In Malaysia, we have this knack of drinking a cup of hot coffee over toast bread slathered with butter and kaya (coconut jam) or half boiled eggs for breakfast. Even describing it brings out the Malaysian side in me, or the Chinese side, I couldn’t decide. Since the wee era of long ago, way even before I was born and my Grandparents are still young, the kopi (Malay word for coffee, oh we north Chinese Hokkien even uses it too as our dialect), and we locals love to have this ritual before we start off the day at each own’s favourite or most convenient kopitiam (coffee restaurant in Hokkien). Imagine the scene of a kopitiam where you find a noisy family at a table with kids fighting over who gets to crack the egg, while few old men sat together in silence reading their newspapers while sipping away while a young couple sat together quietly enjoying their breakfast with occasional whispers to each other. Those were the days of the bygone eras, but still can be found at remaining old kopitiams in the city and in various small towns all over Malaysia.
When I was young, these breakfasts have already been a ‘thing of the past’. We were bombarded by the media for new ways of doing things. At one point, my mum got the idea of us having milk and cereals for breakfast, not something my grandparents would have imagine having for breakfast, but something I am so familiar with. After a while the idea got boring and I was back to milk and bread or eggs and everything else. I also did not have the luxury of where I hear children going to kopitiam with their grandparents or parents for breakfasts, it was probably because my family and my grandmother (who stays next door) stays too far away from town, and by too far I meant in Taiping context which is a drive of 10 minutes away. Even up till my university times, when I am out on my own I have yet to embrace this Malaysian kopi culture, until of course when I finally went out to work. That was when it got me, and since then I always crave for a good old simple breakfast ala Malaysian with the good old Malaysian kopi.
At one point though, the coffee giants from afar hit our shores and it shocked the generations before me. I hear so many comments like “who would pay RM10 for a cup of coffee when I can get one with RM1 from the local kopitiam?” or “have you heard of the extremely expensive coffee?” or “I couldn’t understand young kids who pay so much nowadays just for a cup of stylo coffee, do you know I use to drink coffee from its saucer which is spills from my grandfather’s coffee?”, and so the nagging goes on, and I for one just nods as at that time, thankfully those coffee giants have yet to invade my hometown, and I can proudly make a stand that I do not support them, but who would have known, few years down the road I did spend that much money on the cup of coffee in the city where I can get it and yes I do enjoy it, but it is an occasional treat for me at least. But who could have resist the posh setting, the comfortable sofa, the cozy lightings and the varieties of coffees to choose from and to top it off, free wireless access, those were also precious back then when broadband was not a common thing for every household yet.
Later on, the ingenious Malaysians came up with a cross in between our local kopitiam with all its nostalgia and worthiness and the coffee giants with all its posh environment and facilities, out came our very own new age kopitiam. “New age kopitiam?” you asked, oh yes, that is the name I came up with for the new style kopitiam that has been mushrooming around Malaysia. The new age kopitiam is a place where they serves the nostalgic food and drinks that we all still so fond of in a place that exudes the theme of the old-styled coffee shops while adding some new twists of some comfortable sofas and air conditioned area and still manage to keep the price right in between the local kopitiam and the coffee giants. The idea hit it off immediately and now you can see these new age kopitiam spreading like wild fire through the power of franchising. Though I must admit that the food is never as good as you can find in local kopitiam, or even the kopi may not necessarily be the same as the nostalgic kopi or the kaya any better than the tried and true generations of kaya making kopitiam out there, I couldn’t resist going to the new age kopitiam, probably for its convenience (it is seriously at every nook and corner of the Klang Valley now, even at the outskirts area) and for knowing what you are going to get roughly – toast bread with butter and kaya, half boiled eggs, kopi and some other local dishes to choose from and besides that without spending a bomb.
This is how the evolution of the kopi culture in Malaysia is, from the long standing yesteryears of kopitiam that our grandparents and their parents used to enjoy, though now dwindling down from its previous glories, to the coffee giants invasion to Malaysia where loads of youth couldn’t resist, and now to the new age kopitiam that is truly Malaysian. I for one enjoy all three generations of kopi culture in Malaysia, embracing the diversity, revelling in the nostalgias, indulging in the posh coffees while also enjoying the in between. Do try at least both of the truly Malaysian kopi culture when you are here, sipping the local brewed kopi at the old kopitiam with the regular locals during breakfast and also catching a cup of kopi at the new age kopitiam with the diverse crowds at every other times.
Rokh is a food columnist on Malaysia Travel Guide, she’s an epicurean and a cook who loves to eat, also writes in her own Malaysia Food Guide – Thamjiak.com . In this column, she will bring you along while she explore various Malaysia foods, like what is good, what makes them so special and how or where to best well enjoy them. More [+]