Nostalgic Nibbles: Singaporeans Share the Old-School Snacks They Miss
All images by Andre Frois for RICE Media

Long before Fruitips, Hershey’s, Oreo, Skittles, and similar brands dominated the market, Singaporeans found comfort in nostalgic treats like White Rabbit sweets, Haw flakes, and a myriad of other local delicacies.

Though their names may have faded, the memories of their distinct flavours and appearances remain vivid in our minds. And everyone knows at least one naughty kid who would only eat the icing off of those icing-topped onion-shaped biscuits (they’re called ‘iced gems‘) and leave the biscuit bit in the jar.

Most of these intricately made sweets are unique to Southeast Asia or, specifically, to Singapore. However, the craft of making them has gradually become a dying trade, leading to the closure of many old-school snack shops.

Yet nostalgia has sparked a resurgence of retro snack shops. As these treats, deeply intertwined with local history and culture, make a major comeback, RICE asks readers which of these snacks are their favourites and why.

“Kuih piring! You know, those colourful wafers? You bite them, and they stick to the roof of your mouth. The pink and the green were the nicest. Or am I imagining things? Perhaps they were all the same flavour?”

— Riley, 34

“I’m not really into sweet stuff, but for some reason, I’ve always loved gummies. My staples back in school were Haribo Roulette, Sour Power (Beardy), and the burger gummies from Yupi.

They got me through long, tiring lessons and prevented me from falling asleep. There’s something magical about deconstructing a burger gummy and saving the best part for last. My standard eating order was buns, then cheese, then patty. And when you’re dozing off, what’s better than a long, chewable green strip sprinkled with sour goodness from a packet that literally has a lion screaming SOUR POWER at you?”

— Eudea, 30

“I was fortunate to grow up in a neighbourhood that had a steel factory, charcoal shop and coffee roastery. Among these was an old-school confectionery that stamped cylindrical ‘peanut candy’.

My family members would take turns bringing me to buy this candy because I obviously loved it. I liked that the peanut candy sold in this mini-factory was crunchy, and I’m frustrated that the peanut candy sold in most shops today is melty and not crunchy. My family and I became well acquainted with the craftsmen who worked at these artisanal shops.

Today, most of these shops have been replaced by tiny and overpriced condos. I miss those craftsmen families, and I miss that smell of charcoal, confections and coffee so much that I weaved these memories into my first children’s book.”

— Andre, 38

“Like most Singaporeans, I haven’t had retro snacks in years, perhaps not since primary school. But I still get excited at the sight of a bag of Super Ring or the small cylinders of haw flakes in a mama shop. Even though I don’t eat them nearly as much now, they still elicit joy and nostalgia whenever I do.”

— Jenny, 25

“During primary school, the big thing among me and my classmates was ice pops. You know, those colourful frozen syrup drinks in plastic tubes that look like two sausages linked together. You’re supposed to break them in half and suck the flavour out of the frozen ice sticks.

Mind you, our daily school allowances in the ‘90s weren’t much. I’d get $3 at most to spend, and at the end of the day, I’d be left with 50 cents. Cornettos and Paddle Pop ice cream were considered luxuries, so all we could get were these cheap ice popsicles from mama shops.

The flavours were always a mystery because they tasted very vague—the purple ones barely tasted like grape, the green ones barely tasted like lime. Still, they were the best parts of our after-school hangouts at void decks near school. I remember our hands would always end up sticky because the frozen syrupy water would melt quickly in the heat. I’m not sure if kids these days even know what these ice pops are, but man, they were the best cheap treats.”

— Elijah, 36

“Don’t know what they are called, but the wheel-shaped snacks were my addiction. I would get one bag for 50 cents during recess and inhale the whole thing in seconds. They were 50 percent air, 50 percent salt, but they were so good. I don’t even know what they’re made of.”

— Kimberly, 28

“I often stole my parents’ money to buy Kaca corn snacks. They sometimes came with tiny bonus toys! Apollo wafers also had my heart.”

— Cain, 44

“I loved Chickadees, the chicken puff snacks. The ‘chicken’ in there was fake AF flavouring, and they had the nonsense plastic toys in them. I loved that I had to buy them from mum-and-pop Indian/Chinese convenience stores, especially the ones below my grandmother’s flat—dusty shops where you had to look in the cramped store for snack toy treasures.

It’s just that memory of discovery and unrestricted freedom, of a time when things cost 15 to 20 cents. 20 cents bought you freedom, awe, and an afternoon of fun with that shitty toy.”

— Sharon, 44

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