“It’s not mango sago or bubble tea; we want the younger generation to know what real local desserts are,” said Joann, one of the founders behind Sinpopo Brand.
This explains why walking into the brightly coloured shop felt more like entering a museum instead of an eatery. I was immediately greeted by traditional mosaic tiles and Kong Guan biscuit tins at the entrance. The pièce de résistance was a vintage Sharp television that a ton of customers Instagram-ed to death (myself included). The inside of the shop keeps to the retro theme as well. Food is served in old-fashioned rooster plates and large posters drawn in authentic 1960s style are plastered across the walls.
My photographer and I first tried two traditional drinks – Sng Muay Pop ($3.90) and Fake Bird’s Nest ($1.90). While the latter seemed rather tasteless to us, the Sng Muay Pop was a party in my mouth. Sng muay is sour plum in Hokkien, but the drink is bound to appeal even to those who avoid sour tastes. The plums are coated with soft ice balls and served in Sprite. The ice balls were surprisingly chewy and the drink is a perfectly refreshing combination that repels the summer heat.
Joann then introduced to us three of the most popular dishes at Sinpopo. First was Kato Rice ($8.90), which was a savoury dish consisting of scissors cut rice, curry chicken, pork chop, cabbage with vermicelli and egg. My first question to her was this: What exactly is so special about scissors cut rice?
Joann replied that it was particularly soft, and she was right. The curry that accompanies the rice is milky and fragrant, giving the whole dish a smooth texture. The curry chicken was so soft that I had no difficulty pulling meat from its bone. The pork chop was crispy but not oily and gave the dish some bite.
The Ngoh Hiang ($7.90) was extra crunchy and juicy. While the rest of the elements in this dish were not particularly special, the sauce that goes with it was phenomenal. It looks like chilli sauce at first glance, but was actually sweet and sour, with a spicy kick as the aftertaste. I suggested to Joann that she should sell this sauce by the bottle, and went on to dip everything in it.
Similarly, the Sinpopo Nasi Lemak ($8.90) is served with the shop’s homemade chilli sauce. Huge, crispy pieces of anchovies, or ikan bilis – is mixed with the sauce, giving it a more holistic taste. This goes well with the creamy texture of the rice and the aromatic coconut scent that surrounds the dish.
Sinpopo also serves a wide array of local desserts, some of which have gone extinct for quite some time. The Gula Melaka Soft Jelly ($4.90) is a treat for the sweet-toothed (and no-toothed) due to its smoothness. The coconut paste that tops the dessert gives the dish a rich flavour that is thoroughly enjoyable.
I particularly liked the Ais Bor ($3.90) because Sinpopo has reinvented this simple, traditional treat to give it a full-bodied taste. This Ais Bor is not just dipped in colourful syrup, but is packed with atap chee, lychee pop, grass jelly and red bean on the inside. The peanuts sprinkled at the top made sure that the dish is not overwhelming sweet but has a savoury dimension.
Joann recounted how a customer had brought his young children to the shop and introduced them to the dessert. He wanted to give them a taste of how he used to eat in the past, so he requested for the girls to eat out of a plastic bag instead of a bowl.
“The shop has actually become a place for families to bond,” she said.
Instead of simply functioning as a place to eat, Sinpopo has evolved into a social space. It not only allows people to communicate among themselves through reminiscing, but to also interact with a page from Singapore’s history book. After all, it is located at Joo Chiat, the one place that boasts Singapore’s best food stalls some 40 years ago. There is a certain meaning and integrity in rooting an eatery that celebrates traditional local cuisine there. With food this good and an immersive atmosphere like this, I believe Sinpopo is on its way to achieve what it was created for.
SINPOPO BRAND is located at
458 Joo Chiat Road
Tel: 6354 5034