Old World Charm: Tea Chapter & Ya Kun Kaya

Singapore is a modern, city-state that lies at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. For centuries, it was a meeting point for traders from all corners of the world. Singapore saw Indian vessels, Arab dhows, Chinese junks, Portuguese battleships, and Buginese schooners. This was the old Singapore. Modern Singapore came about when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles stepped on its soil in 1819. He decided to make this island a trading post for East India Company. This decision made large number of people from neighbouring countries move to Singapore in search of work. Indians, Malays and Chinese settled here as they saw huge prospects in this port town. Singapore proved to be the centre of expanding trade between East and West. In 1959, Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of Singapore as the People’s Action Party (PAP) won the elections. Thereon, it became a part of Malaysia and finally decided to become and independent and sovereign democratic nation on 9 August 1965.

It’s been 50 years since Singapore became independent but the people of Singapore haven’t forgotten their roots. It’s a prime example of old world meets new; traditional meets modern and truly a melting pot of different cultures. A Singaporean typically knows multiple languages. As a tourist, you can get by speaking English with ease. You’ll find the Chinese, Indians, Malays, Indonesians, and people from many other parts of Asia here. As much as people want to progress, they keep a close connection with their past; at least when it comes to food. My journey to Singapore brought me face-to-face with old worldly charm of this independent state. And what better way to explore it than with food?

Ya Kun Kaya
Address: 18 China St, Far East Square
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Kaya Toast is believed to be created by the Hainanese people who came to Singapore on Chinese junks. As some of them worked with the British, they learned to eat what the British ate – toast, jams, butter, tea. When they landed in Singapore, they used locally sourced ingredients to make their own jam: kaya (coconut jam made with egg, butter or margarine, sugar). Just like in this story, Loi Ah Koon travelled to Singapore from Hainan Island with nothing but a wooden suitcase. After learning the tricks of the trade at Hainanese kitchens in Singapore, he decided to open up his very own coffee stall selling simple fare of eggs, coffee, toast, and jam. He got his new bride with him to Singapore who spent hours to perfect the kaya recipe from scratch. Finally in 1944, they set up Ya Kun Coffee stall, selling their basic preparations to everyone from merchants to coolies. The delicious kaya is sweet, has a distinct egg yolk flavour, and a perfect breakfast item required to fuel the body.
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IMG_20150419_104837Today, Ya Kun Kaya is present all over Singapore and in countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, China, South Korea etc. I went to the one at 18, China Street in Far East Square. They open shop early at 7.30 am and quickly serve their signature dish with a few variations. Go past the peanut toast and butter sugar toast options. To taste the best possible version of kaya toast, order their Set A. Pay up when you order and expect your meal to arrive before you finish reading the one page menu.  For $4.80, you’ll get two soft boiled eggs, kaya toast with a slice of cold butter, and a choice of tea or coffee. There’s a way to eat this – drizzle some duck soy sauce over the eggs, sprinkle ground pepper, take your sandwich and dip it in the egg. The crunchy bread, cold butter, silky coconut jam, and savoury egg yolk with a salty soy hit is a burst of flavours that lingers for long. It wakes up your senses. No wonder it’s a breakfast option for many locals. Their tea and coffee is served in endearing porcelain cups which are neatly lined at their service counter. If you look carefully, you’ll even find the sock (yes, sock) they use instead of coffee filters. It’s the old school way to prepare your morning beverage.

Tea Chapter
Address: 9 Neil Road
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Speaking of breakfast and coffee stalls, Chinese tea is widely available in Singapore. Just as you exit Chinatown, you hit Neil Road. On this beautiful street, you’ll come across the Tea Chapter, a Chinese tea shop which opened in 1989. It was a passion project of 13 tea enthusiasts who were captivated with the Chinese tea ceremony performed by their Taiwanese friend. With a lot of hardship, they expanded to the shop it is today where they sell everything from tea leaves to tea pots. To add to their credentials, shortly after they opened, Queen Elizabeth II made a quick stop at the tea shop while on tour. The owners offered her a light fermented oolong from Fu Jian. This particular tea, the imperial golden cassia, became their signature tea and is presented to VIPs. It’s a great idea to sign up for a tea appreciation session where they show you the traditional tea ceremony in all its glory. I was seated at the same table as the Queen and sipped on the same imperial golden cassia. A descendant of one of the founding partners was present at the shop during my tea ceremony and said that while drinking tea, you must finish the cup in three sips: first sip is to cleanse your palate; second sip is to appreciate it like wine, third is to gulp it like beer.
IMG_20150417_171724It’s a gorgeous ceremony performed in an even more gorgeous space. There are cosy corners and images of China that make you feel like you’re in China. The wooden flooring, beautifully done up tables, bright sunshine pouring in from the windows, and sitting areas are simply calming. After the tea ceremony, drop in at their store downstairs to pick up different teas and tea pots. I got along a pack lapsang souchong for $14 that I will relish the way they taught me.

IMG_20150417_173857If that’s gotten you hungry for more and you are thinking of visiting Singapore, here’s some crucial information you need to know. I promised you I’d tell you about it in my last post so here it is…

Singapore is celebrating its 50 years of independence this year. In order to celebrate this joyous occasion, Singapore Airlines along with Singapore Tourism Board have come out with a Golden Jubilee Promotion for Indian travellers to Singapore. Basically, when you book your flights on singaporeair.com for your trip in May – June 2015, you are eligible for three absolutely fantastic deals.

1. Special fare: Starting Rs.22,000 per person
2. Attraction pass: You can choose any one of the three activities given below –
– Universal Studio Singapore one day pass OR
– Executive Set Lunch at Punjab Grill, Marina Bay Sands Hotel OR
– Singapore Flyer (Moet & Chandon Champagne Flight)
3. SG50 bundle: This booklet gives you access to a bunch of activities and all can be used up before 30th June 2015. The activities include Journeys Walking Tours, Yong Gallery, Kin Choo Kueh Chang, Tea Chapter, Tiger Brewery Tour, ION Orchard Food Tour, Boon Tong Kee voucher, and Chinatown Food Street voucher.

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