When I was young I remember my Teochew grandma (actually both grandmas where Teochew) loved ginkgo nuts. We would use the stone pestle to crack open the seed and then use a toothpick to remove the greenish embryo because it was the part of the seed that gave it its bitter taste. We called them “peh kngueh” 白果 in Teochew and I never really like them as a kid and could not understand what the fuss was all about. I think it was because we used to just boil them in a sugar syrup that is flavoured with pandan leaves and to me, the nuts tasted a bit bland and sometimes bitter if the embryo was not removed. Of course, kids nowadays are more likely to come across ginkgo nuts in their cups of chawanmushi at the Japanese restaurant. Even then, my kids would not eat them.
Just a little trivia while we are on the topic of ginkgo. We sometimes prescribe ginkgo biloba extract to patients who have giddiness. This is actually comes from the same ginkgo tree. But before you actually go out and buy ginkgo nuts to cure your giddiness, the ginkgo biloba extract is taken from the leaves of the tree. The nuts itself is believed by the Chinese to be an aphrodisiac. Hmmm….. I wonder if my grandma knew that?
If you never liked ginkgo nuts, may I submit to you that we have never eaten one that is prepared properly. Over at this dessert stall in Macpherson, they take a lot of pains to prepare their ginkgo nuts the way it should be done. First they boil the nuts whole, then dry them out in the sun before cracking it open. The Ah Mah tells me that that is the way to preserve their shape when you crack open the shells. Then they are cooked in a sugar syrup till each nut becomes translucent. Now you have sweet and slightly bitter nut which can be added into just about any dessert! 4.5/5
Another dessert that they serve at this place, is the sugared tapioca. Here, instead of ginkgo nuts being soaked in sugar, chunks of tapioca are cooked in sugar syrup until they are translucent and served in sweetened coconut milk. You normally associate this dessert at Thai food stalls, but this stall presents it just a little differently. 4/5
This particular stall was highly recommended by our ex-makan kaki, Khim. I said “ex” makan kaki because through the years, we had several cohorts of makan kakis. Some of the old guards like Holydrummer and Liverpool are still very active while others like Khim have become ieat Alumni. Khim was one of our very early kakis who was active for a few years until she got married and subsequently gone AWOL.
Anyway, she used to live in Macpherson and told us so much about this particular stall which according to her sells the best Cheng Tng in Singapore. Sorry Khim, I think it is because you ate here since you were a child, but we did not find the Cheng Tng as wonderful as you make it out to be. OK it was good and it had the dried persimmons and sugared wintermelon, but it wasn’t exceptional. 4/5
You would probably know this stall if you lived in Macpherson estate. The Ah Mah tells me that they used to operate out of a pushcart before the food centre was set up and has her share of brushes with the Di Gu (health inspector). She is still quite spritely and sits in front of the stall to make sure that everything is done her way which is great, because it means we will get nice sugared ginkgo nuts for some time yet!
Qiang Ji Dessert Stall