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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Last of the Teochew bakeries

Gin Thye Cakemaker, one of last three standing, makes traditional goodies for festive occasions.
January 20, 2013
By: Melody Zaccheus
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Last of the Teochew bakeries Mr Lawrence Lim (right), 38, his aunt Lim Pek Hong, 52, and uncle Lim Bak Soon, 60, preparing peanut candy, which is one of the more than 100 confections that Gin Thye Cakemaker produces. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

From its humble beginnings as a bakery operating out of a kampung in the 1960s, Gin Thye Cakemaker has expanded by leaps and bounds.

Its owner, Mr Lawrence Lim, 38, has opened four branches across the island after taking over in 2003, when his father died.

Now, the Teochew bakery has become one of a number of businesses to feature in a new documentary series that aims to raise awareness of traditional trades.

Gin Thye Cakemaker, which employs about 30 workers and is doing a roaring business, produces more than 100 confections ranging from mouth-watering soft candies that melt in the mouth to savoury and sweet, crispy and doughy peanut brittles, crackers, wafers, biscuits, mooncakes and tarts for all occasions.

It specialises in churning out batch after batch of traditional goods for celebrations such as Teochew, Cantonese and Hokkien weddings, temple festivities and more sombre occasions on the Chinese calendar such as Qing Ming and the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Mr Lim bought over the 2,000 sq m flagship bakery and shop at 423 Sembawang Road for $2.5 million last year and plans to expand the 49-year-old business to Australia within the next three years.

It is a niche market, he said, adding that just two other Teochew bakeries are left. Chop Mui Lee, for instance, rolled down its shutters last year.

Gin Thye Cakemaker, which won the Singapore Excellence Award earlier this month, features in the fifth episode of the National Heritage Board's Heritage In Episodes documentary series.

Aimed at connecting with the younger generation through social media, the series of short documentaries seeks to promote greater appreciation of traditional businesses.

Episodes can be viewed on the board's YouTube channel and on its official website. The one on Gin Thye will air on Feb 1.

Mr Lim said his confectionery is popular with young and old alike. The young in particular have been streaming in since business began to boom five years ago.

More than 3,000 couples patronise Gin Thye every year.

"Most of them come here not knowing what to purchase but I help them along," added Mr Lim.

A traditional Teochew wedding for instance, requires the bride to distribute "wu se tang" - a set comprising confections such as bean paste pastry, sticky candy and a traditional sweet confection for the bride's grandmother.

Mr Lim said he believes it is important to keep traditions alive among the young. "We jumped at the chance to get the word out on the traditional confections we make through the Heritage In Episodes series because we want to document, preserve and share these important traditions with future generations."

Customer Ong Ai Huah bought the "wu se tang" set for her son's upcoming nuptials. The 52-year-old housewife said: "Practising such traditions not only pleases the elders in a family, but also reminds the young about their heritage."

melodyz@sph.com.sg

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