Popular among the young, old and everyone in between — the Kopitiam culture in Malaysia is a significant representative of the country’s vibrant food culture. Kopitiam is an integral part of many people’s everyday lives, with patrons getting their daily coffee and munching on some toasted bread. Even with the proliferation of trendier cafes and convenient breakfast options like instant white coffee and ready-to-eat meals, patrons still frequent Kopitiam on weekend mornings to enjoy a good cup of coffee with other local delicacies.
The humble origins of the Kopitiam can be traced back to the early 1900s. Many of the popular kopitiams began life as small food shops where Chinese labourers would catch a refreshing beverage or enjoy an affordable meal during the day. Traditional kopitiams have an unmistakable facade that gives it an old-timey charm — think storefronts with a massive Chinese-lettering plague, tiled floors, wooden furniture, with fading paint on the walls. The store will be filled with the fragrance of freshly-brewed coffee as waiters dish out plates of hot food while conversations are abuzz, giving it a friendly neighbourhood hangout atmosphere.
Chicken chop, toast bread with butter and kaya and kaya rolls — they might all sound like regular food served at a Western-style cafe or restaurant, but local kopitiams do it better! Back in those days, Hainanese immigrant labourers served as cooks for British colonial households, where they learned how to brew coffee, make toast, bread and other culinary delights. After the colonial era, these Hainanese cooks opened their restaurants and adapted the food to suit local tastes, which we now enjoy in kopitiams today. Along with this, kopitiams also serve a wide array of local dishes such as nasi lemak, fried noodles and curry noodles — all the quintessential local culinary delights that you can think of!
True to their name, kopitiams are known for serving different kinds of coffee and tea beverages. Like the food, Kopitiam drinks are unique renditions derived from a variety of drinks worldwide — from the silky smooth Hong Kong milk tea to the thick black coffee of Western colonial cultures. Some popular drinks served at Kopitiam are Kopi C (coffee with evaporated milk), Kopi O (black coffee with sugar) and white coffee (the beans are roasted with oil and margarine until it achieves a light brown hue).
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