Singapore's old-style cafes
Breakfast of champions.
What we say:
Singapore’s traditional breakfast of kopi or teh with kaya butter toast and eggs has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, with local chain Ya Kun even branching out abroad. If you’d like to get nostalgic and take a step back into Singapore’s culinary past, where should you head?
Local coffee chains include Ya Kun, Killiney, Wang Cafe, Good Morning Nanyang and Toastbox. Seek out the first two on the list if you can, as they’re the oldest. Killiney’s original branch on Killiney Road was established by the Hainanese in 1919, while the original Ya Kun stall was set up in the 1940s near today’s flagship outlet at Far East Square on China Street — and it’s still run by the founding family.
Other cafes like Wang and Toastbox don’t have as huge a reputation, but still serve up a similar style of coffee and toast with kaya and butter. Tradition lives on through the serving of the kopi in a porcelain teacup and saucer — some Singaporeans absolutely detest it if any other type of cup is used — but they also offer a range of other Singaporean specialties such as laksa and Malay favourites like mee siam, mee rebus and nasi lemak.
Dong Po Colonial Cafe boasts a vintage setting with old magazines and furniture, raising the nostalgia to a new level. While Western cafes might offer heavy creams and chocolates in their cakes, their Singaporean counterparts have adapted recipes to be lighter and more suited to the tropical clime and local palate — think almond biscuits and light butterfly cupcakes.
EatPlayLove, a cafe in the Arab Street area, offers as well as coffee products that were much loved by those who grew up in the 1970s and before. Popular toys then include ‘blowing bubble’, a gelatinous substance which can be blown into a ‘bubble’ lasting minutes, Chinese chess, and foam and cardboard airplanes.
On the snack front EatPlayLove remains traditional, offering goodies once popular with school kids like Hiro chocolate cake and Ding Dang Tang candy.
While it’s not quite a cafe, the yellow-themed Old Chang Kee outlets provide simple breakfasts and post-lunch snacks for a song. Founded in 1956, it’s most famous for its curry puff, a pastry stuffed with curried potatoes and hard-boiled egg, which has evolved to include mushroom and sardine as well.
Most of the offerings here are fritters, but there are also classics like squid and fish balls, together with carrot cake and fried spring rolls. Old Chang Kee now has a sister cafe, Curry Times, which serves up local dishes and promises to help ‘Revive your memories of the good old days’.