“Hainanese mooncake?”, asked a customer who walked in just as we were winding up the filming session.
“Is this the real Hainanese taste?”
We lost count of the number times the exact same conversation took place word for word during our short interview. This itself is a testament to the demand for authenticity for this Hainanese mooncake.
Situated in a shopping mall that looked like a post-apocalyptic scene from the movies, you would not be faulted to wonder if anyone could find them. However, just in that short few hours, we find droves of the elderly, as well as the young, bringing their elderly relatives arriving. This is despite their notices in various platforms saying they’re closed for the mooncake production.
Many walked into their quaint little cafe/shop looking for a sense of their nostalgic Hainanese past. Most, in doubt, as their palate demanded the utmost of authenticity for this delightful little treasure.
“Even when we went back to Hainan, we can’t find a similar taste anymore.” Suan, the founder of Chuan Ji, shared with us.
Chuan Ji Bakery
Suan set up the bakery in 2017 with his mother, Mdm Wong. He left a senior position in the corporate environment to run the bakery fulltime as he couldn’t bear to let his mother do this on her own.
Keeping Traditions Alive
Mdm Wong began learning to bake at a young age of 5 from her mother. It was after World War II and times were tough for the family and on top of that, Mdm Wong’s father passed away when she was just 8.
Mdm Wong’s mother, a tough woman, took on the task of raising the family with her Hainanese confectionery business – Nam Tong Lee “南同利”. The famous Hainanese mooncake, inspired by the Shanghainese Su Bing (酥饼), was eventually developed and referred to as such because it was made only during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The recipe, consisting of 13 ingredients, was passed down on a piece of paper scribbled with the formula. And the original method of this cake baking is tedious and labour intensive. The measurements of the ingredients were done by the master, “师傅” at that time, by hand. It was based purely on their experience and “feel”. So they sometimes experience inconsistencies. Therefore, Suan spent many hours and days with her mother to establish the process and right recipe to achieve the original Nam Tong Lee favours favoured by many.
Rich flavours and tastes from the 1920s
The perfect balanced flavours of the 1920s are attributed to the 13 ingredients that go into the making of the fillings. They are fully absorbed into the crusty outer layers to give even the crusty skin a sense of flavourful nostalgia.
It is difficult to do the unique aftertaste any justice by putting it down in words. Especially when you can experience it differently when paired with tea and wine for different occasions.
Preservation of the Past to drive the Future
As we see the flow of customers who keep coming in asking for the authentic flavours of Chuan Ji’s Hainanese Mooncake, we arrived at a grave realisation – This delightful delicacy can no longer be found anywhere else.
However, through the work of Mdm. Wong and her son, Suan, future generations can continue to experience its unique taste and its Singapore story.
We hope that one day, it will be able to step up on the global stage, along with the other unique Singapore icons to be shared to many around the world.
How to Order: WhatsApp +65 9028 3191
Note: Pre-order required due to extensive demand during the mooncake festival period.
FoodinLocal.com is an open and collaborative food-loving community platform that aims to connect and promote local food culture. Do share this video with your friends, family, or partners who ❤️love food.