For over four decades, Madam Lu Chuan Mei has put her heart and soul into the cakes and confections of Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah. Here, she shares with us the humble beginnings of the bakery, its operations and the unassuming pastry that has captivated local tastebuds for years.
Tucked away in a row of shophouses at Balestier Road is an otherwise nondescript bakery if not for its snaking queues and aroma of freshly baked butter crusts. Famed for its tau sar piah, Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah (officially known as Loong Fatt Eating House & Confectionery) has been serving up savoury and sweet delights for more than 40 years. Despite multiple features in the media, not many know that Madam Lu Chuan Mei, 66, who started out as a helper there, is the one behind the shop’s much sought after treat.
Madam Lu, or Ah Mei, was 20 when she came to Singapore from Malacca in 1972. Her friend later recommended her a job at Loong Fatt selling cakes, curry puffs and chicken pies. It has been 46 years since Ah Mei started helping out at Loong Fatt. She presently takes phone orders and helps out in the kitchen when needed.
According to Ah Mei, Loong Fatt was established in 1948 by the late Mr Li Fan Loong. At the time, Loong Fatt only sold coffee, toast and eggs, and later progressed to selling cakes. Although she was brought in to assist with selling cakes, little did she know that she would be instrumental in changing Loong Fatt’s fate.
Madam Lu (Ah Mei) started at Loong Fatt with a modest monthly wage of $70 in 1972. Photo by Terence Cayden Fong
Besides selling cakes, Ah Mei also helped the late Mr Li in the kitchen. There, she picked up Teochew pastry recipes from him and they began to adapt the recipes, ultimately creating the legendary tau sar piah the shop is known for today. “I experimented with the recipes on Sundays when the shop was closed. It was trial and error but I finally succeeded in getting the right texture and taste after about four weeks,” she recalled. Her determination paid off when Loong Fatt began selling tau sar piah on 1 April 1972.
Loong Fatt’s famed tau sar piah is known for its unique flakiness that is second to none. Its flaky layers come apart at first bite, slowly revealing its sweet center of green bean paste that balances the slight saltiness of its buttery crust.
A mere fraction of the tau sar piah that are freshly baked every day at Loong Fatt. Photo by Terence Cayden Fong
Ah Mei shared that Loong Fatt has received orders for as many as 200 boxes of tau sar piah at a go. There had even been an order for 250 boxes, and she and three fellow workers had to return to the bakery at 1am to start preparations. The demand for their tau sar piah was reiterated throughout our interview, which was punctuated by several calls placing orders for up to 50 boxes.
To fulfill their daily orders and walk-in purchases, Ah Mei and her fellow workers usually start their day at 3am, so that the baked goods would be ready for sale at 7am when the store opened. When asked if she was tired from waking up so early each morning for so many decades, she simply shrugged it off and said, “I have been doing this for such a long time that I don’t feel tired at all.”
Loong Fatt churns out 2,000 to 3,000 pieces of tau sar piah a day, along with butter and chocolate cakes as well as cream puffs, which are also perennial favourites of regulars. Some days, daily production can barely keep up with the queues that can last until 5pm. Ah Mei proudly declared with a smile that “there are no leftovers each day and we close the shop once everything is sold. After all, we still have to rest and come in early the next morning to start the day.”
When asked if she had considered producing the tau sar piah in other flavours, Ah Mei immediately balked at the idea. She jokingly noted, “as it is we cannot cope with making one flavour and we only sell the original flavour here.”
Loong Fatt’s tau sar piah have been handmade since they started being sold in 1972. Photo by Terence Cayden Fong
As Ah Mei related Loong Fatt’s early history and her daily routine, she mentioned faithful companions that have been instrumental in the production of these delectable treats. These trusty companions are none other than the gas stoves that have been with her since the inception of her tau sar piah. Each stove can bake 120 pieces every 20 minutes, with a rotation at the last five minutes to ensure an even bake.
Ah Mei shared that one of the reasons Loong Fatt has not expanded, despite its obvious success, is because of the stoves. “It is the stoves that bring out the flavour in the tau sar piah. Each stove needs to be ‘seasoned’ and this requires at least 10 years. A new stove will produce tau sar piah that are hard and without the flaky texture.” It seems then that Loong Fatt is set to stay where it is for a long time to come. Ah Mei is not concerned about competition as discerning aficionados know that Loong Fatt is the go-to bakery for tau sar piah.
Loong Fatt’s iconic facade along Balestier Road since they began selling tau sar piah in 1972. Photo by Terence Cayden Fong
Given the popularity and success of Loong Fatt, it’s no wonder that their recipe remains a closely guarded secret by Ah Mei and the family, now into its third generation, that runs Loong Fatt. Ah Mei believes in the authenticity of the product and that it would be a severe injustice to offer anything less than the original. All she was willing to reveal was that the recipe has remained unchanged since 1972 and would remain with the family. Ah Mei, however, “just wants to return to Malacca upon retirement and enjoy her days there.”
Written by: Terence Cayden Fong
This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign