Southeast Asian treats in heart of Changning
If you miss traveling and eating your way through Southeast Asia, and especially miss the irresistible sweet treats brimming with ingredients like Pandan leaves, coconut palm sugar and coconut milk, head to Nectar.
Nectar is a well-hidden cake/dessert cafe near Zhongshan Park in Changning District, offering a variety of sweet treats with strong Southeast Asian influence. Singaporean founder Cher Lim, who has been in the food industry for more than two decades, decided to open her own shop, inspired by her country's signature cake – Pandan chiffon cake – a breakfast and afternoon tea staple in Singapore and Malaysia.
"I've always felt that a good Pandan cake is a universal cake that most people would like, yet the Chinese knowledge of Pandan cake was and still is the green cake (Bengawan Solo brand) from Singapore's Changi Airport that every Chinese tourist must buy as a gift before they depart from Singapore," Lim said.
"Personally, I have never really liked the Pandan cakes in Singapore and Malaysia, as they are mostly a little dry and I can taste the artificial Pandan essence in it. However, I chanced upon a really delicious Pandan cake made by a very experienced baker from Singapore about eight years ago and it changed my mind."
The baker generously shared her recipe with Lim, and Nectar was born in the beginning of 2018, a few months after English food writer and cooking show host Nigella Lawson proclaimed that "Pandan will be 'the new matcha'" in October of 2017.
For the Chinese market, Lim added gula melaka cream (coconut palm sugar cream) to the classic Pandan cake, as Chinese customers like a delicious cream with their cakes.
"In Southeast Asian baking, the perfect combination is always Pandan leaves, coconut milk and gula melaka," she said.
The verdant, cushiony Pandan chiffon cake with gula melaka cream is a definite star here. Behind this simple-looking product is long hours of preparation, handmade with love. The striking green hue comes from the juice of pandan leaves.
"We don't follow trends, and we only want to focus on good, old-fashioned, honest baking – using high-quality ingredients and selling our products at reasonable prices. We try our best not to use artificial preservatives, coloring or anything unnatural in our products, as we want our guests to taste immediacy and freshness," Lim said.
If you visit Nectar on the weekends, don't miss the Nonya afternoon tea set (traditional sweet delicacies created by the Peranakan Chinese) between noon and 5pm. Priced at 198 yuan, the set for two features a beautiful array of brightly colored desserts made from glutinous rice, including Pandan custard with glutinous rice, Pandan crepe with coconut filling, glutinous balls with coconut palm sugar, baked tapioca cake, and tortoise-shaped glutinous rice cakes with green bean, coconut or peanut filling. It also comes with savory treats like chicken curry puffs
Opening hours: 11am-7pm (Tuesday to Friday); 10am-7pm (weekends)
Address: F81, 1/F, 890 Changning Rd
Average price: 70 yuan (US$10.94)