IN the area of Sai Ying Poon in Western (better known as Ham Yu Lan or salted fish market), where the smells of sea creatures dominate the air, it is not easy to sniff out other scents. But the aroma of traditional Chinese desserts found at Yuen Kee Sweeten Food Experts manage to overpower the surrounding odours. This small shop, on the ground floor of 32 Centre Street, has made a name for its sweet-smelling quality desserts. Set up before World War II by the grandfather of its present owner, Mr Lee Pui-cheung, the first Yuen Kee shop was opened in Hollywood Road. ''The intention was to serve home-made desserts. And, in all these years, we have been making the desserts in the old-fashioned way,'' Mr Lee said. Part of Yuen Kee's clientele include the rich and the famous. Baroness Dunn and Sir Run Run Shaw were among the names Mr Lee dropped. But he added that there are many who throng into the shop from all parts of the territory. Old-fashioned it definitely is. The almonds used for the almond syrup dessert are shelled manually every morning. ''We can buy the shelled and whitened ones in the shops, but they do not have all the nutritional values of almonds or the true almond taste,'' Mr Lee explained. His workers also remove the bitter-tasting core of the lotus seeds, an ingredient found in most of the desserts, by hand. The shop, with the capacity to pack in 50, has eight ''masters'' for preparing the desserts. In addition, there are 10 others for servicing customers and doing other chores. ''If I didn't use the old methods in making desserts, I would need five less employees. But nothing compares to the quality produced by 'primitive' methods,'' he said. The most popular desserts are the hazelnut and the almond syrups. Both can be served simply or together with lotus seeds. The syrup is smooth and leaves a sweet taste in the mouth. The shop also serves the more common red bean and green bean soups. The ''masters'' start work at 8am, preparing more than 10 types of hot desserts. They work in the kitchen until noon when the first bowl of dessert is ready to be served. But after lunch, they resume their work again, preparing the second lot of desserts. ''If we don't do this twice, there are not enough to sustain us for the rest of the afternoon and into the night.'' He said the shop sells 300 bowls every day. Because the almond and hazelnut paste for the syrups are ground with a stone grinder, the paste that oozes out is cold, according to Mr Lee who says that in other dessert shops, the paste is usually prepared with a blender and so ''is hot'' and ''not sofine and smooth. When you eat it, you can taste the bits of almonds or hazelnuts. People have confidence in our desserts,'' beamed the 50-year-old businessman. ''We don't feel threatened by [changing] times. If we had been affected, we would not be doing business anymore. The Chinese belief is that 'if it is not tasty, we don't eat','' he said. The Chinese believe that traditional Chinese desserts remove the undesirable ''heat'' element in the body and cool the system. Therefore, even in the summers, hot desserts are still sought after. And so, when the neighbours keep their salted fish and strong-scented marine delicacies behind locked doors, at dusk in Ham Yu Lan, the aroma of Yuen Kee seeps out stronger into the night air.