BECAUSE of its popularity among Filipinos in its native Singapore, dessert shop Nine Fresh has decided to take a chance and expand outside its home country and into the Philippines.
“We have a strong Filipino following in Singapore that’s why we chose the Philippines as the first branch overseas,” Vanessa Tan, co-founder of Nine Fresh, said during the launch on Jan. 21 at the Cookery Place in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
The brand, which started eight years ago, has 17 stores in Singapore and is planning to open two stores in the Philippines by “late February to early March” in SM Manila and Fairview, Quezon City.
Nine Fresh is a Taiwanese-inspired dessert shop which serves beans, jellies, and taro balls atop a base of bean curd, grass jelly, or ai-yu jelly (jelly made from creeping fig).
“It’s similar to the Filipino halo-halo,” Ms. Tan said, before adding that it’s one of the reasons why they have such a strong Filipino following — it’s familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time because they use different ingredients.
Ms. Tan conceived of the concept after a trip to Jiufen, a mountain town northeast of Taipei and the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001) film. There, the dessert was a local delicacy and she decided to bring it to Singapore because “it’s a new concept in Singapore.”
The “nine” used in the restaurant’s name comes from “jiu” in Jiufen which means “nine” in Mandarin.
Back in Singapore, Ms. Tan said their taro balls and other balls are made from different-colored sweet potato or taro, but in the Philippines since ube (purple yam) is readily available, the taro balls will become ube balls.
During the event, we were able to taste the brand’s Signature: bean curd and grass jelly base topped with red beans, green beans, pinto beans, peanuts, and taro balls. The price of a 500 ml cup is P115, a serving that can be shared by two people.
The bean curd, or taho, was silkier and more watery than our local taho and the grass jelly has a sweet herby taste and a texture similar to gulaman. Both work well in tandem as the grass jelly contrasts with the texture and blandness of the bean curd. On top, the taro ball has a chewiness that goes well with the sweetened beans. Ms. Tan said that customers can choose from roasted peanuts or boiled peanuts to go with the dish — I chose the latter and it went well alongside the other beans.
It tasted like a combination of taho and halo-halo sans the ice.
Aside from the Signature, Nine Fresh also offers Fruity Ai-Yu jelly (P125) which has an ai-yu jelly base topped with aloe vera pearl jelly, mango pearl jelly, konjac jelly, taro balls, and milk. This cup is brighter than the Signature, and, surprisingly, the aloe vera jelly has a more citric taste complementing the freshness of ai-yu jelly. The aloe vera jelly is also unlike the usual tapioca pearls — it has more of a snap than chew. Ai-yu jelly has a fruitier taste than grass jelly but an almost similar texture.
While Nine Fresh offers pre-made dessert cups, Ms. Tan said customers can also make their own cups — a base can cost from P50 (bean curd and grass jelly) to P65 (ai-yu jelly) while toppings range in price from P10 to P30.
Nine Fresh plans to open “eight to 10” stores in the country this year, mostly in SM Malls. — Zsarlene B. Chua