If there ever was a traditional Singapore breakfast, kaya toast is it. A slice of soft bread, toasted to warm and crispy perfection, sandwiching sweet coconut spread and a cold cut of butter, served with two soft boiled eggs and a small cup of local coffee or tea – the perfect indulgence.
The History of Kaya Toast
When the Chinese diaspora came to Singapore, among them were people from the island of Hainan. The same community of people who created Singapore’s famed Hainanese chicken rice are also credited for popularising kaya toast. Many of them worked for the British as cooks, so these hawkers served up local renditions of what the upper crust ate – namely, toast.
The local populace could not afford the exotic fruit jams that were served during English breakfasts and teas, so enterprising cooks replaced them with kaya, a much cheaper and easily available spread.
Ya Kun coffee stall was set up in 1944, while Kheng Hoe Heng – the predecessor of Kiliney Kopitiam – has been around since 1919! After 2000, these two franchises went on a huge expansion and there was a boom in kaya toast’s popularity. Today, there are other franchises that have joined the fray. You can also order kaya toast from most coffee shops at the drinks stall.
The Heart and Soul of Kaya
Kaya consists of a few simple ingredients: coconut milk, eggs, pandan and sugar. Despite having so few ingredients, however, there are two major variations of kaya! You’ll notice there are kaya toasts that use kaya that are orangey-brown in colour, as well as places that use green kaya. The orangey-brown kaya is Hainanese-style kaya, made with caramelised or brown sugar, while the green kaya is Nonya-style. The Hainanese-style kaya is generally sweeter due to the larger amounts of sugar used, while the Nonya-style kaya will have a stronger pandan taste due to the addition of pandan liquid.
Regardless of which style of kaya it is, making kaya involves hard work! Eggs and sugar are whisked into coconut milk, and the mixture is then cooked in a bain marie with pandan leaves. This concoction requires constant stirring while cooking, and this easily takes at least an hour and a half! Much quicker and easier to just go out and buy some kaya toast from one of the many cafés around. You can even buy a jar of kaya to bring home with you if you want to! So where should you go for your kaya toast fix? Here are some of our recommendations.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Established in 1944, Ya Kun has been around dishing up kaya toast and great local coffee and tea for over 70 years! Apart from the traditional toast, Ya Kun also has soft steamed kaya bread, French toast with kaya and more. Find their numerous branches on their website; you can’t go wrong with Ya Kun!
Another stalwart on the local kaya toast scene, Killiney Kopitiam is a labour of love. A regular customer of the then-named Kheng Hoe Heng bought over the coffeeshop in 1993, and renamed it Killiney Kopitiam after the location of the original coffeeshop. Retaining the key workers who continued the tradition of great kaya, toast, coffee and tea, Killiney Kopitiam continues serving customers today at many locations around the island.
A relative newcomer on the scene, having only been established in 2005, Toast Box nonetheless has seen great success with over 70 outlets islandwide now. Promising to bring the traditional tastes of a bygone era to both young and old, Toast Box boasts of recreating Nanyang Coffee with their unique blend of Robusta, Arabica and Liberica beans. Find their outlets here.
Chin Mee Chin Confectionary
Unlike the others on this list, this isn’t a franchise, and it’s a bit out of the way. Service is also usually brusque, and there’s no air-conditioning here. Why would we recommend Chin Mee Chin, then? Well, you know there’s something worth eating when queues form despite these conditions. Chin Mee Chin is famous for their soft, toasted buns that are made onsite, served with the perfect smear of kaya that is not too sweet. Get there early though – they open at 8.30am and close at 4pm, and they may very well have run out of buns before their stated closing time.
Address: 204 East Coast Road, Singapore 428903
Tel: 6345 0419