I don’t know which part of the world can lay claim to its origins but the kaya loti aka kaya siu meen pau aka kaya butter toast is well-loved in Malaysia and Singapore.
The kaya butter toast, which is an invention of the Chinese immigrants of Hainan dialect, transcends age and culture. It is the comfort food that is eaten anytime of the day. Usually it complements a cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea and dipped in half-boiled eggs with a few drops of soy sauce.
There are subtle differences in the way it is prepared by different shops but the taste is largely dependent on the taste of the rich creamy coconut jam and the quality of butter slathered on.
After sinking my teeth into hundreds of slices of the kaya butter toast from coffee shops, local coffee franchise outlets, and even at the mamak stalls, I am now able to identify and recommend some of the better ones, that are guaranteed not to disappoint.
Be warned that there are some kaya butter toasts that look like kaya butter toast but taste nothing like it. My first tip would be, do not order kaya butter toasts from a stall that primarily sells roti canai. Chances are, you will end up with planta margarine for butter and canned flour tasting coconut flavoured jam for kaya.
In a decent kaya loti, the star of the show is the kaya. It is a jam that is sometimes in rusty caramel colour or musty grayish green. Depending on its origin, as in the Chinese dialect, the preparation is either double boiled or cooked slowly over a very low fire. The basic ingredients are eggs, coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaves. If the kaya is cooked right and smells tantalisingly fragrant then all else can be forgiven.
However, if you think that making the humble kaya loti is by just toasting the bread, any bread, slapping on the butter with a generous dollop of kaya, then you need to wake up your taste buds.
To begin with, it cannot be any bread. It has to be the soft white loaves usually sold at Chinese kopitiam which they call Bengali roti because the Bengali men used to sell them peddling his bicycle from street to street. The slices of bread must be of a certain thickness so that the inside remains soft and fluffy while crispy on the outside after toasting it.
The Hometown kopitiam has a thin crispy version where the toast is spliced open and spread with kaya and small pieces of butter sandwiched inside. Be careful not to let the melted butter and kaya drip on you when you bite into a slice. The crispiness makes it addictive and you wouldn’t be able to stop at one.
This crispiness is also a tricky feature of the toast. I heard someone remarked, after chewing on the last piece of the toast, that it often cuts his inside cheek. That is likely to happen with eating toasted thick and dense white bread.
Dong Cafe in Ipoh has a delicious combination of good butter and tasty homemade kaya but the toast is a mite too dry and cheek cutting.
The kaya butter toast that I would highly recommend is from Good Taste restaurant where the bread is buttered on the outside and grilled over charcoal fired before slathering with fragrant kaya and strips of butter neatly arranged over it.
The light crisp and saltiness from the butter give delectable savoury flavour to, what I would consider, the ultimate kaya butter toast.
I believe there are other variations of this humble toast that are waiting to be discovered. Please share your comments and recommendations with us on our Facebook – Travel tales-ttsb or @uniquetravels.Ttsb
Siks Mikah travels frequently & believes that humility opens doors inward and outward.