Back in Time: Sinseh
Story by Nicodemus Kee | Photos by Nicodemus Kee & Mar'atun Salihah
We all enjoy good food. One of the perks of Singapore is that good food is pretty much everywhere, in any form. Cafe culture is also on the rise. Naturally, we were eager when we discovered Sinseh: The Grocery and their signature, Instagram-worthy, Galaxy Donuts.
Too often, people judge based on appearances. Likewise, when we arrived there, we weren’t expecting much of anything from this out-of-the-way tiny cafe.
We were wrong.
It is easy to fault the place. It’s located along a row of shophouses, which means a lack of air-conditioning (we hear your groans already). The place itself is small, more suited for takeaways than eating-in. There’s only enough tables and chairs to house five people at best, and they aren’t even cushioned. Even its name seems wrong. The only "Chinese things" about the place are the glass jars behind the counter.
Yet, it’s only when you stick around that the magic happens. The place is strangely quaint, looking less like a cafe and more like a converted grocer’s store from the past. The walls are bare, and their snacks are lined on minimalistic shelves, while crates contain their pastries instead of modern shelving. Behind the counter, carefully lined glass jars house treats and snacks, such as Honey Stars, from childhood.
Outside, more wood for the tables and chairs, a metal kettle being used instead of a pot for a small plant that graces our table, with a single bicycle and a blackboard keeping us company. Beside us, a large wax seal on a column marks Sinseh’s location.
All this is located along a back alley, making the place naturally quiet. As we sat beside the road, the atmosphere reminded us of childhood, seemingly taking us back to a time when life was not so bustling or hectic. It’s all wonderfully nostalgic.
Of course, atmosphere is only part of a cafe’s success. Food that backs up the effort gone into the decor and mood is also crucial. For that, we tried their Galaxy Donuts that are prepared exclusively only at Sinseh.
There’s little to complain about its presentation. These are photogenic donuts after all, with their icing resembling… galaxies. We sort of wished they were larger though, especially considering the price we paid for them ($3 per piece). One of us managed to finish it in one bite.
It’s slightly crispy on the outside, but soft and fluffy inside. The freshness of the dough could practically be tasted as well. Despite the generous icing into making the donut, it is not overly sweet, and the icing itself complements well with the dough.
Unfortunately, it also gave our teeth and lips a good stain that was hard to wash off, and a not-so-tasty layer of oil. Combined with its size, it made the whole experience less pleasant than it could have been. Nonetheless, do not let that stop you from trying it.
Sinseh brings a very different perspective of cafe comfort. Indeed, it is the detailing that makes this place special. While others rely on creature comforts, music and isolation, or the clever use of props, Sinseh simply reenacts life in the past, and leads you on a road of nostalgia with its simplicity. That alone should be a reason to try it at least once.