CNNGo reader 365days2play rounds up the best spots to try this simple and sinful local snack
The humble kaya toast, along with its counterparts the half-boiled egg and kopi, have come a long way, having been around for many generations. It is difficult to find a Singaporean that dislikes something as simple and comforting as a piece of toast spread with kaya.
Kaya: More than just a jam
Kaya toast used to be the breakfast staple of the average Singaporean, but nowadays, eating Kaya toast has become something of a communal must-do activity. After lunch and in the evenings, office workers flock to coffee shops all over Singapore to gossip over a cup of coffee and some kaya toast.
On weekends, families and couples plop themselves into the coffee shops for a kaya toast snack after a hard day’s shopping or to fuel up before going for a second round. Where else in the world do you see people eating jam sandwiches or peanut butter sandwiches together for fun?
Kaya is more than just something you spread on some toast. It is an event in itself. People meet to have kaya. People boast that they know the best kaya spot in town.
Kaya is basically a bread spread. It is best described as a coconut egg jam to those who have not been lucky enough to sample any.
Use it as you would peanut butter, strawberry jam or marmalade. However most Singaporeans would agree that kaya is best savored on freshly toasted bread, onto which a generous amount of kaya will be slathered, along with a thin slice of cold butter to add richness.
You can always tell how generous an establishment is by looking at how much kaya has dripped off your toasted bread slice onto the plate.
How to sniff out the good stuff
First and foremost, a good kaya toast should have a generous spread of kaya. No matter how good the kaya is, if there is only a smidgen of it, the kaya will be drowned out by the plain taste of the bread.
Next, the kaya should be pleasantly sweet, with subtle hints of coconut and pandan flavor. Overly sweet kaya is a secret method employed to hide the fact that the quality and quantity of the expensive coconut cream have been compromised.
Kaya comes in major shades, reddish brown or green. The cooking method employed results in the color difference. Although all shades taste equally good, avoid buying kaya that has food coloring in it.
Some people like their kaya smooth, while other like theirs a little lumpier. Once again, which is better is based on personal preference, and in any case, smooth kaya is simply made by sieving the lumpy kaya through a mesh.
There is unlikely to be any aroma coming from the kaya unless you literally stuff your nose into the toast. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding.
Upon biting into the piece of kaya toast slice, the toast should be slightly crunchy. You should be able to feel the kaya enveloping the toast and the butter oozing into the hot toast.
Coffee shops selling kaya toast are a dime a dozen. However, a coffee shop selling good kaya toast is hard to come by, and will have loyal fans traveling from all parts of Singapore just to savor this tasty treat. Here are five establishments serving what I consider to be the best kaya in Singapore.
The coffee chain that makes the best kaya toast: Killeney Kopitiam
When people think kaya toast, they normally think of the ubiquitous Ya Kun, Killeney, ToastBox and Wang Cafe as these establishments have opened branches all over Singapore. In my opinion, the best Kaya Toast is from Killeney Kopitiam.
The French loaf that they use is crusty on the outside yet soft on the inside. The kaya tastes so fresh and there is just so much of it that I can even delight in licking the kaya off my fingers.
It costs S$1.60 for the normal kaya toast and S$1.80 if you want it served on French loaf.
Killeney Kopitiam (Killiney Road main branch): 67 Killiney Road, tel: +65 6734 9648 / 6734 3910; open Monday, Wednesday - Saturday 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Tuesday, Sunday & public hoidays 6 a.m.-9 p.m.
The most versatile kaya toast coffee shop: Tong Ah Coffee Shop
Tong Ah Coffee Shop is one of those establishments that uses lumpy green kaya in their kaya toast. I love the fact that their toast is charred on the outside yet still soft inside.
Tong Ah also serves kaya on steamed white bread, which is a rarity in Singapore these days. Some people insist on steamed white bread as it accentuates the subtle flavors of the kaya.
It seems that Tong Ah wants to capture a wide spectrum of customers because they also serve ultra crispy kaya toast, which involves toasting the bread on both sides several times. The normal toast goes for S$0.60 each, probably the cheapest in town.
Tong Ah Coffee Shop: 36 Keong Saik Road, tel: +65 6223 5083; open Monday - Sunday 7 a.m.-9 p.m. (Alternate Wednesdays off)
The Kaya toast place with the best coffee: YY Kafei Dian
YY Kafei Dian wins the award for the establishment with the best coffee. While the kaya here is not the best, YY wins lots of brownie points because of the wonderfully aromatic and strong coffee that it brews.
One can’t eat Kaya toast without having something to drink, and a bad coffee just spoils the meal.
I love the fluffy buns that YY serves up, which is quite different from the flat slices at most other places. The peanut butter toast here is extremely good too.
Each toasted bun goes for S$1.10 while the kopi goes for S$1.
YY Kafei Dian: 7 Beach Road, #01-01
The most old school and the best all rounder: Chin Mee Chin Coffee Shop
Chin Mee Chin is yet another establishment that has been around practically forever. The shop still retains its old charm.
I personally find that CMC offers the best tasting kaya of all time. This isn’t surprising when you realise that the kaya is cooked by hand over a charcoal fire.
The kitchen is unblocked, so you can view the old hands going about their preparations.
The coconuttiness and egginess of the jam really comes through. They aren’t stingy with their kaya either and their buns are also freshly made every day.
If YY Kafei Dian wins an award for the fluffiest buns around, Chin Mee Chin wins in that their dense yet soft buns add another dimension to the kaya itself. If there’s anything to fault, it is that their milk tea is sometimes too weak for my liking.
Each bun goes for S$0.90.
Chin Mee Chin Coffee Shop: 204 East Coast Road, tel: +65 6345 0419; open Tuesday - Sunday 8:30 a.m. -4 p.m. (closed Monday)
The best kaya toast in the central business district: Good Morning Nanyang Cafe
Good Morning Nanyang Cafe not only scores as my favorite pick for the best kaya toast in the central business district, it scores for offering the most unique kaya toast. Most other coffee shops serve kaya toast using white bread or loaf bread (baguette).
If you want a posh version of the kaya toast, Good Morning Nanyang Cafe serves up kaya toast using ciabatta!
They don’t just stop at ciabatta kaya toast, they also have orange ciabatta kaya toast. The orange ciabatta tastes like a breath of fresh air, but traditionalists need not be distracted by this because the kaya is still made by hand every day.
They also take the trouble to butter the bread evenly for you, which is something many places do not do. The Plain Ciabatta Kaya Toast goes for S$2.30 while the Orange Ciabatta Kaya Toast goes for S$2.70.
Good Morning Nanyang Cafe (Shenton Way branch): 108 Robinson Road #01-00; open Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m., Saturday 7:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.