This hidden bakery at Coronation Plaza sells S$2 pastries and agar agar mooncakes
Food Mapping sells pretty bakes and agar agar treats, like a unique mooncake, at very wallet-friendly prices and all made in-house.
Most people who drop by Coronation Plaza usually head straight for Peranakan eatery My Cosy Cafe on the second floor, which is very popular for its mee siam, popiah and kueh pie tee. But just a few doors down, at a stretch with noticeably less foot traffic, is a tiny takeaway bakery called Food Mapping.
Its decidedly untrendy name is a direct translation of its Chinese moniker Fu Min Pin, which means ‘fortune people products’. The shop has been operating at Coronation Plaza for five years. Before that, it was a hawker stall at Beauty World Food Centre for 12 years.
SHOP RUN BY THREE-GENERATION FAMILY
Food Mapping was opened by Alice Teo, 65, a self-taught baker and agar agar cake-making trainer who started her business from home. She later roped in her sister Jessica Low, 67, and her son Gabriel Chan, 33, to help her at their brick-and-mortar shop.
“When I was young, my mum sold ang ku kuehs, durian puffs and agar agar cakes from home. She would chill agar agar in my bedroom, where she put a fridge, ’cause there was no space!” laughs Chan.
Teo and Low’s 92-year-old mother, Chang Kon Ying, now drops by the bakery frequently to pass the time there. “Sometimes I play mahjong if my friends ask me to, or I come here,” she tells us happily.
According to Chan, Chang had the nickname of Queen Of Beauty World when they were based there, due to her outgoing personality.
The lively grandma treats customers like her own grandkids, plying this 8days.sg writer with lots of free cake samples and big hugs (we later see more passers-by stopping for a slice of her grandmotherly attention.) “My mum is the best saleswoman. She cuts samples for everyone,” Teo shares smilingly.
S$2 PASTRIES AND CAKES
At her cramped Coronation Plaza shop, Teo sells a surprisingly large repertoire of sweet treats, all baked in-house in their small kitchen.
Like dainty bite-sized pastries displayed on trays, similar to what you’d find in a hip Korean cafe (or popular hawker stall Cat In The Hat). This includes mini tarts, madeleines, sponge squares and tiny financiers.
Some come with a local twist, like a sponge cake studded with bits of bak kwa (there’s a tart version with cheese filling and bak kwa.) And prices are very reasonable.
“Each tart is S$3.50 and the cakes are S$2 each,” chirps Teo.
She also makes agar agar mooncakes with 12 different flavours like Tau Sar, Osmanthus & Wolfberry, Chocolate, Lotus Paste, Durian and Watermelon.
We find this a very refreshing alternative for the typical calorie-heavy Mid-Autumn Festival offerings; the bouncy-firm, coconutty agar agar is loaded with fillings like fruit mousse and fresh fruits (a sliver of watermelon, for instance.)
The plain designs go for S$9 a pop, but there are also fancier options with agar agar fish, flowers and rabbits (S$11 each).
But her specialty is very elaborate agar agar cakes, which are all created from scratch by Chan, a former bartender and sales rep. Unlike traditional flour-and-butter cakes, agar agar cakes are confections made out of coconut milk-infused jelly.
Chan mainly takes customised orders from customers, who go to him for occasions ranging from birthdays and company events to even celebrations for National Day and the Million Dollar Round Table.
He recounts: “Customers would come and ask, ‘Can you convert this cake design to agar agar?’” And Chan would have to figure out how to make their desired designs come to life using a combination of ‘tattooing’ designs into agar agar with a syringe or using moulds.
“If there is no mould for a design, I have to think of how to cut it from agar agar myself, and there are no ready measurements,” he says, showing us a photo of a customised truck ordered by a construction company. It takes him around half an hour to make a basic floral cake, and up to a week to construct very elaborate orders.
Prices start from S$60 for the smallest six-inch standard design agar agar cake, and from S$90 for customised orders. Chan says: “The price depends on the difficulty of the design and cake size.”
SELF TAUGHT AGAR AGAR-MAKING
Other than learning from his mum how to use an agar agar mould, Chan is entirely self-taught. “I taught myself drawing and hand-cutting and watched people making chocolate, like (famed pastry chef) Amaury Guichon. The process of (sculpting) chocolate and agar agar is very similar, ’cause both are liquid when hot,” he explains.
He also has celeb customers like Carole Lin. “She ordered an aquatic-themed cake for her daughter’s birthday celebration in school. And Mark Lee came by to buy a few of our agar agar cups too,” he says.
During 8days.sg’s visit, a dramatic-looking longevity cake for a 70-year-old’s birthday party was chilling in the fridge. “The customer said they wanted a bowl of longevity noodles, so I thought of this anti-gravity effect,” Chan shares.
The ‘bowl’ contains realistic-looking agar agar abalones and prawns made with a mould and hand-painted by Chan with food colouring. There's even chopped 'spring onions'. “There is really ‘noodle soup’ inside too, all made with agar agar. I guess that’s what customers like, that we are very detail-oriented,” he notes.
His family used to make all this from their Beauty World hawker stall space but eventually moved out for a more comfortable working environment. “There is air-con and more space here, and this is a pick-up-friendly place. It was quite weird for our customers to pick up their birthday cakes in a hawker centre,” Chan laughs.
Our favourite from the pastry selection is this puffy little sponge cake, the sponge texture is ethereally light, punctuated with a mildly savoury burst of flavour from juicy bak kwa bits. We could easily scarf down five cakes at one go.
Sadly, the family only makes around eight to 10 pieces a day per pastry/cake for now. Despite offering good bakes, their secluded location just doesn’t attract a lot of customers. “The walk-ins are not a lot. And our delivery platforms are quite stagnant,” Chan shares. So if you want to secure your loot, it’s best to call ahead to pre-order.
The tarts here are simply priced at S$3.50 per tart (slightly more expensive than trendy hawker stall Cat in the Hat’s). Still, this shop is one underrated gem that has value-for-money fancy desserts at very reasonable prices.
The 11 flavours offered here are mostly winners: We particularly like the elegant Pistachio, sweet, earthy Orh Nee topped with gold leaf, the crumbly, fragrant Pecan, and the sultry, rich Dark Chocolate.
We were excited about the Bak Kwa flavour as its sponge cake counterpart was excellent, but the tart version did not quite hit the spot.
Despite offering a menu of mostly Western-style bakes, Teo also makes some ondeh ondeh for sale. At six for S$2.50, we are pleased to find sweet potato ondeh ondeh at this price point in the heart of Bukit Timah (could this be the most affordable ondeh ondeh in Singapore?). And it’s delish too. The soft, chewy balls, rolled in grated coconut, explode to the bite and flood our mouths with smooth gula melaka.
#02-43 Coronation Shopping Plaza, 587 Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 269707. Open daily 10am to 7.30pm. www.instagram.com/foodmapping
This story was originally published in 8Days.