STFood Online Editor
It is something your mother or grandmother may advise you to take when you have a cough or sore throat, but pi pa gao is not just cooling – it has also become cool.
Also called pei pa koa or pe pa gao, the traditional Chinese herbal syrup is winning fans in places as far as New York and popping up in all kinds of desserts and drinks.
At Unagiya Ichinoji Dining at Suntec City, you can order the layered Pei Pa Koa Cheesecake, which was launchedlast Saturday.
The restaurant has sold 80 cups of the cheesecake since then.
Mr Bryan Chow, 41, the Japanese restaurant’s assistant general manager and executive chef, was inspired by social-media posts of bubble tea featuring the herbal syrup to create the dessert.
He says: “I love pi pa gao because the taste carries a sense of nostalgia. It reminds me of my childhood. I thought it could be a good flavour for a dessert.”
Bubble-tea shop Woobbee, which has three outlets, launched its Herbalmint Milk Tea that features the herbal syrup in 2013. It also has a non-milk version called the Herbalmint Green Tea. Both drinks come with grass jelly.
Mr Benjamin Lim, 38, co-owner of Woobbee, says his business partner came up with the concoctions as she is a fan of the herbal syrup.
He recalls: “Some customers were sceptical. They asked why are we putting Chinese cough syrup into bubble tea.”
At that time, Woobbee had only two outlets, one at Tanjong Plaza Plaza and another at Shaw Tower. On average, each outlet sold 20 cups of the Herbalmint Milk Tea daily.
But figures spiked last December when news spread online that a bubble-tea house called Labobatory in San Gabriel, California, had come up with Cough Syrup Green Tea, a bubble tea drink featuring the syrup.
An article by The Star last December reported that the bubble tea house had put the drink on its holiday menu for the Christmas season.
Mr Lim says social-media users started tagging Woobbee’s Facebook page and recommending its pi pa gao bubble teas.
Between December and January, each of his three outlets sold up to 80 cups of bubble tea featuring pi pa gao. His third outlet is at Chinatown Point.
Mr Lim says: “The sudden interest in pi pa gao drinks is good for our business, but it feels a little frustrating as well, that the trend took off here only after pi pa gao became popular in the United States. We were selling it long before it became trendy.”
Ice-cream parlour Tom’s Palette at Shaw Leisure Gallery, which specialises in housemade ice cream, served up its first batch of Pi Pa Gao Ice Cream in 2015.
Its co-owner Chronos Chan, 43, says: “Our customers were surprised when we first launched it. Some joked that we should start making Panadol ice cream or other cough-syrup ice creams.”
The flavour was suggested by a part-time employee who was then working on a school project about Three Legs Pe Pa Kao.
Mr Chan chose to use this brand of the syrup as it is the least minty-tasting of those available on the market. Other brands include the popular Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa.
These days, he makes the Pi Pa Gao Ice Cream only on special request from customers. It takes about three days to prepare a batch.
He says: “We don’t follow trends, we prefer to be a trendsetter. There are so many other flavours to test out and try such as ginger-wasabi with chocolate, so using pi pa gao in ice cream is not as interesting in comparison.”
Pi pa gao is used not just in desserts, but also cocktails.
Modern South-east Asian restaurant Ding Dong in Ann Siang Road created its Pi Pa Gao cocktail in 2015 as it wanted to experiment with an unusual ingredient.
The cocktail is available only on request.
Mr Joepet Ramos Matira, 33, the restaurant’s bar supervisor, says: “Customers who choose this drink usually say it is refreshing and go ‘wow’. Perhaps they didn’t expect to like the drink.”
Last October, restaurant CreatureS in Desker Road launched a cocktail made with pi pa gao inspired by the popular drama series Story Of Yanxi Palace (2018), which has a subplot involving the herbal syrup early on in the show.
The restaurant sells up to 20 glasses of the Yanxi Concubine Imperial Pi Pa Gao Tipple a day.
CreatureS’ founder Dennis Chong, 38, who came up with the cocktail, says: “Locals are tickled at the idea of having a tipple made with pi pa gao.”
Chinese physician Cheong Chin Siong, 44, says pi pa gao is a traditional remedy which can soothe dry throats and relieve heatiness.
He added: “Taking pi pa gao is like drinking herbal teas such as chrysanthemum tea. It can soothe your throat, but it is not a cure if you have a cough or a sore throat.”
He adds that while pi pa gao may be used as an ingredient in food or drinks, consumers should not expect to reap the same health benefits as consuming the syrup on its own.
The pi pa gao-flavoured concoctions have sparked mixed reactions.
Car dealer Zack Lee, 28, a fan of the herbal syrup, is thrilled that he can now find food and drinks made with it.
He says: “I have to talk a lot at work and I take pi pa gao often to soothe my throat. I enjoy the minty taste of pi pa gao in bubble tea.”
But others like Miss Chong Shu Qi, 19, a student, who tasted the Herbalmint Milk Tea, says: “To me, pi pa gao is a medicinal remedy. I don’t want to taste it in my food and drink.”
As Mr Lim from Woobbee puts it: “You either like it or you don’t. It is like durian. There is no sitting on the fence when it comes to the flavour of pi pa gao.”
PI PA GAO COCKTAIL
PHOTOS: DING DONG
Modern South-east Asian restaurant Ding Dong has the Pi Pa Gao cocktail ($22++), available upon request. The cocktail also contains Japanese whiskey, Shaoxing wine and angostura bitters.
Where: Ding Dong, 115 Amoy Street
Open: Noon to 3pm, 6pm to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
YANXI CONCUBINE IMPERIAL PI PA GAO TIPPLE
Each glass of the tequila-based Yanxi Concubine Imperial Pi Pa Gao Tipple ($17++) contains 25ml of pi pa gao. Other ingredients include Grand Marnier, fresh lime juice and dried orange peel.
Where: CreatureS, 120 Desker Road
Open: Noon to 10pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays); noon to 11pm (Fridays and Saturdays)
PEI PA KOA CHEESECAKE
ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO
Unagiya Ichinoji Dining at Suntec City recently launched its Pei Pa Koa Cheesecake ($6.50++). The dessert comprises layers of pi pa gao yogurt panna cotta, crushed digestive biscuits, mascarpone, sour cream, cream cheese and Hokkaido milk. Only 50 cups are available daily.
Where: Unagiya Ichinoji Dining, 03-307 Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard
Open: 11.30am to 3pm; 5.30 to 10pm, daily
Info: Call 6268-8043 or go to www.facebook.com/unagiyaichinojidining
PI PA GAO ICE CREAM
Ice-cream parlour Tom’s Palette co-owner Chronos Chan came up with its Pi Pa Gao Ice Cream in 2015. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO
Tom’s Palette came up with its Pi Pa Gao Ice Cream in 2015, using Three Legs Pe Pa Kao which, co-owner of the ice-cream parlour Chronos Chan says, is less minty than other brands. The ice cream is sold at $4 for the small cup and $5 for the large one. It costs $5 for a single scoop with cone and $7.70 for a double scoop with cone. The Pi Pa Gao Ice Cream is available only on request.
Where: Tom’s Palette, 01-25 Shaw Leisure Gallery, 100 Beach Road
Open: Noon to 9.30pm (Mondays to Thursdays); noon to 10pm, (Fridays and Saturdays); 1 to 7pm (Sundays)
Info: Call 6296-5239
HERBALMINT MILK TEA
Bubble-tea shop Woobbee sells the Herbalmint Milk Tea ($4.10 for medium and $5.80 for large) and Herbalmint Green Tea ($4.10 for medium and $5.80 for large). Both drinks come with grass jelly.
Where: Woobbee, 02-26 Chinatown Point, 133 New Bridge Road
Open: 10.30am to 8.30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 10.30am to 7.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays)
Info: Call 6222-6687 or go to www.facebook.com/woobbee for other outlets.