Kopitiam is a common part of Singapore, where a typical drink stall would sell coffee (kopi), tea (teh), milo and other soft drinks along with breakfast items of kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs. This is our way of life!
The Singapore local café culture is also an interesting one, because growing up, there were no Toast Box, no Wangs, no Kaffe & Toast. I had my Yakun at Far East Square, and Killiney Toast at… Killiney!
Now you see these local kopi shops everywhere, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia – which is something we Singaporeans should be proud of.
I know of many foreign friends who find slurping half-boiled eggs with pepper and dark-soya sauce, both disgusting and delicious. How about drinking coffee from a saucer?
Here are some of the 20 favourite Singapore local cafes – some found in chains, some found in solo coffee shops which we should treasure.
Tong Ah Kopitiam
35 Keong Siak Road
Tong Ah has moved away from the iconic building in the corner of Keong Siak (which Potato Head Folk took over) but it’s iconic crispy kaya toast still remain.
The toast is thrice-toasted, with charred parts scrapped off by the lid of a condensed milk can (very skillful), sliced into two (very thin) and sandwiched with iconic kaya and salted butter from New Zealand. One of the very few around that still does it the old school way.
Love their kopi – smooth, fragrant, lingering.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Various locations: Far East Square, Suntec City, Paragon, PoMO, Golden Shoe Car Park, People’s Park Centre, Bugis Junction, 313@Somerset, Raffles City etc
Ya Kun Kaya Toast is probably THE shop that started the entire wave of local kopi toast chains. Founded by Loi Ah Koon in 1944, one of its most original shops is at Far East Square. After they started franchising in 2000, Ya Kun never looked back.
Many Singaporeans love their thin, brown crispy grilled bread, spread with homemade kaya comprising of coconut milk, sugar, eggs and fragrant pandan.
Franchising causes differing standards, but at least their eggs and beverages are one of the most consistent around, comparatively.
Various Locations: Killiney Road, Sim Lim Square, Upper East Coast Siglap, Marina Square, Lucky Plaza, Changi Airport, Ion Orchard etc
This Hainanese Kopitiam was founded in the late 1919, and was eventually bought over by a regular customer of the shop in the 90s.
Killiney Kopitiam has many branches, but the main outlet at at Killiney Road remains as one of the best, if not the best in taste and quality. Some of the other branches are questionable.
Their freshly homemade kaya and rich kopi concocted from Columbian Arabica coffee beans remain their main selling point. My other personal favourite dish is the fragrant curry chicken with crispy prata.
Good Morning Nanyang Cafe
The Grandstand, Far East Plaza, Pagoda Street and Maxwell Chambers (Note: Hong Lim Park’s branch has closed)
Good Morning Nanyang Cafe’s kopi made with freshly roasted coffee beans is one of my favourite cup for being aromatic and smooth, yet not overly sharp.
Other than the traditional toast and thick toast, I would most recommend the Orange Ciabatta set – the breads are baked with caramelised orange peel, evenly toasted with a spread of kaya within.
Wisma Atria, 313@Somerset, United Square, Plaza Singapura, Suntec City, Marina Bay Sands, City Square Mall etc
Toast Box owned by the Bread Talk Group started as a drink stall unit at Food Republic Wisma Atria in 2005.
Slightly more than 10 years in the market, it has more than 70 outlets locally, and found its way to Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong and China.
They are most known for their Peanut Butter Thick Toast, though toppings of Butter Milk, Floss, Tom Yum Garlic, Otah and Hebi Hiam have proven to be popular as well.
Coffee & Toast
Raffles Xchange, Citylink Mall, Millenia Walk, Changi Airport, Tanjong Pagar Xchange, Tampines Mall, Singapore General Hospital Blk4, Esplande Xchange, 111 Somserset, CPF Building, Singapore Post Centre
This does not sound right, but I always end up eating Coffee & Toast whenever I am in SGH (not that I love going there.) They also survive well near the central MRT stations, selling affordably priced beverages and lunch specials such as mee siam, laksa and chicken rendang (at certain outlets).
My favourite sets there are the mackerel otah bun (easily one of my regular eats) and chicken ham with cheese croissant. Kaffe & Toast is their halal subsidiary.
Chin Mee Chin Confectionary
240 East Coast Road
The Hainanese coffeeshop along East Coast Road, presently owned by Mr. Tang See Fang, was founded by the owner’s father in 1925.
There is a certain nostalgic charm in this little shop, with mosaic blue/white tiles, marble top tables, a mixture of wooden chairs and ceiling fans. My favourite is the French Toast with the thick slab of butter and sweet aromatic kaya hand-made in traditional style.
Other than kaya toast, this confectionary offers pastries like custard puffs, curry puffs, swiss rolls and fruit cakes, lined up in aluminium trays within old-looking metal shelves.
Wang Your Local Café & Heavenly Wang
Orchard Gateway, Suntec City Mall, Funan Digitalife Mall, Clifford Centre, Marina Bay Financial Centre 3, Harbourfront Centre, Changi Airport T2 & T3, Rivervale Plaza
Wang Your Local Café and Heavenly Wang (the fully-fledged version) services traditional toast sets and local favourites such as mee siam, laksa, mee rebus, and chicken curry. I think their toast and mee siam are o.k.a.y at some places.
Consistency is probably missing – you may end up with burnt bitter kopi at some branches. You probably don’t know this – Wang Café is a subsidiary of NTUC Foodfare.
IMM Jurong East and Woodlands MRT
One of the newer ‘chains’, and probably most promising. Café O wishes to embrace all the 4 races in Singapore – they sells prata, murtabak, chicken curry and nasi lemak sets, and have 4 languages in their logo.
Surprise, surprise. They are owned by Soup Restaurant. Yah, the same guys who sell Samsui chicken.
Ang Mo Kio Hub, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital,313@Somerset, Changi Airport
Another kopi chain offering the usual such as brown bread, traditional bun and “kaki sandwich” filled with roasted chicken, egg mayo, sardine or ham & cheese.
The kopi is not too bad, needs greater consistency, and slightly on the bitter side.
Icon Village, Woodlands Civic Centre
The kopi offspring of Jollibean, which is too off the radar, and should need some serious marketing and repackaging. Many office workers come for their mee siam or nasi lemak.
For the toasts, they have slightly more varied toppings such as chicken floss mayo, spicy shrimp floss and chocolate fudge with chopped peanuts topping.
Transit @ Changi Airport T1, Bedok Point, Republic Plaza
One of Singapore’s most familiar coffee brand Owl has its developed its first Owl café, which serves toast and an array of Asian-fusion delights such as Hainanese Curry Chicken, Assam Mango Chicken, Chicken Meat Ball Soup and Soft Shell Chill Crab Pasta.
The Toast is unexpectedly tasty, with crispy evenly toasted sides, and generous topping of kaya and fragrant butter. Both the Kopi and Teh I had, unfortunately, were bad – one too thick and saccharine sweet, the later diluted and watery thin. Depends on your luck I guess.
Hill Street Coffee Shop
Gardens By The Bay, Chinatown Point
Go for their steamed bread, fluffy and pillow-soft, served in dim sum baskets. The ice versions of kopi and teh are served in ‘double happiness’ retro-looking metal cups.
Laska, kampong rendang chicken nasi lemak and iced desserts are available. I suspect their Chinatown Point branch is much much better than the other one. By Select Group also behind Chinatown Food Street.
Old Town White Coffee
Jurong Point, JCube, Yew Tee Point, Orchard Cineleisure, Square 2, City Square Mall, Big Splash, Bedok Mall, White Sands
A franchise from Malaysia, both of the food and beverage are surprising a few notches higher in terms of prices than all the other kopi cafes. Quality – debatable. Customers still go there anyway.
Some of their food is decent. Some, but be prepared to wait for quite some time.
One Raffles Place, Liang Court, One Shenton, Star Vista, International Plaza, Citylink Mall
Where are they from? Suddenly I see Fun Toast everywhere.
Their Kaya Butter Soft Bun is not too bad, Gula Melaka Kopi interesting. Fun Toast’s kopi is probably the most ‘por’ (diluted around), good for those who don’t like their coffee too strong.
Toast@Work and Toast Junction
Century Square, Great World City, Harbourfront Centre, Junction 8, Lot One, NEX, Raffles City Shopping Centre, Sembawang Shopping Centre, United Square, Yusof Ishal House NUS, Bugis Junction
No pun intended, Toast@Work may still need some work. Their toasts are messy and needs more fillings, and eggs sometimes over or under cooked. If you go early enough in the morning, try their beehoon with chicken wings and sambal chilli.
Bugis Village, Century Square, Changi General Hospital, Funan DigtaLife Mall, Hougang Mall, Heartland Mall, Raffles Link, NEX, Tiong Bahru Plaza
Most famous for their popiah, Qiji’s nasi lemak, mee siam, and laksa are all above the average, reasonably priced and quite consistent. Kopi and teh are reliable (especially their teh si peng), but their toasts are sad, sad.
YY Ka Fei Dian
37 Beach Road
YY Ka Fei Dian near Purvis Street serves some pretty neat Hainanese fare zi char style, such as pork chop, chap chye, and chicken rice.
Many come here for their soft kaya bun, baked in the shop, lightly toasted and quite firm yet fluffy. Probably one of the best soft buns around.
1983 A Taste Of Nanyang
Changi Airport T1, JEM, The Shoppes at MBS, Republic Polytechnic, AMK ITE, NTU
This is the kopi I have most often since it is near my workplace. Opened by Koufu, the coffee has a bitter aftertaste (which I got used to), teh is weak on the other hand.
The nasi lemak and curry with soft buns are somewhat delicious, especially with the crispy chicken wings. Mee Siam is weird.
Socks and Pans
7 Tanjong Pagar Plaza #01-108 Singapore 081007 (Tanjong Pagar MRT, along Craig Road
Not the traditional local café, Socks & Pans sells full-bodied local kopi brewed with traditional filter sock. This is matched with kaya toasties, butter sugar cinnamon toasts, and Asian-inspired thin crust pizzas.
A fun coffee-ordering guide (I took a picture off the wall from Fun Toast) – you would get a hang of it somehow.
Just to let you know, I insanely tried every single place featured here and more. Some I left out because their kopi or service gave me a nightmare. It’s really subjective, but which is your personal favourite kopi and toast place?
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