Singapore’s Disappearing Desserts: Bludder Tarpeh?
By Thammika Songkaeo - Tuesday, Aug 12, 2014
Lamington, Traffic Lights Cakes, Cherries Jubilee, Bludder Tarpeh, Strawberry English Trifle! You might know what the last one was, but what about Bludder Tarpeh, if you are not already agog about the other four? Today’s growing number of western cafes is giving more Singaporeans a chance to enjoy American and European desserts, but take notice of the range of desserts in such cafes, and you will soon realize that it’s pretty limited. Singapore’s culinary history does not inherently present such limited options. Inherited, evolved and home-grown desserts that have nourished generations of families that once roamed this land are quickly disappearing.
See if you are familiar with these almost lost and once-popular desserts.
Lamington Cakes (Dong Po Colonial Café, 56 Kandahar Street, Tel. 6298 1318, Daily 9:30 am – 8:30 pm, closed Monday)
Of Australian origins, the exact founding moment of the Lamington is of much debate. Even Kelvin Soh, the owner of Dong Po, can’t pinpoint its first home. Kelvin does know, however, that the Lamington cakes of Singapore have changed throughout the years. During his childhood, the cakes came in chocolate flavour. Of course, because not many people could afford real chocolate, the “chocolate” was of a lower quality, often just even syrup. Dong Po’s Lamington takes away the dreadful artificiality and uses homemade jam to produce bursts of fruit flavours, encased in the coating coconut’s fragrance. The orange Lamington really does taste like orange, and the fruity flavour there is slightly more dominant than the strawberry Lamington. A must-try!
Traffic Light Cakes (Sembawang Confectionery, Blk 6, Beach Road #01-4869, Tel. 6295 3965,
Daily 7 am – 8 pm, closed Wednesday)
The taste and texture of these cakes were a surprise! The bright colours would make you think of something artificially sweet, but it turns out that the traffic light cakes are simple soft butter cakes that take most of their taste from the aroma of the crunchy peanut (or coconut grates) bits coating the contours of the cake, and a little bit more of the flavour comes from the fruity essence on top. There’s cherry, lemon and kiwi (I don’t have to say which one is which!). It’s become terribly hard to find these cakes, so speed up and rush to Sembawang Confectionary!
Cherries Jubilee (Tavern Restaurant, 227 River Valley Road, Tel. 6737 6995, Daily 11:30 am – 2:30 pm & 6 pm – 10:30 pm)
This is the show- dessert. Right before your eyes, Mr. Poh, Tavern’s owner, will make you bewildered, as he brings out the plump, luscious cherries, suspending them in syrup with a fiery table side blaze that he lights up before your eyes. Mr. Poh has been caramelizing sugar and flambéing tableside for over twenty years. At some point, he will tell you to stay a distance because he will glaze the cherries with brandy and merlot, and a small, warm flame will set in before the alcohol reduces. The entire act makes you feel like jubilant royalty. What’s left is a regal ring of cherries, waiting to be paired with comforting vanilla ice cream. Note: One order is, by default, made for two people, so come watch and eat the show with a friend.
Bludder Tarpeh (Rumah Bebe, 113 East Coast Road, Tel. 6247 8781, Daily 9:30 am – 6:00 pm, closed Monday)
Rumah Bebefollows this traditional Indo-Dutch recipe. The store owners clearly lament the endangered status of this fermented tapioca cake. They explain that fermented cassava isn’t easy to make or to find in Singapore these days, aside from the Hari Raya bazaars. A taste of their bludder tarpeh will make you wish for its eternal existence, for the rich consistency reminds you of a decadently packed egg tart, except, honestly, the cake feels more comforting than that. Your entrance to the creamy, buttery rectangle isn’t disturbed by any crust, and rather is accentuated with the gooey texture of raisins. Don’t let the sound of “fermented tapioca cake” put you off first.
Strawberry English Trifle (Crossroads Cafe, 320 Orchard Road, Sunday-Thursday 7 am – 1am, Friday & Saturday 7 am – 2 am)
Few desserts get more English than this. It’s the layered pudding that has graced British tables for over four hundred years, and of course, it came to Singapore via her colonial heritage. As it hasn’t undergone much innovation, the trifle has now fallen behind other desserts in terms of popularity. Crossroads Cafe makes up for everything you’ve missed of the trifle though. A whopping cup of sponge cake, cream, strawberry jam, shaved almonds and chocolate fills allows you to feel each ingredient bit by bit, as each layer infiltrates your senses. It’s a kaleidoscope of textures and flavours redolent of the colonial era. The best part is that it isn’t too heavy. Although made of cream, the trifle feels very airy and light.