Whenever I pass by a Don Don Donki outlet, it’s customary for me to pick up a Baked Sweet Potato. Or if the queues are too long, a cup of Sweet Potato Milkshake will do as well.
However, I recently discovered that there’s somewhere else where I can get these toasty and decadent chunks of goodness.
Located in the basement of VivoCity, Guma Guma is a small kiosk serving baked sweet potatoes.
The Korean owner, 50-year-old Jeffrey Hwang, runs the speciality stall with his wife. Together with their two daughters, they’ve been living in Singapore since 2006.
Mr Hwang didn’t actually start out in the food industry. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering and left Korea in 1996 to work abroad. Since then, he rarely returns to Korea as he has been travelling around the world.
When he first came to Singapore, Mr Hwang felt that Singapore was very safe and peaceful and he fell in love with our bright and beautiful cityscape at night. Hence, he decided to bring his family over to Singapore, believing that it was the best place to settle down.
In 2008, Mr Hwang set up a construction company. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out well and the company became inactive. As a result, Mr Hwang decided to venture into the food industry.
But I wondered, why, of all things, did he choose to sell sweet potatoes? It turns out there were three reasons.
Mr Hwang explained that sweet potatoes are staple food items in Korea and Japan. Warm and comforting, baked sweet potatoes are especially popular during the cold seasons. They remind him of home.
He also noticed that baked sweet potatoes aren’t readily available in Singapore. This sparked his desire to bring his childhood snack to Singapore.
Also, he wanted to share sweet potatoes as a superfood with Singaporeans, especially since Singaporeans are becoming increasingly health-conscious.
However, as a huge fan of Don Don Donki’s sweet potatoes, I had to ask if he was aware of the competition.
Mr Hwang said he was aware of the Japanese discount supermarket, or ‘Donki Donki‘ as he so affectionately called them. In fact, it was chancing upon their famous sweet potatoes that helped make up his mind.
He thought sweet potatoes weren’t popular amongst Singaporeans. But the snaking lines for Don Don Donki’s sweet potatoes proved him wrong. As a result, Mr Hwang decided to take up the challenge to start his sweet potato business.
He imports his honey sweet potatoes all the way from Korea as he’s wary about obtaining them from Singaporean suppliers.
Unlike Singaporean suppliers, Mr Hwang ensures that his supplier doesn’t wash the sweet potatoes before importing them from Korea. He only washes them when they arrive at his shop, which prevents them from rotting during delivery.
The baking equipment Guma Guma uses are also from Korea, specifically for baking chesnuts and sweet potatoes.
These humongous, multi-compartment machines fascinated me. Mr Hwang explained that the top layer acts as a dryer and warmer. He dries the raw sweet potatoes there after washing, and the compartment also keeps them warm on display after baking.
The bottom compartment is where the magic happens. For every batch, Mr Hwang loads about 15 to 20 sweet potatoes into the chamber. He then bakes them for about 15 minutes.
After understanding how the tedious baking process works, I couldn’t wait to try them out.
My Baked Sweet Potato (S$2.90 each) came straight from the warmer and was still piping hot.
As I attempted to peel away the skin, it came off effortlessly, revealing the beautiful yellow hue of the sweet potato. It was a sign of good things to come.
There was an entire layer of caramelisation on the outside. Slightly smoky, the crust was sticky like honey and had a slight char.
Apparently, the machines heat the sweet potatoes right at their cores. This caramelises the outer layer until it’s sweet and charred.
As they keep it in the warmer even after baking, I was afraid that the sweet potato would become overly mushy. Instead, it had a texture which was amazingly soft and perfectly fluffy, to my delight.
The fragrant sweet potato had a subtly sweet flavour which lingered on after every bite. I found myself constantly going back for another big bite even though it was still steaming hot.
Mr Hwang emphasised that he doesn’t add any flavourings to his sweet potatoes. He credits the quality of the sweet potatoes and his machines for bringing out the natural flavours in them.
In addition to Baked Sweet Potatoes, Guma Guma also serves up a Sweet Potato Latte (S$4.50 for a la carte, S$7.20 for combo deal).
Like Don Don Donki’s Sweet Potato Milkshake, an entire baked sweet potato goes into the beverage.
Guma Guma blends it up together with fresh milk and ice cubes to produce a cold latte.
The combination of sweet potato and milk was, as expected, rich and decadent. The drink also had a very thick and luscious consistency. Despite this, the drink wasn’t cloying at all.
Unlike Don Don Donki’s version, the Sweet Potato Latte came with a sprinkle of cinnamon powder on top. This really made the latte stand out.
The cinnamon powder gave the drink a refreshing floral scent and added a faint sweetness, together with some bitterness. I felt that the bitterness made for a good contrast against the natural richness of the sweet potato and milk.
The crystallised bits in the powder also added a savoury kick.
Sorry, Don Don Donki, but I have a new favourite sweet potato drink now.
Mr Hwang has big ambitions for his sweet potato business, which includes opening a few more outlets. However, he faces a huge challenge.
Currently, he is only selling enough baked sweet potatoes to break even. He hopes that more people will come by his shop to buy his sweet potatoes, so that he can fulfil his dreams of expanding his sweet potato business.
At the same time, he is extremely appreciative of the customers who’ve patronised his stall. Some of them have become regular customers, and their support is enormously encouraging to him.
Ultimately, Mr Hwang hopes that he’ll one day be able to retail his baked sweet potatoes in convenient stores. Those in Korea and Japan have already been doing so. It’s his wish that it’ll be the same in Singapore, which he proudly calls home now.
I’ve to say, Guma Guma’s Baked Sweet Potatoes actually taste better than Don Don Donki’s. They also serve a Sweet Potato Latte that is irresistibly soothing and wholesome.
With no queues for now, it looks like I’ll be getting my sweet potato fix from Guma Guma from now.
Expected Damage: S$2.90 – S$7.20 per pax
Our Rating: 5 / 5
1 Harbourfront Walk, #B2-K1,2 VivoCity, Singapore 098585
1 Harbourfront Walk, #B2-K1,2 VivoCity, Singapore 098585