It is still early. Too early for the crowds gathered tightly around all available tables. It is too early to reserve a table with a packet of tissues.
It’s still early, and just a few stalls are open, yet under the roof of the hall already flows a pleasant aroma of strong coffee and evaporated milk.
I take place at the table under the ceiling fan. Its wings stir the hot air, making it slightly more bearable. Before me, there is breakfast. Coffee in a sticky with condensed milk glass. Eggs, in a metal cup full of hot water, reach their perfect, half-boiled consistency. A pile of sweet kaya toasts towers on a plastic plate. I start to peel an egg and struggle with a seemingly easy task, trying simultaneously to pour a drop of salty soy sauce inside. Behind my back ‘an auntie’* – a stall owner – is shouting something in Hokkien. She yanks breakfast out of my hands, pours the content of an eggshell on the separate plate, adds soy sauce and vigorously mixes everything together. Amused, she looks at me quizzically: ‘You see how it’s done? You see?’ Crash course on how to prepare a breakfast – checked.
Types of coffee in Singapore kopitiam
Kopitiam in Malay/Hokkien: kopi – coffee, tiam – shop) is a shop offering drinks and a simple breakfast. As the name suggests, the shop is undividedly ruled by coffee prepared in all possible ways. You can ask for your favourite glass of kopi in kopitiam:
- Kopi Peng – ice coffee
- Kopi Si – with evaporated milk,
- Kopi Siew Dai – less sugar,
- Kopi O – black
- Kopi O Kosong – black without sugar,
- Kopi Kao – thick,
- Kopi Poh – thin.
Those who must set caffeine aside can order “teh” – tea. It also is served in all the ways mentioned above. Both drinks are available as ‘takeaways’ where a liquid is poured into a plastic bag with a stylish handle, made of an elastic cord. Just grab a straw and you can enjoy a portable coffee or tea.
Standard breakfast in kopitiam consists of half-boiled eggs and toasts with kaya jam, made with a coconut milk base with eggs and sugar. Some shops offer other snacks like:
Rojak – a type of fruit and vegetable salad with croutons, bean sprouts, boiled potatoes, cucumbers, apples, pineapples – anything that can be found in the fridge; served with sweet peanut sauce; locals use a term ‘rojak’ to describe Singapore – a mixture of many different ‘ingredients’ (culture, ethnic groups, languages) forming one ‘dish’ (perfectly functioning nation).
Popiah – a kind of spring rolls filled with boiled soy sprouts, turnips, carrots, tofu, shallots, nuts and sometimes pieces of omelette; served with a sweet sauce, chilli or shrimp paste.
* Auntie – a very informal term used in relation to an elder lady. Similarly, uncle is a term related to a male. You can address a female from a hawker stall as an ‘auntie’ – especially the one who serves beer, ‘uncle’ – a taxi driver, especially the one who discuss foreign history and politics. Highly not recommended to address your boss as auntie/uncle.
Know before you go
Before the visit to the food court, you should invest in a packet of tissues. In Singapore, it is a standard tool to book a table.
Even in the most crowded hawker centre, no one dares to take place reserved this way.
Hawker centre / Food court – smaller or larger, semi-open halls which house few food stalls, offering cuisine from different countries: Malay, Hokkien, Indian, etc.
They characterise with good quality, generous portions and ridiculously low prices.
Monday to Friday; early morning till pre-lunch time – 06:00 – 10:30.
Some remain open throughout the day. Some are closed on weekends.
Breakfast set: coffee, eggs, kaya toasts – 3.50SGD (2.50USD)
Rojak / Popiah – 3SGD (2.20USD)
Prices may vary slightly depending on location.