Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sze Thye Cake Shop - Son Set Industry

The First Day of Chinese New Year probably means more to Mr Koh Sun Liang than to any of us -- because it is the one rest day of his entire year.

Call on him the remaining 364 days, and he is hard at work at the Chinese pastry shop began by his father more than sixty years ago. The workday for the 66-year-old begins at six every morning when he starts preparing dough and the sweet fillings. By 8 am, Mr Koh is ready for his first customer; his has been a lifetime devoted to his craft.

At 12 he learned the methods of making traditional pastries and snacks from scratch. It was, and is, tedious work. The chief ingredients for the sweet fillings are green beans from Thailand and red beans from China.  The beans are soaked and then cooked and blended in a process that takes at least two days.

The shop with its multi-layers of trays holding the fruit of the old cake-maker’s labor, harks back to the 1950s and 60s; to a time when western cakes were not easily available, or were expensive, and when Chinese cakes and snacks such as these were common as afternoon tea or made gifts for friends.

Many of the pastries are handmade; moulds were used or the cakes were simply shaped with fingers. Mr Koh owns more than 100 of these wooden cake moulds, some intricately carved. He tells us they were made in China and were at least 60 years old. Business has not been good for a while, he says.

His customers were mostly folks in their 50s or older; what he sells does not appeal much to the younger generation. His handmade sculptures of sugar and candy find their main purpose as festive or votive offerings at birthdays, weddings, and temple events and ceremonies. They bring the bulk of business for him these days.

Future prospects seem no brighter; Mr Koh’s search for someone to replace him has been fruitless so far. The long hours, hard tedious work and slow business, have all seen to that.  Bent over the moulds, fingers white with flour, he runs the shop, today, all by himself.

The Sze Thye Cake Shop has been located at Lian Seah Street since 1950; it moved to its present address in 2005.

Sze Thye Cake Shop
Blk 2 Beach Road
Singapore 190002
Tel: 6337 7010


  1. This is great story that demonstrates just how hard the traditional shop keepers worked. It is a great pity that such skills will not be passed on but very few people nowadays are prepared to make the sacrifice needed.
    Good article and thank you.

  2. Thanks Roger; glad you liked it. There are many vanishing trades in S'pore that do not receive the attention they deserve; but come to our awareness only when the press or TV feature them.

  3. Glad that Sze Thye Cake Shop had captured attention on blogs such as this one. This shop was started by my grandfather (my mum's dad), the Mr.Koh in the picture is my elder uncle. Some of the members whom worked in the shop (in the Liang Siah Street days) in the past included my; grandmother, grand-uncle, father, uncle, untie, cousin-antie and cousin-uncle... and me and sister as helper during the school holidays period. Great stuff...

  4. You are lucky to have had such a special experience growing up.