In the scorching heat of Singapore, iced desserts are a very welcome refresher. We didn’t just want ice cream, but something more local. We discovered Hup Ka Foon after doing a search for the best cendol around – we happened to be in the Chinatown area. Before we get the arguments, yes, we have tried the lauded Old Amoy Cendol at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre too.
For those not familiar with the dessert, cendol is a SouthEast Asian dessert (many of the countries claim it as their own, but it’s not really clear where it began) of shaved ice, coconut milk, gula melaka syrup, and the cendol for which the entire dessert is named – strands of a rice flour pandan jelly. (Though it may seem confusing, when you order cendol you get the whole dessert, not just the cendol pieces by themselves, and it’s only ever cold, never a hot variation.) Some places will add other components to it, like red beans, or lumps of glutinous rice, but the core ingredients always remain the same. Cendol has even been named one of the world’s top 50 desserts by CNN Travel.
Hup Ka Foon is a dessert house serving a range of traditional desserts (not just cendol). Located in one of the renovated Chinatown shophouses, it is in a bit of a touristy area. It also has a modern retro styling, with old coffeeshop wood tables paired with stools and peach-coloured seats. Fans circulated cooled air, making a good respite from the 35* heat outside.
Laminated menus with pictures of their desserts were at each table, so the uninitiated could see what they could get (a picture does serve better than trying to explain it). There were also pictures of their recommended/popular items along the walls. Hawker centre-style, you find a table first, then order and pay at the counter quoting your table number.
There is the option of durian cendol, but we opted for just the regular cendol. Not long after ordering, we were brought impressive mountains, with the heaps of shaved ice towering over the height of the bowl rim. These were capped with coconut milk, and then showered with gula melaka. Cendol and red beans were layered at the base.
The ice was finely shaved. Purists might say the old school ice shavers that give you a slightly coarser texture are better because you retain some crunch from the ice grains and it melts slower. Still, we didn’t find that that ice mountain turned into a puddle too quickly. The gula melaka was thick and syruppy, and had caramel notes. The cendol was soft and supple, rather than having the too hard gelatin texture that some resort to. We were also pleased to find that there weren’t frozen clumps. The cendol carried a light pandan flavour. It was altogether a very good combination.
We also tried the Mango pomelo sago on one of our visits, being a dessert for tropical weather. This was a less mountainous bowl, with large cubes of fresh mango and clumps of pomelo segments (membranes removed), topped with a scoop of ice cream. The mango was less strongly flavoured but more tart than expected – possibly on the underripe side, although it was soft and not stringy. The small sago pearls were well cooked and separated. It was an alright dessert overall, but the cendol was definitely the winner.
Hup Ka Foon was a dessert stop for us a number of times during our trip to Singapore. They do offer other desserts (hot and cold) and savouries you may find worth a try as well, but we just couldn’t go past the cendol! Just be aware that they don’t open too late if you’re looking for a post-dinner fix – 2130 is the latest they’re open on weekend evenings, so get in early.
Price point: Cendol SGD$3.20, other desserts SGD$2.80 to $7.
Address: 18 Sago St, Singapore
Phone: +65 9182 2638
Website: Hup Ka Foon