National brekkie

Posted on August 9, 2006 by Aun

Today, Singapore celebrates its 41st birthday. So today of all days, I thought it would be appropriate to make, eat and write about something that I felt was very typically (though not uniquely) Singaporean. While there a myriad of dishes that are beloved by my countrymen and women and some which are considered by many to be “The Great Singaporean Dish”, like chicken rice, fish head curry or laksa for example, to me, nothing is more Singaporean than a breakfast composed of kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs.

For foreign readers, kaya (or serikaya, as it was originally called) is an egg jam, made with coconut milk that’s been infused with the aroma and taste of pandanus leaves (also just called pandan). It’s a Malay and Nonya (Straits Chinese) specialty. Local food historians trace its origins back to to the Portuguese, who, during the height of the spice trade, had established major trading outposts in the Straits of Malacca.

“Kaya toast” combines this rich, delicious jam with thin slices of toast and cold bits of butter. Traditionally, the bread is toasted over a charcoal fire. The combination is, while simple, quite heavenly. The sweet jam contrasts wonderfully with the savoriness of the butter. The crispy toast also acts as a good counterpoint to the two spreads.

Kaya toast is usually served with soft-boiled eggs (flavored with soy sauce and pepper) and a cup of exceptionally strong, sweet coffee. All across the country, thousands upon thousands of Singaporeans wake up every day, get dressed and head out to their favorite coffeeshop for the nation’s favorite breakfast. For many, the day doesn’t even start properly without digging into this now classic combination.

I’ve never tried making my own kaya before. And while I own several local cookbooks, including some fantastic old volumes handed down to me by my mother, I decided to ask an expert for some help. Christopher Tan is my go-to guy when it comes to Nonya food. Unlike me, who rambles aimlessly on the Internet, Chris actually makes a living writing about and working with food. He’s an extremely respected food writer with several cookbooks under his belt, a great photographer, and one of the few and best food stylists in the region. He also comes from a family of food journalists. His book Shiok! is the one volume that S and I always recommend to anyone interested in learning to cook Malaysian and Singaporean dishes.

Chris passed S and me his family’s favorite recipe and has graciously allowed us to share it with all of you. Unlike the kaya used in most coffeeshops, which is creamy and smooth, Chris’ recipe yields a slightly more dense, custardy kaya. He contends that traditional Nonya kaya is made this way. You should be able to, he told me, slice it with a knife. The soft, spreadable kaya that most coffeeshops, including Ya Kun and Killiney Kopitiam (the two most famous kaya toast places in town), serve is a Hainanese adaptation.

The recipe worked well. In fact, it was surprisingly easy. Easy enough to make me wonder why anyone would buy commercially-made kaya. S and I had steamed our kaya for only 90 minutes (Chris recommends between 90-120 minutes), so it wasn’t too firm, i.e. easy to spread. Paired with some nice French butter (which S stores religiously) over hot toast, this really made my (National) day.

(Note: I’ve created a new badge which appears in this post. I’ll be using it when writing about Singaporean foods, restaurants and people. Kudos to Lush 99.5 for their “Lush loves local” campaign; it’s a fantastic campaign which has totally inspired me to do this. Of course, this doesn’t mean I won’t be posting non-Singaporean content. In fact, I’ve just secured a deal to be the Official Blogger at a major overseas Gourmet Festival. I’ll be posting about that soon. )

Kaya
Makes 600-700 ml

250ml coconut milk
8 pandanus leaves, washed
275g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 fresh chicken eggs

Combine the eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir (do not beat) with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

Tie six of the pandanus leaves into a knot, bruising the leaves to release the pandanus aromas. Put the coconut milk and pandan into a saucepan. Slowly heat it up until it begins to boil. As soon as it reaches the boil, pour it over the egg mixture, stirring it in carefully. When blended, take out the pandan and strain the mixture through a sieve into the top part of a double boiler. Gently heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until it just begins to thicken.

Meanwhile, tie your remaining pandanus leaves and place them in a heatproof bowl or loaf tin. Then sieve the mix into the container. If you use jars, use wider, shorter jars; you can also put one tied pandanus leaf into each jar. Cover tightly with foil. Make a few small incisions in the foil so steam can escape.

Place the container (or jars) into a steamer and steam for 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until firmly set. Cool and then keep covered in your fridge. It will keep for a week.

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About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. ThyCountess August 9, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    Malaysia has now a few ‘Kopitiams’ that serves Kaya n toast, half boiled eggs and that dark original taste coffee. So authentic! You should try eating french toast with kaya. Absalutely gorgeous!

  2. jialard August 9, 2006 at 7:22 pm

    hey…. thanks for the post on national day. Have been reading your blog for sometime now and your pics are AWESOME. I tell myself i need to get a camera like yours for my blog too. haha….. thanks man…. always admire a guy, who loves his wife, his family, his friends and his food!

  3. ling August 9, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    Hmmm.. Is there an alternative for the double boiler? ‘Cos I do not own one, unfortunately. =(

  4. gwenda August 9, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    cool i had no idea the recipe for making kaya’s so simple! thanks for sharing, shall try it when i manage to find pandan leaves at the markets over here. :D

  5. zhonghuarising August 9, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    Oh Chubby Hubby, this may be the first time I’ve ever not felt my mouth water by your description. Kaya is just too, I guess mushy for me. I like my spreads to melt into my toast, and when you can slice kaya and it just sits on top it just doesn’t do it for me. I can see why you would choose it as a national breakfast though! Happy National Day!

  6. Chubby Hubby August 9, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    Nyetzy: Thanks. Glad I could inspire you to make your own kaya.

    Ilingc: Definitely. The next best thing to making your own kaya is stealing a delicious batch of someone else’s. ;-)

    Ana: Who knows? If your kaya is good enough, you could open Manila’s first kaya toast cafe.

    Jeanne: That would be awesome. Thanks.

    Thycountess: Oh yum, I really like french toast shmeared with kaya. Good call.

    Jialard: Thanks.

    Ling: Sure, just pour the mixture in a deep saucepan and stir it over really low heat, checking to ensure it doesn’t overcook.

    Gwenda: My pleasure.

  7. nekochan August 10, 2006 at 12:20 am

    For proper thick Nyonya style kaya (you can turn the jar upside down and the kaya won’t budge!) in Kuala Lumpur, go to the Taman Tun market, to Liza’s Stall and get the kaya there.

    The same kaya is also sold at Little Cravings at 1-Utama but more expensive lah!

  8. S August 10, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Ling:

    Chris actually cooks his kaya in a pot directly on the stove (as CH has suggested), but he has been making kaya for a long time :P I find that when you’re doing it the first few times, having a water bath of some sort helps. Otherwise you go from kaya liquid to scrambled kaya in mere seconds. It can be very frustrating.

    If you don’t have a double boiler, sit a metal or glass mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water (the bowl should be large enough so that it doesn’t fit completely inside the pot. The pot rim should sort of hold the bowl up). The effect is similar. Make sure that the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water in the pot.

    If this sounds too troublesome, then watch your kaya closely when you do it on the stove and keep the flame at its tiniest setting.

    Have fun!

  9. Anonymous August 10, 2006 at 11:10 am

    My mum can make kaya as well, so it is really yummylicious. But sad to say I’m too lazy, or shall I say in typical Singaporean lingo, NO TIME LAH!

    Inspired to have kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and coffee for brekkie. Went Ah Mei and ordered the usual set. Why is it that besides Ya-kun here, the other’s (Kiliney Kopitiam included) do not crack your eggs for you? And it gets all your fingers dirtied and the job of removing the shells from the whites is just too messy for morning peak hour rush.

    I like my brekkie fuss-free, and preferably I do not need to go wash my hands just “slurp the coffee and the eggs” and chomp the bread.

  10. August August 10, 2006 at 11:38 am

    hello ch! was introduced to your wonderful blog very recently and have been enjoying your posts and pics tremendously.

    thank you for this kaya recipe; it sounds fabulous (and easy) so i shall bravely attempt it one day soon.

  11. Zara's Mama August 10, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Hmmm.. thanks for sharing. I love Kaya.. but it’s hard to get good one nowadays in the market.

    This seems a bit like a custard kaya huh? Let me try it out and see.

  12. Austin August 10, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    I was taken to eat this dish at Ya Kun Kaya Toast by the Singapore Tourism Board. Cheap bread, waaaay too much butter, weak coffee and undercooked eggs come to mind… I reckon it would be better if made with some care, but in my opinion Singapore has much, much more interesting food than this!

    In Thailand sankhayaa (as it’s known here) is often served over sweetened sticky rice,the whole morsel wrapped up in a banana leaf package. Attractive and delicious.

    Austin

  13. Rosa's Yummy Yums August 10, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    I love Kaya and could eat it anytime! I’ve made it myself a few times and it goes very well together with Zopf (Swiss bread) and any other kind of bread (white, brioche, etc…).

    Have a nice national day!

    By the way, your logo looks very good and classy…

  14. Chubby Hubby August 10, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    Nekochan: Thanks for the heads-up.

    Anonymous: I love that Ya Kun always cracks your eggs for you and that they are always perfectly done. Amazing how consistently great they are.

    August: Thanks and good luck.

    Zara’s mama: Good luck. Yah, it’s a tad more custardy. Steam it for just 90 minutes like we did if you want it more spreadable.

    Austin: To each their own. I love a kaya toast brekkie. And while it may not be the most interesting food, it is very, very local and much beloved.

    Rosa: Thanks. Yah, kaya can go on just about anything ;-)

  15. shaz August 10, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    yum… especially with a cup of hainanese kopi on the side.

  16. sam August 11, 2006 at 1:55 am

    I always teased my dad that when he had butter on his toast, a casual observer might have thought he was in fact indulging in cheese.

    Looks like you have the same approach as he does.

  17. babe_kl August 11, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    hi CH, this recipe sounds the easiest of the lot that i’ve seen but may i know the coconut milk is of the thick consistency or thin? i should be using fresh coconut milk… am still wondering how many coconuts i need to buy haha

  18. Chubby Hubby August 11, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Babe_KL: The best is thick coconut milk. :-)

  19. siewyuk August 12, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    One of my all time fave brekkies too! thanks for the recipe, am inspired to try and will let you know how it turns out :-)

    wonder if it works as well if I were to bake it in the oven in a bain marie – think I should cover the kaya with foil?

  20. siewyuk August 12, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    oops, meant to ask you where you’d purchased the lovely jam jar. imagine it would make a lovely pressie to friends and family.

  21. S August 12, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    Babe_KL: One coconut should be adequate.

    Siewyuk: Definitely cover it with foil if you’re going to put it in a bain-marie in the oven. Prick the foil so that the steam can escape. The jars are from Muji.

  22. babe_kl August 14, 2006 at 9:40 am

    thanks CH & S

  23. PePs August 24, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    My friend took me to this coffee shop in Katong : http://www.flickr.com/photos/shimmertje/101091139/

    I instantly loved it!

  24. Sascha August 30, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    That looks so wonderful. I’ve tried making it, but it ends up being very, very thick, rather than granular after steaming. It’s still rather tasty, but it ends up being more like a very firm custard than a creamy spread (I’m thinking that perhaps a higher ratio of coconut to egg will work better for me… perhaps that coconut milk that I used wasn’t quite liquid enough). :-)

    I may try just cooking it in the double boiler the whole time, like Ping does, rather than steaming it.

  25. Anonymous September 14, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    jus wondering .. what is the different between nonya and haninanese kaya.. keep seein kaya from this two type.. but isnt it the same? wha..

  26. CF May 17, 2007 at 8:26 am

    CH, I tried tha kaya recipe but it was a disaster. Not sure where I went wrong. The kaya turned out too sweet and then it is very ‘coarse’. After steaming, I can see a lot of bubbles trapped in the kaya. My hubby said I put too much egg but I followed the recipe. Nevertheless, taste wise is OK, very fragrant. If you know where my mistake is, do tell me pls.

  27. Dani May 18, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Hello! I’ve recently discovered this blog and I’ve became a big fan. I’m from Portugal and it is funny you mentioned that the origins of Serikaya trace back to the portuguese. In fact, there is a dessert from a region of Portugal (Alentejo) that is called sericaia, wich is similar to your kaya, except we use cinnamon and regular milk, instead of pandanus leaves and coconut milk.
    Please, keep your wonderful reviews and recipes coming!
    All the best

  28. Louise COZIAN June 11, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Hi
    Thanks for the recipe…..have been looking for one for quite some time…..it’s really good……keeps the homesickness away (living in France for the past 30 years!!). I do apple jam from apples in our yard, so if you need some recipes, let me know….. Thanks again for sharing

  29. greasemonkey December 1, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    i recently received a jar of kaya from my sister in law who lives and works in singapore. now that i’ve finished it (it lasted all of 3 days), i’ve been hunting around for a recipe to replicate it. thanks for posting this (and to Christopher Tan for giving his consent)! i’ll definitely be following your blog from now on! = )

  30. Sylvia July 5, 2010 at 5:20 am

    I wish we had something like that. A national day of breakfast would be so awesome. And all the restaurants would have free breakfast.. it would be the best day ever.
    -Sylvia
    Cigar Ratings

  31. Jo. S January 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Thanks for the kaya recipe! One question: Any particular reason as to why we have to knot the pandanus leaves?

  32. Angeline September 21, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I do hope Chris produces his own Kaya for retail!! I am a fan of kaya toast.. Ya Kun makes very nice kaya spread and the toast was superb! An upsize Kopi siew-dai is my usual perk-me-up! Never missed! Hey, btw, I am working my Brekkie blog now and I do hope I get some inputs from foodies like yourself and many others here. Let’s share our interest to a wider general public!! See ya:)

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