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A typical open-air kopi tiam in Singapore
A stall selling ngo hiang

A kopitiam or kopi tiam is a traditional breakfast and coffee shop found in Malaysia and Singapore in Southeast Asia. The word is a portmanteau of the Malay word for coffee (as borrowed and altered from the Portuguese) and the Hokkien dialect word for shop (; POJ: tiàm). Menus typically feature simple offerings: a variety of foods based on egg, toast, and kaya, plus coffee, tea, and Milo, a malted chocolate drink which is extremely popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore and Malaysia.


In Singapore

Kopi tiams in Singapore are commonly found in almost all residential areas as well as some industrial and business districts in the country, numbering about 2,000 in total[1]. Although most are an aggregate of small stalls or shops, some may be more reminiscent of food courts, although each stall has similar appearance and the same style of signage.

In a typical kopi tiam, the drinks stall is usually run by the owner who sells coffee, tea, soft drinks, and other beverages as well as breakfast items like kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and snacks. The other stalls are leased by the owner to independent stallholders who prepare a variety of food dishes, often featuring the cuisine of Singapore. Traditional dishes from different ethnicities are usually available at kopitiams so that people from different ethnic backgrounds and having different dietary habits could dine in a common place and even at a common table.

Kopitiam is also the name of a food court chain in Singapore.

Some common food sold in Kopi tiam are Char Kway Tiao,that is noodle mix with eggs and cockles. Hokkien Mee is a type of noodle serve with prawns,squids and egg. Nasi Lemak is a dish which comes with a thin slice of egg,a small fish and ikan bilis(anchorvives).

In Malaysia

Kopitiams in Malaysia, like in Singapore are found almost everywhere. However, there are a few differences in kopitiams between both countries. In Malaysia:

  • the term kopitiam in Malaysia is usually referred specifically to Malaysian Chinese coffeeshops;
  • food in a kopitiam is usually exclusively Malaysian Chinese cuisine;
  • kopitiam menus are usually not as informative as those in Singapore, where pictures of food items are the norm;
  • food courts and hawker centres are usually not referred to as kopitiams.

Recently a new breed of "modern" kopitiams have sprung up. The popularity of the old fashioned outlets along with society's obsession with nostalgia and increasing affluence has led to the revival of these pseudo-kopitiams. The new kopitiams are fast-food outlets which are reminiscent of the old kopitiams in terms of decor, but are usually built in a more modern, hygienic setting such as a shopping mall rather than in the traditional shophouse, catering mainly for young adults.

This has come after the creation of so-called "coffee culture" by western coffee chains such as Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. The kopitiams offer a viable alternative wherein the coffee culture could be experienced with local flavour and for a more affordable price.

To offer the true kopitiam experience, modern kopitiams such as Uncle Lim's Cafe mostly offer authentic local coffee brews, charcoal grilled toast served with butter and kaya (a local version of jam made from coconut milk and eggs) and soft boiled eggs. Some have extended menus where local breakfast, lunch and dinner meals are served.

Today there are no less than 100 brand names of modern kopitiams operating in various parts of Malaysia.

"Coffee shop talk"

"Coffee shop talk" is a phrase used to describe gossip because it is often a familiar sight at kopi tiams where a group of workers or senior citizens would linger over cups of coffee and exchange news and comments on various topics including national politics, office politics, TV dramas, and food.


See also


  1. ^ The Straits Times Interactive

External links



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