Singapore-Malaysia Trip: Old Town Kopitiam

When I young, I remember going out occasionally with my parents for breakfast in chinese coffee shops. Such coffee shops are better known as kopitiam. Back then, breakfast was just simple toast and a cup of coffee served in white porcelain cups. I still remember going to the kopitiams, half-asleep and groggy, and smelling the sweet aroma of coffee and toast.

Over the years, that kind of a breakfast fell out of fashion. There were more breakfast choices — noodles, nasi lemak, roti and such. On my visit, I noticed that such a coffee shops made a come back, albeit in much swankier settings. I made it a point to check out the Old Town Kopitiam one morning and went to the one in the Central Market.

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There seems to be one Old Town Kopitiam in every shopping complex. I think it’s a franchise of sorts. The settings is undoubtedly a lot more comfortable and clean.

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The tables and chairs are even old fashion white marble tops. They did not spare the details with the decor.

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The coffee is served in the old fashioned white porcelain cup and saucer. For a time, it was almost impossible to buy these kind of cups because it was so old fashioned. Today, they are back in rage. Like the coffee I clearly remember, they had to be filled to overflowing leaving a sticky mess on the outside of the cup! The coffee I ordered is the Ipoh White Coffee — it’s rich and made even richer with condensed milk. Those days they were brewed using a sock (well, a sock-like sieve).

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I also ordered the Kaya Toast. Not ordering the Kaya Toast with Coffee is like … err … not ordering french fries with burgers. The toast were rather disappointingly small and thin. I had hoped a much bigger piece.

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Kaya is a popular Malaysian bread spread. Kaya is made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar. I like thick spread of kaya, something like at least 2 mm thick but I can hardly see the kaya. Many people likes to have the kaya toast in what is known as “yin-yeong” … meaning toast with butter and kaya.

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BTW, I am not sure if North Americans eat eggs soft-boiled — do they? Anyway, to Malaysians soft-boiled eggs are the norm for breakfasts. It is very difficult to make the eggs into the perfect soft-boiled. The eggs I had were perfect — no uncooked egg white and the yolk is all runny.

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Oh, we don’t just gulp the eggs just like that. We always put in some soya sauce and white ground pepper.

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Next, you break up the yolk and do a few quick stir — you don’t stir them until they are all blended. You want to still have the yolk and the egg white separated.

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There you go … an old-fashioned Malaysian breakfast. I enjoyed myself even though I ate alone. I was thinking then that I would love to have Nanzaro and Arkensen here and show them how their dad had his breakfast when he was their age. Oh yeah … in Malaysia, it’s quite OK for kids to have coffee! πŸ™‚

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  1. keztral

    now I’m hungry!

  2. Chubbypanda

    Mmm… My favorite is seasoning the soft boiled egg like you do, then dipping the kaya toast in the yolky richness. Delicious! I always saved enough bread to clean the bowl after I finished eating the egg. My father used to tell me that the gods would punish me if I wasted food. =)

    – Chubbypanda

  3. Marie

    Oh yes, we eat soft boiled eggs in North America.

    My mother was born and raised in Germany and had soft boiled eggs there, too. When we visit her she makes them special for us and puts them in “egg cups” which are decorated very whimsically.

  4. Ben

    Hi Chubbypanda: Were you born in Taiwan? I thought that only South East Asians would know what kaya is, let alone enjoys it. Yeah, I like to eat soft boiled eggs the way you describe it but not with toast but with steamed white bread! Yummy!

    Hi Marie: Good to know. Do you eat them soft-boiled eggs just like that or do you put seasoning to it? Do you think one could order soft-boiled eggs in places like Denny’s?

    1. Shmoo

      Hey Ben,

      I would definitely say that English-Canadians traditionally ate soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, but I suspect they are falling out of favour. I grew up with them at home, but seldom see them as options on restaurant menus.

      For some reason, we *always* had soft-boiled eggs on Easter. Often on Christmas, too. We had them sometimes on normal days, too (usually Sunday, when the whole family was available together), but always those days.

      My Mom had a set of “egg cups”, and a egg opener. You give each person one egg sitting in its egg cup, and slice off the top using the opener sort of like scissors.

      Once it’s open, you can eat the soft-boiled egg (usually runny yolk and just-barely-set white) right out of the shell with a small spoon. Usually we would add salt and pepper first. Sometimes a little bit of butter, if I’m not mistaken.

      My Mom would always cut the toast served with soft-boiled eggs into long, skinny, strips that were small enough to fit through the hole in the egg shell. The best part was dipping the buttered toast into the egg.

      On Easter and Christmas, we usually had this meal as egg, toast, and peameal bacon (a special kind of back bacon, unique to eastern Canada, I think, that is pork loin brined and cured and rolled in cornmeal, then sliced and fried after purchase). On normal days we would have maybe just the eggs and toast, or else supplement with normal bacon.

      That leads me to a tangent. I am nostalgic for peameal bacon. It is really hard to find in Vancouver. It’s more of an Ontario food. Here are some photos, since it is not common here (not sure how to add links, so just adding urls):

      raw: http://tinyurl.com/rawpeamealbacon
      cooked: http://tinyurl.com/friedpeamealbacon

      In other news, I would say the closest breakfast item we used to eat to your stirred soft-boiled egg would be poached eggs (when eaten separately in a bowl, instead of on top of toast). Poach the egg until the yolk is still runny and the white is just set. Put in bowl, open to let the yolk out, and mix up a bit. Season with salt and pepper and eat. This was typical “home sick from school” food in our house.

      So there you have it, some random insights into English-Canadian breakfast. πŸ™‚

      1. Ben

        Hi Shmoo: Nice read! You should have your own blog. πŸ™‚ I wonder why the soft boiled egg fell out of favour. Have you tried solf boiled egg with soya sauce before? Ben

        1. Shmoo

          Ha ha ha. No, I do not have the time management skills. πŸ™‚

          I wonder if maybe they fell out of favour because they are too “raw” for current mainstream tastes? Or maybe just because they are fussier to make/eat than other ways… ? Not sure.

          I hadn’t tried with soya sauce (and white pepper) before, but I did make one after reading your suggestion. I liked it, but I think it needed better quality soya sauce than the one I used. The dish is too simple to get away with mediocre soya. πŸ™‚

          I also tried it with some buttered toast. (No kaya in the fridge after my last jar went mouldy…)

          1. Ben

            Hi Shmoo: Good quality soya sauce … now, what would that be? For us simpletons, that means Kikkoman. I hope some experts out there can chip in and tell us more about soy sauce … like what’s good and everything. Ben

          2. Shmoo

            Hmm, I think that came out sounding more food-snobbish than I meant it…

            It’s just that soya sauces vary so much in flavour. I found that the one I happened to have at home wasn’t the best tasting kind for dipping, or eating “raw”. It’s sort of too dark or simple… better for cooking. It overpowered the eggs a bit, rather than accentuating them.

            I think there are a lot of variables in the production of traditionaly sauces like soya sauce and fish sauce. For soya sauce, there are variables like: naturally brewed or hydrolized, lighter or darker, more or less wheat, different micro-organisms, first and later pressings, etc.

            I don’t really know very much about how these variables affect the end product. But I do notice (when cooking or eating) the wide flavour variation among the products I have tried.

          3. grayelf

            I didn’t think it sounded snobby, shmoo, just sensible :-). I have several different kinds of soy sauce on hand depending on the application. And sauce from different countries plays different roles too — there are some things I only use Japanese (my fave: Yamasa) for and some Chinese (Pearl River). I’ve never used dark soy sauce for dipping but I use it in several Chinese braisey type recipes. And then there are all those SE Asian sweet soya sauces… and so many more I’m sure. All with their own places in the pantry, right?

  5. Doc

    Very nice pics. The Kopi Tiam is too clean to be nice. Should be some grime here and there to make the food tasty!

    I just started my own Penang Hawker Food Blog. Do drop by if you have the time.

    makanpenang.blogspot.com

  6. Chubbypanda

    Ben,

    I was born in the States, but spent my summers in Taiwan every year until the age of 14. I haven’t been able to make it back since. =(

    I come from a family of foodies, so my grandfather was actually the one who introduced me to kaya toast at a little cafe near the office of his construction company.

    – Chubbypanda

  7. Jen

    Hi Ben,

    I really enjoy reading all your and your wife’s blogs on food and recipes. I’ve always been wondering what the coconut jam was on the toast and didn’t know it was called kaya. I’ve had it at some HK style cafes. Do you know where I can buy kaya jam in Vancouver or Richmond?

    Thanks and looking forward to reading more food blog,
    Jenn.

    1. Shmoo

      Hi Jen, or anyone else looking for Kaya…

      Belated response, but you can definitely buy jars of Kaya at the downtown T&T. I think they carry a few different brands and flavour variations. Tasty stuff, but it goes bad in the fridge if you don’t finish the whole jar for a long time. πŸ™‚

      1. grayelf

        I just noticed Malaysian coconut jam at New Apple on Broadway and took a photo of it to do more research. Lo and behold, it is called Sri Kaya! It is $2.99 so not much of an investment.

        Re popularity of soft-boiled eggs here, I’ve always thought of them as something that kids or older folks eat (my background is British FWIW). I haven’t had one in years because I’m not old or young enough :-).

        My SO is English and when he was a kid, they had toast soldiers all the time with their boiled eggs, which is what the little strips of toast that Schmoo describes above are called in Britain.

        1. grayelf

          Oops just looked more carefully at the label. I think the brand is Habhal’s that I saw at New Apple. Is that a good brand?

          1. grayelf

            It is indeed the one with the red fan. And it is pretty tasty :-). I bought the last jar from NA tonight and tried it on cheddar cheese flavoured crackers. Nothing to compare it with of course but no complaints!

  8. Ben

    Hey Doc: I like your blog. Nice pictures. Do think it’s even better if you max the size of your nice pictures. You know, you could be right … you need some grime and dirt to make the food tasty!

    Hi Jen: Thanks for your feedback. It’s that kind of feedback that keeps Suanne and I blogging everyday. BTW, you can get kaya jam from most Asian grocery stores. Suanne will be able to let you know which store, I don’t.

  9. Suanne

    Hi Jen, I usually get my coconut jam from Big Crazy, next to Real Canadian Superstore on No. 3 Rd. Some other stores in Richmond that you may find the coconut jam are Smart & Save in Lansdowne Mall, T&T Supermarket and Great One Supermarket on Park Rd.

  10. Jen

    Thanks Ben and Suanne, I’ll check those stores out in Richmond…yummeee =)

  11. anson

    how do i get the franchise ???

  12. suetlee

    Hi there ben, i am an university advertising student. Recently, i am doing an assignment on Old Town Kopitiam. I really hope u can help me out by sending me all this beautiful photos of yours to me without the url on. Hoping to get a reply from u soon.

  13. g

    Oldtown Kopitiam doesnt sound that good as mention. Me and my gf feel screw up with their services. Took them 15mins to clean up the table yet another 10mins for the waiter to take our order. Then ill have to walk to the counter and ask for someone to clear our table and yet another 10mins we waited.I can see bunch of waiters and waitress standing there chit chat yet no one is doing their job.Very bad job arrangement.We ordered a double french toast and 2 so call enrich choc drink. The french toast doesnt taste good yet isnt fresh. Was wondering if their toast came out from the fridge? Cuz the toast is cold. Lol what a pleasure for tasting the cold toast for the 1st time.

    Services : Very bad
    Waiting time : Too long
    Food : Good looking but not the taste
    Staff manners : 4 out of 10

    Oldtown Kopitiam Alor Setar

  14. Thomas Tan

    likes the coffee taste…uhmmm, and also the environment… like back to 1960s !
    How to join & start b/s ….

  15. Fred Kwok

    My family & I had a go at their outlet at Kepong on Sat. I hv to say that I am totally dissapointed!.Service really so-so, but the food is crap. The brown french toast doesn’t hv any “fragrant” of traditional hainanese toast at all, the kaya taste is non existance, just some slight buttery taste when biting on into toast. The coffee is too light & the eggs are flat!. Sorry I hv to give such remarks but I was totally dissapointed.

  16. jake

    i went there yesterday evening, and i like the service from sue ann shes good.

  17. Zuraihan Zulkifli

    I really interested with oldtown kopitiam franchise, but I dont know how, who, where to contact. Please help me

  18. Grrrace

    I love kopi buns and kaya toast and the soft boiled eggs. Does anyone know the recipes for these and also i never figured out what is that black-brown sauce added to my soft-boiled eggs whenever I order. I would love to make all these at home and serve my family.

  19. Karen

    Thanks Ben for making me crave for toast and coffee again…. Love to know how to get into their franchise.. any idea?

  20. Ben

    Sorry Karen. I have absolutely no idea at all. I am in Canada.

  21. Brandon

    Hi All,

    I’m Brandon representing Foodtiam Corporation Sdn Bhd.
    We just launch our franchise program under the brand name of Foodtiam.
    We are looking for franchisee who are interested to open a kopitiam outlet.
    You can contact me thru 012-3887883 or email brandonlcj@yahoo.com.
    Our HQ is at Seremban 2.
    If you come across Seremban then maybe you can drop by.

  22. Jun

    Hey there, nice entry you’ve written there. I was wondering, do you know who’s the person who started this Old Town Kopitiam thing?

  23. tracy

    i’m interested in setting-up a kopitiam in China, pls advise

  24. Brandon

    Tracy,
    China not adviseable at this moment.
    But if you are interest of setting up in malaysia then you can talk to me cos we just open up our 3rd Foodtiam Coffee outlet at Ara Damansara NZX.
    We are offering franchise now for people to invest in our concept.

  25. John

    Brandon,
    please provide your 3rd outlet full address / tel no, road map if possible. Any Website, so that we can able to reach easily. thks.

  26. lancy

    There is a new Kopitiam located at Dataran Sunway by the name “Pak Li Kopitiam”, i have tried their Nasi Lemak last Sunday, it is very good.
    The Roti Bakar also very tasty, especially the kaya, i heard the owner make it by themselves. This is also their 5th outlets. Two in Klang & 2 in Shah Alam…..try it out yourself !

  27. Sandy

    Lancy, i was there at Pak Li kopitiam on Sunday too, i ate the Katong Laksa and Bernard order Prawn mee, it’s good. very traditional way of cooking. will bring my parents to eat, because they enyoy good food.bye !

  28. chan fook mun

    Dear sir , i would like to apply as the Old Town Kopiteam outlet franchise in Bentong , Pahang
    Tq.
    CHAN FOOK MUN

  29. VV

    I’m sorry to say none of the “Modern Kopitiam” around KL/Ipoh served the good typical kopitiam’s food, I’m daring to say so because I was raised in a typical Hainanese kopitiam and my dad has ran the kopitiam for more than 60 years for two generations, although we’ve closed for more than 10 years now, we still received request from local to ask us to resume our kopitiam coz there missed our “Roti Kaya”, glutinous rice and curry mee, and I remember last Chinese New Year, a local who had migrated to Singapore knocked at our door asking my mom for “Kaya”, he said he couldn’t find the quality and taste that can compete with our Kaya at Singapore, hehehe……

  30. smithveg

    Singapore old town bread toast have a different taste as in Malaysia. =.=

  31. Mrs. N

    Ya Kun Kaya Toast from Singapore is one of my favourite.

    But my mother swear by the brand of GLORY for the kaya – not too sweet and just the right constituency.

    I have been living in Washington state since 2003 and on my two trips home to Singapore, I will always make it a point to eat only what I cannot get here in USA – and believe me, good kaya toast is one of the things I cannot get in USA.

  32. KK Hoo

    Anyone interested to operate and/or acquire franchise for Kopitiam/Cafe???…Here,I would be able to provibe a 2 cents worth of comments. Not necessarily to get franchise…you just need a concept of your own for that particular area that you intend to operate + good quality food and beverages at the best value + excellence services. Last but not least, most important of all…cleaniness!!!

    I can be contacted at kk.hoo@hotmail.com.

    Please visit http://www.highway.com.my

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