous rice balls in coconut milk) and pulut hitam, a sweet soup of black glutinous rice. Not forgetting Aliya’s five kueh lapis flavours: original, prune, cempedak, cheese, and mocha almond; all use brown sugar for a caramel touch. The cempedak lapis is popular for its fragrance and pulp, but among all, the kosui kaya takes the top spot.

Ratu Lemper | 31 Arab Street S(199730) | 98132450 |

4. No Name Dessert

Once a hidden coffee shop gem going by the name “No Name Cheng Tng”, this stall’s explosively popular eponymous dessert helped it expand to a dedicated shop and larger menu featuring ice kacang, green and red bean soup, pulut hitam, and bubur terigu (wheat pearl porridge). Lines of faithful regulars still cart away bulk orders of the signature icy soup, packed with lashings of texture: ginkgo nut, dried persimmon, candied winter melon, sweet potato, pang da hai (malva nuts), big sago pearls, and snow fungus.

Of note is the dried longan, made of grade A fruits from Thailand and hand-sorted for the best specimens. No sugar syrup here—the broth is sweetened with rock sugar, and the ingredients individually cooked, then combined for a crystal clear fluid brimming with longan flavour.

No Name Dessert | Blk 69 Bedok South Ave 3, #01-490, S(460069) | 91811909

5. Ji Xiang Confectionery

The Tohs first made ang ku kueh in an HDB flat in 1985 before moving into their iconic Everton Park locale. Today, their son, Kelvin, helms the newly-opened Victoria Street store, while mum, Toh Bong Yeo, remains chief baker and dad, Toh Poh Seek, is still the boss.

Ji Xiang’s handmade “red tortoise cakes” of thin-skinned fame are purchased daily in the thousands for snacks, baby’s full month parties, Chinese New Year, and the Hungry Ghost Festival. For fillings, pick from the classics (peanut, sweet bean paste, salted bean paste) or more modern options (corn, coconut, yam). The kueh’s chewy skin is thanks to a Nyonya-style recipe of glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar, moulded by hand for optimal thickness. The bean paste filling is similarly handmade from split green beans; everything is sans preservatives. For the prettiest Instagram results, grab the rainbow rendition, only available for self-collection from the Bugis outlet.

Ji Xiang Confectionery | 235 Victoria Street, Bugis Village S(188027) | 9888 8500 |

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