Makansutra: Traditional sweets hit the spot with old-school sweetness
In this age of fancy desserts, sometimes good old traditional sweets rise above the rest
In good local or Asian dessert nothing extra is needed so long as it pleases the palate after a nice meal.
These days, we find many forward-thinking dessert hawkers putting just about anything into shaved iced. If not that, it is "honeyed" something.
That can be nice and very agreeable on many occasions.
But it is becoming rare to find the hardcore old-school Chinese dessert hawker who still does it by old-fashioned instinct and skill.
I eat at North Bridge Road Food Centre quite often as it is near my office and I wind up at Tian Yi Desserts on most days, not just because it is convenient but because it is comforting.
The thing that strikes me is how the stall is set up to lure the clueless and hungry, like bees to honey.
There are the usual bain-marie slots laid out, but they are not lit up like some food altar. The warm desserts are stored in many large pots at the back of the stall.
A learned foodie whom I took there immediately asked: "Is the bubur cha cha as good as it looks in the photo?"
It was, and it came the way it was pictured.
The bubur cha cha ($2.20) gleamed with tubers and colourful jelly in a rich milky brown concoction, which meant palm sugar or gula melaka was used.
The coconut-gula melaka combo was just rich enough, but not cloyingly so.
The tubers were soft and easy to bite, absorbing the rich milky goodness.
Most hawkers today take the easy way out and use sago pearls to replace the tediously hand-made sweet potato and coloured jelly cubes.
Here, both are used, with heavenly results.
Tian Yi's signature red bean soup ($2) comes with longan, soft medium-sized beans, bits of red dates and dried tangerine peel, which sit so well with the not-too-sweet broth.
Although the Gingko Barley with bean skin ($1.70) was boiled long enough to soften and blend all the ingredients into the sweet-ish broth, I felt the bean skin was a tad too broken and messed up.
If it was separately rendered to shape and texture and placed in when served, it would have been a joy. Even better if they added a quail egg and charged more.
The Bubur Terigu ($1.70, sweet wheat porridge) hit all the right notes. Each grain had a soft texture and the broth was thick, with a splash of salted coconut milk.
I will be going back for the Sweet Potato and Longan dessert soon.
Tian Yi Desserts
#01-112, North Bridge Road Food Centre
Opens 9am to 4pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays