Singaporean breakfast: a tribute

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I have said it before, but a piece of my heart belongs to Singapore. Since my first visit in 2002 (last stop of our honeymoon), it was love at first sight. Since then, I have been able to return many times, sadly never stopping longer than 4 days in any one visit. Not enough to fully embrace the athmosphere of such a unique metropolis but enough to keep wanting to learn and understand. I feel at home in Singapore, like I do in few places in the world, apart from my homecountry.

I love Singapore.

And with Singapore, I love the food of the city, the melting pot of heritage, traditions and culture. The modern, fine dining Michelin starred establishments as well as the local caffs where no english is spoken.

The real thing

And it’s in one of these that during a stop over a few years ago my friend Medha first took me to experience a real, local, Singapore breakfast. I had tried the classic ensemble before, but in a hotel, with my husband (who was, like me, clueless) and with a waiter who did not even bother to explain how I’d have needed to crack the eggs, prepare the toast and so forth.

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Kopi with Medha in Lavender

What am I talking about? THE Singapore breakfast of Kaya toast and eggs and kopi.

Experiencing the real thing with Medha was a revelation, and such an enjoyable way to start the day in Singapore. We went to a local cafe’ by what we’d call a council estate here in the UK, near the area of Lavender. Blocks of flats surround carefully cared for green areas and flower beds and playgrounds and overall I remember a feeling of peaceful calm, even if around the corner the bustling streets were animated with traffics and people.

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A proper breakfast intro

My first feeling was slightly uncomfortable, I felt a stranger in a world unfamiliar to me but this lasted a whole half minute, before I relaxed and took in the surrounding, realising what a trasurable moment that was! We enjoyed our food and Medha showed me how to manage the eggs and the toasts and the strong, dark coffee before walking to sightsee the area.

Back for more

I had been longing to do it all over again, but COVID got in the way so I had to wait until this year to go back for more. And yet again Medha took me to a classic cafe’, ordered for me, and off we went, enjoying our food together again at Tong Ah on Keong Saik.

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Keong Saik Road on a sunny day

Chinatown is an area I know well and love and many times before I’d have walked past Tong Ah, but never had any idea what marvelous breakfast it offered! Probably preferring a third wave coffee shop with a westernised pastry to be honest.

This time around I felt like a pro. It was brilliant to see her again, we’ve now known each other a few years and met in London this year already so it was a catch up which brought all the comfort of friendship and familiarity with it. She also got me a steamed bun with black bean paste which was delicious!

The coffee at Tong Ah was fantastic and had it not been for my husband who had locked himself out of our friends’ apartment, I’d have surely enjoyed another cuppa with Medha!

A few days later, as I was flying out on Singapore on an early morning flight, I sent my husband and son to an airport cafe (they picked Starbucks, bless them) while I queued for 10m at Ya Kun to enjoy a pretty decent version (with the added layer of peanut butter, oh it was delicious).

Missing my flavours…

Once back in London, I was missing those flavours too much. I had to do something. I googled a few kaya recipes, set on one that seemed fairly achievable, and off I went to Raya in Borough Market to get some pandan leaves. Finally over a rainy weekend, I made kaya. It doesn’t look anything like the ‘original’ but oh it tastes so good! I followed this recipe. First person I had to tell was of course Medha, then my friend Paul Kong who recently wrote a guest post on Singapore‘s most iconic food.

I think the problem with Singapore breakfast is that it is often exactly the same as Singapore lunch and Singapore dinner.

Paul Kong

So what’s the right way to do it? Well, from what I can tell (and please Singapore friends, correct me if I am wrong!) it’s a plain white slice of bread toasted and then a layer of kaya and, before you sandwhich the slices together, a thick layer of butter, proper chunky. This is then served with very soft boiled eggs (2 per serving), cracked in a bowl (not for the squeamish as the white is pretty translucent!) and seasoned with salt, pepper, soya sauce and / or chili oil to taste. While you ‘mop’ the eggs with the toast, you wash it all down with a strong ‘kopi‘ which also, depending on taste, comes with sugar, more sugar and / or milk (often sweetened condensed milk).

Asian breakfast

They do sell kaya in London, by the way, but where’s the fun in that? I was chuffed with the results, and have been enjoying some Singaporean flavours, day dreaming of my next trip to the beautiful city, whenever that might be.

Have you tried kaya on toast? Do you love it as much as I do? Let me know in the comments!

Tong Ah

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