Wife cakes “no trans fat” in Chinatown

February 17, 2007

I was in Chinatown earlier today and guess what I saw? A signboard saying “No trans fat”.

It was an advertising slogan for a stall selling cashew nuts, called Dan-D-Pak. It’s produced in Vietnam and exported to Canada and they have cashews in garlic, wasabi, salted, unsalted and other flavours.

So it also comes with a Nutrition Facts Label that states ‘Trans 0 g”. And for products sold in Canada, you can be assured that “No trans fat” mean not more than 0.2 gram trans fat per serving, versus 0.5 gram for US products. Because Canadian trans fat labelling laws are stricter on this.

I bought a packet. I had already wanted to buy before I saw the “No trans fat” sign, since nuts are not supposed to contain trans fats anyway, unless they have been fried in hydrogenated oils.

These guys sure know how to cash in on a selling point. They are obviously jumping onto the bandwagon, which, in itself, is not a bad thing. It is a sign that awareness about trans fats has risen – a good sign.

The nuts, however, I found to be just so so…


My more interesting discovery in Chinatown was a Hongkong pastry shop called Da Sheng. The pastries looked good and I was about to buy when I noticed a Sunday Times review posted near the counter.

The review, by Foong Woei Wan and published on 28 January, raved about the shop’s century egg pastry: “The pastry is light and crumbly and the lotus seed paste tastes subtle and far from cloying. There is also a generous heap of cubed century egg inside each pastry.”

Unfortunately, they were sold out, so I bought the “wife cake” or “wife biscuit”. This is a pastry with winter melon filling and the reviewer had described them as “decent”.

To me, they were great. They were by far the best wife biscuit I have ever eaten. Admittedly, I have not eaten enough wife biscuits to proclaim myself a connoisseur, but they were just so much better than others that I ever eaten before.

They lady who sold them to me – she seemed to be the boss – was quite chatty, so I asked her about the oil used. In particular, I asked if they used pork lard, because I remember my ex-neighbour, whose family runs one of Singapore’s most established mookcake businesses, telling me that Chinese-style cookies taste much better when made with pork lard.

Also, as I later recalled, such Chinese style pastries were called, in my Teochew dialect, lar pia, meaning “lard biscuit”.

“Vegetable oil,” the lady said and she pointed to a signboard that said something like “100% vegetable oil” and “healthy”.

“Not margarine?” I asked.

(Incidentally, I think it is a good idea that we – those of us who are against trans fat – keep asking whether food producers use margarine. When we ask often enough, they will get the message that we don’t want margarine.)

“No. Vegetable oil,” she replied.

“Wouldn’t it taste better with lard than with vegetable oil?”

“It’s not the lard or oil, it’s the kung fu (expertise),” she ventured.

Well, I am not going to argue with that. Her chef obviously has great kung fu.

I also bought a water chestnut cake from Da Sheng. This is like a firm jelly, made with water chestnut pieces, water chestnut flour (which is starchy) and sugar. It, too, was delicious.

And they are trans fat free 🙂

In fact, all traditional cakes, pastries, biscuits, kueh, etc are all trans fat free – provided they are made the original way.

Da Sheng is at 36 Sago Street, on the side of Chinatown facing South Bridge Road / Neil Road – that is, facing away from People’s Park.

I will be going back another day, for more wife biscuits (80 cents), water chestnut cakes ($8 but currently on special offer at $5) and the much touted century egg pastry (60 cents).

All trans fat free.


  1. This was really enjoyable to read. I was laughing out loud and had to tell my husband what was funny – the kung fu answer is classic!

  2. Are you sure Da Sheng is not using vegetable shorterning (partially hydrogenated)? Technically, it is mission impossible to creat fluffy and crispy layers in the pastry using liquid oil.

    One possibility is that they are using natural palm or coconut oil (semi-solid)+ kung fu to make the wife cakes. But it sounds too good to be true.

    Anyway, as you said the cakes taste good, I will try some when I visit Singapore next time.

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