The one traditional Chinese bakery to visit in Singapore

Dating back to 1930, Poh Guan Cake House is one of the oldest bakeries in Singapore that continue to give customers a taste of rare and traditional Southern Chinese cakes and pastries.

Poh Guan Cake House, Singapore
  • Koh Yuen Lin
  • January 2019

For about three hours a day, the 76 year-old Chan Kim Ho hangs out at his confectionary shop, greeting long-time customers and sampling the wares from the kitchen while sipping through his daily dose of two mugs of Tie Guan Yin tea.

Life wasn’t always so idyllic. Taking over the business from his father when he was just 15 years old, he worked from 6am until midnight, standing on his feet, mixing and kneading copious amounts of dough, stirring cauldrons of sweet and savoury bean paste, baking and steaming hundreds of pastries.

Chan Kim Ho in his younger days
Chan Kim Ho took over the business when he was just 15 years old.

Today, his family bakery Poh Guan Cake House stands as one of Singapore’s oldest Chinese bakeries specialising in handmade southern Chinese pastries and cakes. Some of their signature items are bakes the confectionary has been crafting since 1930 including tau sar piah (flaky pastry filled with mung bean paste) and gong tng (peanut candy for ancestral worship).

Poh Guan Cake House when it was at Lorong Tai Seng
In the ‘70s, Poh Guan Cake House was located at Lorong Tai Seng.

Their customers span from Tanjong Pagar white-collar executives to housewives from the neighbourhood; from celebrities and newscasters to even the wife of a senior minister. Like a proud grandfather, Chan also shares that he has known some customers since they were little kids tugging on their parent’s shirt ends. Indeed, Chan has done more than taken over his father’s business: he has made a name out of it and turned it into a local institution.

Tau sar piah from Poh Guan Cake House
One item not to be missed is the tau sar piah. There are a variety of sweet and savoury fillings to pick from.

A taste of tradition

Chinese New Year at Poh Guan Cake House
Chinese New Year continues to be one of the busiest times for Poh Guan Cake House.

Among Poh Guan Cake House’s repertoire of some 30 items is the local Chinese New Year must-have of pineapple tart, which they have been making since the 1950s. “Eating pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year is unique to Chinese of Singapore and Malaysia. What few people know is that in the early days, they were predominantly made by the Malays,” shares Chan.

“When I was 10 years old, I went to help a Malay lady who was famous for her pineapple tarts with the objective of learning her secrets,” he says with a cheeky grin. He later developed and refined his own recipe to achieve a crust that is crisp with a fine crumble. The pineapple filling is also made with slightly raw pineapples so that it has a nice level of acidity, and isn’t cloying.

Chi kak kueh, a traditional Teochew kueh
Chi kak kueh is an old-school Teochew kueh that’s hard to find in Singapore, especially ones that are made with cudweed.

Another item that sees a surge in demand during Chinese New Year is the chi kak kueh (steamed cudweed cake. “People fight over them come collection time,” says Chan with a chuckle. Though fiercely guarded about how his kuehs are crafted, Chan proudly shares that he uses cudweed that is harvested and processed by his sister living in China.

Poh Guan Cake House in the 70s
To this day, all pastries are made from scratch.

“The herb has to be cut and washed repeatedly to remove all sand and grit, then cooked into a pulp and sun-dried to achieve a cotton-like texture. These are then flown to Singapore and I grind it into a fine powder and blend it with many other ingredients to create a unique fragrance. I believe most of the chi kak kueh on the market today get its colour from sesame but it doesn’t have that herbaceous fragrance cudweed has.”

Chan Kim Ho spends three hours a day at his shop
Chan’s favourite time of the day is the three hours he spends greeting customers.

He hopes his legacy of making these family recipes by hand and from scratch will continue when he leaves the shop in the hands of his 50-year-old son. He has little control over what will happen in the future but for now, he sticks to his old ways of checking for the pastries’ consistency. And so, Chan sits in his shop every day, sampling his tau sar piah – the little pastry that started it all.

Poh Guan Cake House is at #01-57 Hong Lim Complex, 531 Upper Cross Street.
Tel: 6534 0136