Sunday, January 29, 2012

1MB Travels: Singapore: Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Fact: Susan Feniger did not invent Kaya toast. I know that may be a little hard for some to accept, but so are many things in the world that are simply, truth.

The original kaya toast was invented by a husband and wife team in Singapore:  Ah Koon was an enterprising young man who arrived at 15 years old to Singapore as an immigrant who did not know anyone. He started as an assistant at a coffee stall, learned the trade then saved to open up his own in the 1940s - an inspiring tale of tireless hard work, endless optimism and passion for serving good food to the community.  He eventually married and his wife perfected a homemade mix of egg and coconut to be spread over her husband's charcoal-grilled toast.   Ya Kun is apparently what the coffee stall's name evolved to as sounding similar to the owner's name. 

Kaya, as the spread is called, quickly became the stuff of legend - and Ah Koon and his family built an empire of coffee stalls with the same cozy, neighborhood food stall vibe only now with dozens of locations all over Singapore including many franchises.
On our holiday trip to Singapore, we were lucky enough to find that there was a Ya Kun Kaya Toast stall right across from our hotel!

It was a quick service set up: you order at the counter, find yourself a seat, and they call you when your food/drinks are ready.

You can order a la carte or breakfast sets - we chose to go with the Kaya Toast breakfast set ($4.50SG ~$3.60US) that came with a stack of toast with butter and kaya spread, 2 'soft-boiled' eggs that are really more like poached, and a hot drink.  The toasts were pieces of thin, wheat bread that are charcoal-grilled for nice smokey flavor which goes really well with the subtly sweet coconut-egg kaya spread. 

My mom actually reminded me that we used to eat the Hong Kong version of kaya as kids - that I LOVED but had no idea was the now famous kaya! The HK version is made by Yeoh's and is a translucent orange, smooth, light and very sweet.

Ya Kun's kaya is more of a translucent golden color, light more subtly sweet.  A delicious, nuanced spread that made me fall in love with this version as an adult.  As for the toast, I would have wanted more substantial pieces, but these made for a nice light breakfast (on a second visit, I got the french toast which was fantastic).  I'm not at all a coffee connoisseur, and on the first visit I got hot Horlicks (a malted drink again a childhood fav in HK, so glad to see that they served it at Ya Kun!); on the second visit I tried their iced coffee, which had a very fragrant aroma that was a perfect start to my morning.

Despite the now huge empire, Ya Kun's slogan somehow still feels very authentic "The Toast that binds...kinship, friendship, partnership".  The lovely guy behind the counter (who actually looks like Ah Koon per the photos on the wall, but obviously isn't him) whose name I somehow never got, was super friendly, asked us about our visit and remembered and asked us about Hong Kong on the second visit.  If I lived there I could imagine myself going to Ya Kun as a morning ritual!

Though the vibe is still very personal and nostalgic, Ya Kun is now clearly a modern company.  That prides itself on constantly coming up with new fun ways to serve kaya including Kaya Cheese Toasts, the aforementioned french toast, and butter sugar toast.  And an apparent local favorite, kaya on buttered soda crackers.

They also have a small merchandise area that sold souvenir jars of kaya in cute little boxed sets, as well as cookies made with kaya butter. 

One of my favorite things to do when travelling is to fill at least half of my suitcase with local specialty snacks and foodie finds, so that when I get home I can relive the great food memories and hang on to my vacation for just a little bit longer (and to make the return to 'normal' life a little bit more bearable).  So, I stocked up on the little jars of kaya (just $6US for two 75gram jars in a cute lil gift carrier!) as well as cookies.  Now a few weeks in to my return to LA, I treat myself to kaya spread over toast every once in a while - every bite brings me back to that little coffee stall in Singapore, having breakfast with my parents and as happy and carefree as a 5 year-old again, and that puts a smile back on my face.

I hope I don't run out of kaya anytime soon - but when I do maybe I'll finally go to Street for my fix, and to see if their version lives up to the hype.

[Deal alert: For those who are staying in Singapore a few days, and lucky enough to be close to a Ya Kun coffee stall - be sure to pick up a Ya Kun Rewards card.  Get a stamp for every beverage purchased, and get a free hot coffee/tea after collecting 8 stamps]

[For more photos and stories from our trip to Singapore, check out the album on my Facebook page.]

Ya Kun Kaya Toast
The Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street, #01-31, Clarke Quay, Singapore
Ph: +65 6534-7332


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