Ask any Singaporean what their ideal breakfast is and many will mention the homely meal of pale green kaya spread on buttered toast, occasionally accompanied by jiggly soft-boiled eggs and a dash of dark sauce.
Some of us might even recall our mothers or grandmothers lovingly stirring the paste over the kitchen stove, with a sweet, heady fragrance enveloping the room as she piled the pot with coconut milk and pandan leaves.
Whatever your memory with the iconic spread is, one thing’s for sure: us Singaporeans still can’t get enough of it. Kaya today can be found in traditional Nyonya and Hainanese variants, with the former boasting a rich pandan flavour and deeper green hue, and the latter being sweeter and brown in colour.
Opt for bold flavours such as saffron and gula melaka from contemporary brands if you’re feeling adventurous. Read on for our list of heritage artisans and modern establishments that have made it their mission to uphold the luscious jam’s legacy.
Ujong Gourmet takes its name from Singapore’s indigenous name of Pulau Ujong and seeks to revitalise traditional recipes for the modern palate. The brand prides itself in following an original Peranakan recipe and boasts a loyal following for its artisanal coconut jam. Highlights include the Straits Kaya (S$9.50), which is made with butterfly pea and perfumed with notes of vanilla, and the unconventional, amber-hued Saffron Kaya (S$9.50).
Cheng’s @ 27 is a third-generation family-run restaurant offering modern zi char dishes. The establishment’s artisanal kaya (S$15) stays true to a traditional Hainanese recipe that incorporates eggs and freshly squeezed pandan juice. A silky, aromatic spread is the result of stirring it over a stove laboriously for hours, and fans enjoy it for not being overwhelmingly sweet. Other home-made snacks worth picking up include the pillowy gula melaka chiffon cake and moreish tapioca kueh.
Since Violet Oon is frequently heralded as the doyenne of Peranakan fare, it’s no surprise that she rolled out one of Singapore’s most iconic treats. Constant stirring over a double boiler and steaming the jam after is what gives the Nyonya kaya (S$12.50) here a creamy, paste-like consistency. We won’t judge you if you choose to have this fragrant goodness on its own, several spoonfuls at a time. Get a jar or two from the brand’s flagship store at ION Orchard.
Founded in 1945, Kim Choo Kueh Chang is one of Singapore’s oldest stewards of Peranakan culture and cuisine. The brand is most known for their traditional rice dumplings and kueh but also offers home-made Nyonya kaya (S$2.20). The jam here is smooth, olive-hued, and sure to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth.
Rainbow Lapis is a traditional heritage bakery nestled away in People’s Park Complex that boasts a wide selection of classic Nyonya treats and old-fashioned cakes. Choose between the traditional Nyonya-style kaya (S$6), pandan kaya (S$6), and gula melaka kaya (S$6). Spread this and globs of butter over lightly browned toast for an indulgent snack.
Inspired by founder Cynthia Chua’s penchant for topping croissants with kaya, Tiong Bahru Bakery has begun rolling out its own version of the iconic green spread. Fresh pandan juice, coconut milk, castor sugar, egg, and virgin coconut oil star in the brand’s rendition of the spread. The kaya here has a soufflé-like texture and is crafted in small batches. It is only available in a single dollop for an additional 50 cents upon request at any outlet with a pastry purchase.