Kopi & Kaya Toast – What Singapore Eats

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Kopi - Singapore Coffee
Kopi – Singapore

I am not a coffee person. Give me Chai and that too ‘Meri Wali Chai’ any day. Every rule must have an exception. I found the perfect exception to my Chai rule in Singapore when I tasted the sweet thick Kopi at Ya Kun Kaya Toast. The fact that this traditional coffee shop happened to be the oldest outlet of the famous chain near China town added to the aura.

Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast
Kaya Toast

I remember we were tired after walking in the streets of China town. My friend’s adolescent son wanted to eat something and that is how we landed up at Ya Kun Kaya Toast. I ordered a coffee – yes, I was yet to discover that it is called Kopi. While we waited for the order to come, I was looking at the vintage posters with poems and trivia written on them. With a fondness for all things old, I was lost in these sepia posters.

Story of Ya Kun Coffeestall
Story of Ya Kun Coffeestall

When the order arrived, I could not help taking a bite of crunchy toast with the smooth kaya or coconut butter in mild green color. This is Singapore’s favorite breakfast and snack.

The menu with its options like Kopi-O and Kopi-C confused me. My friends took a hint and explained.

  • Kopi – Coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi-O – Coffee with sugar and no milk
  • Kopi-C – Coffee with evaporated or fresh milk and sugar

Just suffix ‘peng’ to these names if you want the iced version of the same coffee.

Look at this chart by Singapore tourism to know more variants of Kopi.

Kopi Variants
Kopi Variants

History of Ya Kun Brand

The history of Ya Kun brand goes back to a Chinese migrant Loi Ah Koon who landed in Singapore in 1926 as a 15-year-old. In fact, the brand name ‘Ya Kun’ just another variation of its founder’s name. He started the initial coffee stall with 2 other partners who soon left the business for other ventures. Loi Ah Koon was then joined by his wife to run the stall. Kaya butter is his wife’s contribution to the menu.

Mural at Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Mural at Ya Kun Kaya Toast

The most famous coffee stall was at La Pau Sat – the famous eat street of Singapore.

Now, of course, Ya Kun is a big brand with franchise operations in most of South East Asia.

Killiney Kopitiam is another brand that is famous in Singapore. This brand also dates back to early 20th CE though it was earlier known as Kheng Hoe Heng. There are many other smaller brands that sell the Kaya toast and Kopi. It is not very difficult to identify them – you will usually find long queues in front of them. If you still need help, look at this article that lists smaller but good Kaya toast joints in Singapore.

A typical Kopi & Kaya Toast Breakfast

Kopi memories on display at Changi Airport
Kopi memories on display at Changi Airport

At this point let me introduce Teh – or the tea, that is also available at all these Kopitiams. Kopitiams is the generic name for these traditional coffee shops.

A typical breakfast spread would have – two charcoal grilled or toasted thick slices of bread. Sandwiched between them is the generous helping of butter and kaya jam. This combination makes it a sweet and salty combo – something that I am not too fond of. I quite enjoyed the toast with either the butter or the Kaya jam. Some people even add a pinch of sugar to the toast.

Kaya is like a jam made with Coconut, sugar, Eggs and Pandan leaves.

Breakfast comes along with two soft boiled eggs with the floating yellow part. Some people add soya sauce to it.

Kopi as part of Culture

Kopitiams - as the coffee shops are known as in Singapore
Kopitiams – as the coffee shops are known as in Singapore

Now that I know them well, they are my first stop at the Changi Airport itself.

In fact, I saw a whole range of memorabilia at Changi Airport showcasing the Kopi & Teh as part of their culture.

Kaya Jam is a great Singapore Souvenir to pick.

Next time you step in Singapore, do not miss this favorite breakfast of the city-state.

Recommend you read following travel blogs on Singapore Visit.

2 COMMENTS

  1. What a great piece of the story behind the coffee! Being a coffeeholic, I admire how different cultures and stories exist behind a simple cup of coffee in every country. Loved the story of ‘Kopi’ 🙂

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