Churros, Spanish fried dough fritters, are enjoying a second wind in the snack scene here.
Despite the closure of shops such as Churrosity in Holland Avenue and Australian franchise Spanish Doughnuts in Orchard Central last year, six eateries specialising in the sugar-coated snack have opened in the past year.
The irony is that none of the brands is from Spain, where the fritters are from.
Recent newcomers include South Korean chains Mr Churro, which opened earlier this month, and Churro 101, which started a second outlet in 313@Somerset last month, after opening in Bugis+ in October. Home-grown churro businesses include Alt-Yard in Tampines West Community Club and Chulop By The Syarifs in East Village.
The owners say they tried and loved churros overseas, including in Spain, where they are sold in churrerias and eaten with hot chocolate or coffee, and think they are a good fit in the colourful snack culture here.
Former bank executive Yvonne Lim, 26, owner of Mr Churro (B4-61 Ion Orchard), which has more than 20 outlets in South Korea, was so impressed by how the fried dough fritters were "crispy and not greasy" when she ate them on holiday in Seoul last year that she decided to buy the brand's local franchise.
The takeaway kiosk offers a 50cm-long oval churro ($4.50) and churros served with banana milk and vanilla ice cream ($6.50).
She says: "Churros are handy and can be eaten on-the-go, and they are a lighter snack compared with a curry puff."
The kiosk, which uses a pre-mix powder from South Korea for the batter, sells more than 700 servings a day and is attracting hour-long queues from the post-dinner crowd.
Another South Korean import is Churro 101 (04-01 Bugis+), which offers 10 flavours of churros (from $3.30), including skewered ones that are dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with almonds or strawberry crunchies and those that are filled with chocolate cream or cream cheese. Its outlets sell up to 2,000 churros daily.
Ms Audrey Tan, 28, co-owner of the brand's local outpost, says: "Churros are fun and cheerful food and we have made them more photogenic so they appeal to youth, and the flavours of the dough, dips and toppings can be tweaked."
For example, Churro 101 introduced an Oreo-flavoured churro loaded with vanilla cream four days ago for Christmas.
With a more crowded churro scene, some players are jazzing up their offerings to set themselves apart. One of the first to incorporate local flavours into churros was Churros Factory (six outlets including B1-01 Orchard Central, which opens next week). It started selling ondeh ondeh-flavoured churros, which are modelled after the pandan-flavoured kueh filled with gula melaka, a year ago when it opened its first outlet in Katong i12 mall. Prices start at $4 for a serving of plain churros.
Besides having newfangled creations such as a churros burger sandwiched with ice cream, it also sells savoury churros, such as those topped with melted cheese, mushroom cream sauce or dusted with seaweed or belacan powder.
Co-owner Jeremy Chiang, 30, who is a former national footballer, says: "Diners have always liked fried dough, as seen from the doughnut craze a few years ago. By coming up with new flavours every two months, we hope to keep customers coming back."
Chulop By The Syarifs (01-93, East Village), an eight-month-old kiosk, is banking on its dips. Its plain churros (from $3) can be dunked into five house-made dips. These include Mexican chocolate, which is spiced up with cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
Chulop fuses the words churros and celop, which means dipping in Malay. The shop sells about 350 churro sets daily, using up to 80kg of dough.
Co-owner Ahmad Syarif, 26, who is also a Malay pop-R&B singer, says: "Churros are a medium to try our dips, so that diners can customise how they like their churros."
Another east-side addition is Alt-Yard (level 1, Tampines West Community Club), which opened in June this year and offers three flavours of churros (from $3.80), including pandan and Oreo. They are paired with fanciful dips such as liquid cheesecake and chocolate ganache.
While most owners are looking to expand their businesses, some feel that the churros scene has become too saturated.
One of them is Ms Crystal Cheng, 21, owner of Bakes & Crafts, which ran a popular churros stall in the Geylang Serai Hari Raya Bazaar this year. She gives the dessert trend six months before it fizzles out.
She says: "There are too many players in the market. By operating my business as a pop-up, I can exit the market easily without incurring high costs."
Till then, customers are lapping up the variety of churros here.
Undergraduate Megan Hau, 19, who has tried churros from Mr Churro, says: "Churros are usually portrayed as a happy food in films as they are eaten at carnivals. I prefer the plain ones sprinkled with cinnamon sugar."
Mr Ajay Mansukhani, 34, an information technology manager who has lived in Spain for most of his life, loves that the Spanish staple has been given creative touches here, such as being served with ice cream.
He says: "We usually just have churros with coffee and hot chocolate for breakfast, but it is great to have this snack take on local flavours."