Every local kopitiam in Singapore you need to know

These old-school coffee houses have been a main stable of Singaporean culture for years. But not all are made equal.

22 March 2021 / Joanne H. / Singapore

Many people regard breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Needless to say, Singaporeans—whose favourite past-time is eating—take their breakfast rather seriously. Say hello to the kopitiam in Singapore.

But before you continue, why not hit the ground running and hop onto this 5-star Singapore food tour where expert local guides will help you discover this culinary capital.

Generally, you will find that locals have their breakfast at old school coffee shop houses, or kopitiams (kopi means coffee in Malay, and tiam is the Hokkien word for shop).

A typical breakfast at a kopitiam in Singapore would include a drink—usually kopi (coffee), teh (tea), or milo (a sweet chocolate drink)—and traditional Singaporean breakfast items like kaya (a sweet coconut jam) toast and soft-boiled eggs.

There are plenty of kopitiams in Singapore. But you don't get the same traditional, rustic, and comforting experience in anything other than a kopitiam that is marked by years of history.

To help you avoid boring chain cafes and commercial coffee shops, we have round up the best kopitiams in Singapore for you to start your day right.

Heap Seng Leong

10 North Bridge Road

+65 6292 2368

Located at North Bridge Road, Heap Seng Leong is a kopitiam in Singapore that is well-known for its old-school set-up. When you step into the coffeeshop, everything—from its tables, chairs, tiles, and décor—will make you feel like you have stepped into a time machine that brought you back to Singapore in the 1970s.

If you are expecting a fancy menu with tons of options to choose from, you should skip this one. Heap Seng Leong serves the bare essentials - just simple local breakfasts in Singapore.

For more than 50 years, the owners of Heap Seng Leong have been toasting bread over charcoal the traditional way, poaching eggs, and brewing traditional coffee using a sock and a kettle.

Their kaya toast may be a crowd-pleaser, but it is their kopi gu you, or coffee with a slab of butter, that is the star of Heap Seng Leong. The melted butter adds a savoury and caramelised flavour to the coffee, giving the otherwise one dimensional kopi an added kick.

Popularly dubbed the bulletproof coffee, this unique drink will give you the burst of energy you need to kickstart your day and is definitely in the running to be the best kopi in Singapore.

Tong Ah Eating House

35 Keong Saik Road

+65 6223 5083

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Search for kaya toast Singapore online and Tong Ah Eating House will surely pop up at the top. Established in 1939, Tong Ah Eating House kopitiam in Singapore is best-known for its iconic crispy kaya toast.

Here, it is toasted three times, resulting in a biscuit-like texture that customers queue each morning for.

Charred bits are scraped off skilfully with the lid of a condensed can. The toast is then thinly sliced in two before fragrant kaya and salted butter from New Zealand is generously slathered between them.

If crispy toast is not something you like, Tong Ah Eating House also offers soft and fluffy steamed bread or traditional toast that are similarly filled with kaya and butter.

To complete your typical Singaporean breakfast, grab a cup of coffee or tea. Just like at Heap Seng Leong, you can order your kopi with a slab a butter in it.

The tea here, however, is what sets is apart from other coffeeshops in Singapore. The owner of Tong Ah Eating House has been getting his Sri Lankan tea from the same supplier ever since he started his business. The tea leaves are then aged for nine months before being brewed resulting in a rich, smooth, and deep flavour.

That alone makes it worthy of the title of one of the best kopitiams in Singapore.

YY Kafei Dian

37 Beach Road

+65 6336 8813

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YY Kafei Dian is the perfect place for you to stop by before embarking on a day of shopping at Bugis Street. Be prepared to queue, though, as lines of people flock to the old school Hainanese coffeeshop for its soft kaya bun.

Unlike the typical flat kaya toast that you can find commonly around Singapore, the soft kaya buns served here are thick and fluffy with a crispy crust. Baked in house, the buns are lightly toasted so that the centre remains soft.

The buns are generously topped with kaya and a generous amount of butter. At just $1.20 per slice, you’d get a taste of one of the best kaya toasts in Singapore on a shoestring too.

If you are hungry for more, opt for the full set - a cup of kopi and two soft-boiled eggs and you’ve got the full local breakfast in Singapore.

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Ah Seng Hai Nam Coffee

7 Maxwell Road

+65 9710 2907

Ah Seng Hai Nam Coffee is an old school Hainanese kopitiam in Singapore and toast stall that has its beginnings at Lau Pa Sat in 1964. Today, the stall operates out of the popular Amoy Street Food Centre, where it has been for last 11 years.

If you have trouble locating the stall, perhaps it is best to rely on your sense of smell. The stall is one of the few remaining stalls that prepares its toast over charcoal. Each day, the stall owner flips fluffy slices of white bread over a traditional charcoal grill.

If you want something other than kaya toast, Ah Seng Hai Nam Coffee also serves up killer French toast. The pan-fried egg bread is served with a generous serving of house-made kaya.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to couple your toast with a cup of rich and powerful Hainanese coffee made using aromatic Robusta beans that are ground on site every morning.

Seng Hong Coffeeshop

58 Lengkok Bahru

+65 6251 1218

Seng Hong Coffeeshop is an unassuming spot in Singapore that serves up traditional toast and coffee under a block of flats in the Bukit Merah neighbourhood.

Their incredibly soft steamed white bread is a must have. Have them with your choice of spread: sweet brown kaya or creamy peanut butter.

For a unique eating experience, here is a pro tip. Ask the chef for a soft steamed bun with otah, an Indonesian spicy grilled fish cake which is rare to come by in the city.

Seng Hong Coffeeshop also offers a good cup of Nanyang coffee. I kid you not, they are still boiling water from a 70 years old ancient pot. Thick, fragrant, and creamy, most of their customers are quick to say that Seng Hong Coffeeshop serves the best kopi in Singapore. Try it to believe it.

Keng Wah Sung

783 Geylang Road

+65 6744 3784

One of the oldest coffeeshops in Singapore, Keng Wah Sung has been run by the same family for over 70 years. It has kept its original signboard and tables, all of which contribute to the coffeeshop’s old school charm.

Known for having one of the best kopis in Singapore - Keng Wah Sung’s kopi is strong, aromatic, and rich. Many of Keng Wah Sung’s loyal customers even buy the stall’s coffee powder to make from home. For just $3.60 - one of the cheapest prices around - you can get yourself a typical breakfast in Singapore with coffee, kaya toast, and two soft-boiled eggs.

While the kopi is the star of the breakfast set, the kaya toast is definitely a close second. The bread is perfectly toasted and served with cold slices of butter.

All in all, Keng Wah Sung is one of the best kopitiams in Singapore to go to for a hearty breakfast at very affordable prices.

Da Zhong Café

105 Hougang Ave 1

Since kaya toast was an invention created by Hainanese immigrants, it only makes sense that we pay a visit to the Hainanese Village Food Centre when we are on the hunt for the best kaya toast in Singapore.

Surprisingly though the best thing about Da Zhong Café is its kopi. Its rich sweetness is offset by hints of bitterness which balances out the cup of coffee. Robust and aromatic, Da Zhong Café’s owners sure know how to brew a cup of coffee.

The underrated coffeeshop’s kaya toast, while not amazing, still makes for a great local breakfast in Singapore.

However, we recommend that you skip this one if coffee isn't your breakfast stable. If you are a coffee fanatic, you can thank us for this kopitiam in Singapore later.

Good Morning Nanyang Café

14 Scotts Road

+65 9650 3256

If you are looking for a coffeeshop that serves coffee and toast with a twist, Good Morning Nanyang Café kopitiam in Singapore is the place for you. Unlike the other coffeeshops featured in this list, this coffeeshop in Singapore is a rather new establishment, opening its doors in 2005.

Made with freshly roasted beans, the coffee served at Good Morning Nanyang Café is a life saver for those who work around the area - aromatic and smooth.

But the star of this café has got to be their toast. The café owners serve kaya toast with ciabatta, an Italian bread, instead of classic white bread. They slightly toast the ciabatta such that it is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The breads are also uniquely baked with caramelized orange peel before it is topped with kaya and butter. In addition, the kaya served here is made fresh daily and not overly sweet so that you will not feel too guilty for having such a sinful breakfast.

While not the best kaya toast in Singapore, the special orange ciabatta kaya toast in Singapore is worthy of a mention and is a great option for you if you are looking for a healthier option or simply something different.

The 1950s Coffee

Smith Street

This Michelin-listed kopi stall situated at Chinatown Complex Food Centre serves traditional Nanyang kopi-o or black coffee. If you stomach the snaking queue, you will be rewarded with a full-bodied and rich cup of coffee.

Kopi tarik, or pulled coffee, is the crowd-pleaser here, so do give it a try.

If you want to complete your meal, add on a side of traditional thick-sliced bread that comes with kaya or peanut butter. Fluffy and moist, the toasts are perfect for you to dip into soft-boiled eggs - the way most people enjoy a typical breakfast in Singapore.

For our Hong Kong readers out there, the 1950s Coffee is available under the Tian Tian Plus concept at Causeway Bay. So, head over there to get your breakfast fix.

Chin Mee Chin Confectionary

204 E Coast Road

This round up article would not be complete without Chin Mee Chin Confectionary. This famous old school kopitiam in Singapore has been around since 1925.

Back in 2018, stall owners shocked fans as news of the coffeeshop’s closure spread. After more than two years since its closure, the coffeeshop is set to return in May 2021.

With its iconic mosaic blue and white tiles, marble top tables and wooden chairs, this little shop is a true blast from the past. The coffeeshop serves up nostalgic treats like half-boiled eggs, egg tarts, cream puffs, and cupcakes.

But if you can only try one thing from Chin Mee Chin Confectionary, go for their kaya toast. Prepared with round buns instead of traditional white bread, Chin Mee Chin’s kaya toasts are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Chin Mee Chin means genuine, beautiful treasure in Mandarin, and sure enough, it lives true to its name. May 2021 can’t come soon enough.

When you’re in Singapore leave your Starbucks card at home, forgo that cream cheese bagel, and opt for a local breakfast in Singapore. At any of these kopitiams, you'll be promised a proper local breakfast without breaking the bank.

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