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
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.
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 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 about the 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.
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
At this point let me introduce Teh – or the tea, that is also available at all these Kopitiams. Kopitiam 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 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.
A part of Culture
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 do not miss this favorite breakfast of the city-state.
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