Visiting one of Montreal’s many bakeries is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth while supporting a local business. Those in search of rich desserts with naturally sourced ingredients should look no further than Ăn Chè Desserts. This home bakery, currently operating out of pop-up shops, offers a wide variety of Vietnamese desserts, from steamed layer cake to pandan jelly.
Ăn Chè, which translates to Let’s go eat Chè, specializes in the traditional Vietnamese dessert chè, adding new flavours and ingredients for a modern spin. Chè, a jelly-based dessert typically served in a bowl of sweetened milk, can be topped with tapioca pearls, fruit, coconut cream, and bean paste. Regardless of the season, it makes for an ideal snack as it can be served hot or cold.
Ăn Chè Desserts’ founder, Linh Le Kim, turned her passion for making desserts into a business venture this past June. After receiving positive reviews from her family and friends, Le Kim felt encouraged to sell her creations to the wider Montreal community.
“Much to my surprise, there was a huge response,” Le Kim said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “People loved the texture and found [the desserts] beautiful and colourful.”
For Le Kim, baking is a way of paying tribute to her culture and reminiscing about her childhood.
“My family was supposed to go back to Vietnam [when COVID-19 hit], and I began trying to recreate the memories of Vietnam at home,” Le Kim said. “My inspiration comes from my mother and the part of my childhood spent in Vietnam.”
Ăn Chè prides itself on the naturally sourced ingredients and colouring the team uses to hand-craft every dish on the menu.
“[We] don’t take shortcuts,” Le Kim said. “[Ăn Chè aims for] the real taste of chè pre-globalization, when artificial flavours weren’t as widely available.”
One of Ăn Chè’s most popular desserts from their recent pop-up shop is the pandan deluxe. This dish is traditionally made with three components and served over ice with coconut milk. Ăn Chè’s pandan includes handmade pandan jelly, tapioca water jelly, and bean paste, all blended in a coconut milk base. These ingredients make for a dessert that is chewy, crunchy, and refreshing.
Ăn Chè’s clientele varies greatly from younger to older people and from Montreal locals to students. Many of Le Kim’s older customers visit Ăn Chè in search of childhood tastes, while those who aren’t familiar with Vietnamese desserts visit for the opportunity to try something new.
“Our goal is to be traditional, but modern enough to be approachable for younger people or those who aren’t exposed [to Vietnamese flavours],” Le Kim said.
With most desserts from this region being vegan and gluten-free, Southeast Asian desserts are known for their fruity ingredients, vivid colours, and unique mix of textures. Common elements include cassava, agar-agar, pandan, palm sugar, taro, and tropical fruits.
“Southeast Asian flavours aren’t yet mainstream in Montreal or in North America, so we have room to grow,” Le Kim said. “It touches so many cultures, from Malaysian to Indonesian.”
Since its opening last year, Ăn Chè has continued to operate through pop-up shops. These have primarily taken the form of three-day set-ups at local cafes, including Dans L’Espace and Leaves Cafe.
Ăn Chè will partner with 12 other vendors in its next pop-up shop entitled Vision. This pop-up will be taking place on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 435 Rue Beaubien West in Outremont. It will include new dishes, such as glutinous rice chè, pandan steamed cakes, and pandan honeycomb cake.