Kafe Kakis: Do-it-yourself high tea with local fare

Boujee it up at home, as TheHomeGround Asia brings you a do-it-yourself high tea set for this month’s Kafe Kakis, with a twist! Paying tribute to our local hawkers, we visit three different food centres around Singapore to uncover local delicacies and novel snacks not traditionally found in our hawker centres.

With one more week of take-out to go before dine-in restrictions lift on 21 June (fingers crossed!), navigating the monotony of daily meal choices can seem like a chore, with ‘what to eat today ah?’ fast becoming tedious. Wining and dining at your favourite restaurants may not be a reality just yet, but who says you can’t shake things up with a little novelty? 

This week, TheHomeGround Asia brings boujee back with our very own rendition of high tea, all while supporting local hawkers. From tea cakes to kueh pie tee, take a peek at our curated selection of sweets and savouries, as we break down local hawker favourites for an indulgent experience. 

Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre

The Headless Baker at Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre serves up a selection of pastries and tea cakes not typically found in hawker centres.

Our first stop was to Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre, which The Headless Baker calls home. Known for their selection of desserts including tea cakes and scones, the young bakery’s Earl Grey tea cake is fragrant, with the strong scent of tea engulfing the senses upon first bite. The addition of orange zest complements the citrusy bergamot notes of the tea, while dried lavender seeds add a floral touch. 

Assortment of tea cakes and scones from The Headless Baker.

The lemon pistachio features a moist lemon cake, topped with a generous portion of icing. Dried flowers and pistachio nuts are sprinkled liberally on top of the cake, which received mixed reviews. We felt that the icing was a tad sweet, and that it overpowers the taste of pistachio; still, the tart, citrusy cake more than makes up for it. Fans of fruity flavours will also relish the blueberry lemon, where lemon icing adds a zing that complements the subtle blueberry fragrance of this cake, which was crowned with a blueberry. 

The Headless Baker’s range includes a nod to local flavours such as the pandan gula melaka tea cake, which did not disappoint. The aroma of pandan was strong but the gula melaka icing fell a little short – perhaps it would have been better if the cake was paired with gula melaka syrup.  

High tea is not complete with a pastry (or two!), and the sweet scones fit the bill. Studded with dried cranberries, these scones feature a firm, crusty exterior that is guaranteed to please any pastry lover. Texture-wise, these were on the crumbly side, and we felt that it would have been nice with more butter, and perhaps a pat of jam and cream. 

The Headless Baker has also been involved in pay-it-forward community initiatives, such as Backyard Makan, which was started last year by Welcome In My Backyard, a volunteer-run migrant welfare group. Under this programme, the public is encouraged to sponsor baked goods from selected bakeries for migrant workers, along with a message of gratitude. The donated bakes and cards are distributed to the migrant worker community. The initiative has since been extended to yet another pay-it-forward initiative, Birthday Makan, in partnership with five other bakeries.

Siang Kee Traditional Crystal Pau offers a range of traditional buns (pau) and snacks.

Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre is also no stranger to savoury delicacies, with Siang Kee Traditional Pau’s pumpkin cake presenting an interesting twist on the classic carrot cake. Crisp and light, the sweetness of the pumpkin pairs well with the fragrance of the dried shrimp. Within, the texture had just the right amount of bite, while still remaining light. 

Slices of pumpkin cake (centre) from Siang Kee Traditional Crystal Pau at Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre.

Amoy Street Food Centre

House of Vadai at Amoy Street Food Centre sells an assortment of 10 different vadais.

Our next stop was the House of Vadai at Amoy Street Food Centre. The prawn vadai features a juicy whole prawn – shell and all – atop a fried fritter made of salty-sweet batter, served with green chilis on the side. Texture-wise, each fluffy fritter was chewy and satisfying, with the spices used in the batter leaving a slight tingle on our tongues. For those bold at heart, the optional accompaniment of a whole green chili pepper is sure to deliver that extra kick!

A freshly fried prawn vadai, served with a whole green chilli, from House of Vadai at Amoy Street Food Centre.

We maintain that caffeine is a necessary component of any high tea, and the best part of creating your own high tea set? The ability to customise. Forget your usual cappuccino or tea; take things up a notch with Mad Roasters, yet another stall at Amoy Street Food Centre that brings innovation to the local hawker scene with café-style coffee, chocolate babka and brioche loaves. 

Unfortunately, the bakes were sold out for the day by the time we arrived, but the honey butter latte did not disappoint, with a caramel-like fragrance reminiscent of rich butterscotch, and the honey adding just the right touch of sweetness to balance out the bitterness of the coffee. 

Mad Roasters at Amoy Street Food Centre serving up classic and innovative cups of coffee. 

The classic iced latte was another refreshing addition to our afternoon tea experience. Silky-smooth and full-bodied, we like that the coffee was not too acidic, though it would have been better fresh, as the drink was slightly diluted by the time we had it. 

From left to right: honey butter latte, iced latte and cereal milk cold brew from Mad Roasters at Amoy Street Food Centre.

For something a little more unique, the cereal milk cold brew was our drink of choice! Like their other coffees, the cold brew went down silky smooth. We were especially impressed by the notes of toasty malted cornflakes that provided a hint of savouriness, which complemented the sweeter desserts. 

Aside from serving delicious drinks, Mad Roaster is also dedicated to doing good, with part of its proceeds being donated to resettled refugees. Each purchase comes with a sticker that is coloured in by resettled refugees in Thailand, who receive approximately S$0.50 (US$0.38) for each sticker. 

Chinatown Complex Food Centre

Pan Ji Cooked Food at Chinatown Complex Food Centre selling hard-to-find sachima, a traditional pastry.

Our last stop of the day brings us to Chinatown Complex Food Centre, which offers a smorgasbord of choices when it comes to local hawker fare. The food centre is home to Pan Ji Cooked Food, known for being one of the last places in Singapore that still produces handmade sachima, a traditional pastry. 

Pan Ji Cooked Food’s sachima (left) is a sweet Chinese pastry made using flour batter that is egg-tossed, deep-fried and coated in syrup. Fun fact: This sticky, sugary snack originated in northeast China and was apparently eaten as far back as the 1600s by the horsemen of China’s Manchu Army.

Once a staple snack of days past, this nostalgic dessert holds fond memories for many, as seen from the snaking queue that greeted us on a weekday afternoon. Fried batter bits are bound by syrup and sliced expertly into blocks resembling Rice Krispies. Soft yet crispy in texture, the harmony of syrup and batter was a delight to our tastebuds. 

Ann Chin Popiah at Chinatown Complex Food Centre that sells popiah (meaning ‘thin skin’ in Teochew), a paper-like wrapper filled with cooked vegetables and meat.

Adding a distinctly local touch to our high tea set was the kueh pie tee from Ann Chin Popiah, which comprised a mixture of braised white turnip, also known as mang guang, dried shrimp, and carrot strips encased in a delicate shell, and topped with boiled egg and bits of fried batter. Our only regret was that the shell was not as crisp as at the time of purchase, a similar problem we encountered with the yam roll from the same stall, which held mushroom, yam and vermicelli within a paper-thin skin. This roll was deceptively filling, perhaps due to the inclusion of yam. 

Kueh pie tee is a traditional Peranakan dish where crispy tart shells are filled with vegetables, and other toppings. Ann Chin’s version features braised white turnip, dried shrimp, carrot strips, boiled eggs, and bits of fried batter.
Ann Chin’s yam roll is a twist on the classic spring roll, and features a hearty filling of soft yam, mushrooms, and vermicelli for a full-flavoured bite.

The best part of this entire jaunt? Our entire selection of local delicacies added up to less than S$50 (US$38) in total, and easily fed two, with plenty of leftovers to spare. With Father’s Day coming up, why not try something a little different this weekend, and indulge in our local fare with curated high tea sets? 

If you intend to give this a try, do remember to bring your own containers and carriers when taking away food, to do your part for the Earth.

Beyond what we introduced here today, you are free to customise your own high tea set based on your own preferences. With Singapore’s vibrant hawker scene, the sky’s the limit! 

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