Editor's Note: If you've been to Malaysia and Singapore, you've probably eaten in a kopi tiam. A traditional breakfast and coffee shop, the kopi tiam has already found its way to the Philippines in the past few years. If you haven't given it a try, food blogger Lori Baltazar found what she considers three of the best in Manila.
I place this first in line because it was the very first kopi tiam to introduce Filipinos to the joys that are kaya toast and soft eggs. Some people might find the soft-boiled eggs a bit too uncooked at Kopi Roti, but I have no complaints. What I always zero in on here is Set B: four pieces of roti kaya toast that comes with a pair of soft-boiled eggs and kopi. Thin slices of toasted brown bread are lightly smeared with kaya jam and butter. Eaten as is or dipped into the softly-boiled eggs, it's a meal that comforts.
Eating at Kopi Roti is never an eat-and-run affair. It takes at least ten minutes for the coffee to come out, and seven minutes to prepare the eggs, so I consider this a leisurely meal. The coffee's dark earthiness is cut by the smoothness of the condensed milk, its sweetness merely a fleeting presence on my tongue. The eggs
—hold the soy sauce, please
—are ever so gently boiled just 'til the whites have gelled. The yolks quiver with the saucer's slightest movement, their golden goodness erupting when I pierce them naughtily with the tip of my kaya toast. And oh that kaya jam, it's a truly wondrous coconut milk and egg-based substance that I could get high on!
Kopi tiams have quirky items that deviate from the usual. At Kopi Roti, consider the roti French toast, which is really just French toast smeared with butter, or try the kopi bun, a large, airy roll with a smidgen of kaya jam in the center. While the jam itself is sparse, the bread is soft with a crumbly exterior and it satisfies when washed down with kopi.
Speaking of kopi, you can't eat at Kopi Roti and not have kopi. Brewed the traditional Singaporean way
—ground coffee passed through a sieve with boiling water onto a waiting layer of condensed milk, it's a play on color and texture. Other types of kopi are the Kopi C or Tea C, coffee or tea respectively, with evaporated milk. Kopi O or Tea O is black coffee or plain tea only. Here, tea is brewed the way it is in Singapore, filtered in a long cloth playfully known as sock or pantyhose tea. The milk tea here is what's known as teh tarik, the process of transferring tea from one cup to another to create froth. All available drinks are also served iced, including iced tea and homemade barley.
See www.kopiroti.com.ph for branches.
When you come to a kopi tiam, it's helpful to know the jargon lest you wind up with something completely unexpected. A regular Coffee or Tea is the traditional, sometimes called "brewed in a sock" or "pantyhose/stocking" coffee. This is the one with a layer of condensed milk, the usual beverage served in a kopi tiam. Coffee "c" or Tea "c" stands for that with Carnation evaporated milk added.
If you want to throw your hands up right about now in exasperation at this perceived nonsense, then save your sanity by ordering the Coffee "o" or Tea "o"
—it's black (as your mood is now, I'm sure). There's no being coy about which brands are used here
—I lean slightly over the counter and cans of precisely-placed Marigold condensed milk and Carnation evaporated milk stare back at me.
It's not on the menu but for those who vacillate between coffee and tea, get both in the Yin Yang, a drink that's half coffee, half tea. Clever, yes? Taking a sip then swallow, it tastes like Ya Kun's sweetened, earthy coffee then as it slides down my throat, the drink finishes off with a decidedly tea-ish aftertaste. Again, very clever: a drink with a schizophrenic personality.
Here I babble about beverages, but they're incomplete without the kaya toast. The eggs are poached in such a way that their whites have just barely crossed over from translucent to opaque, their amorphous shape clings to a vivid golden yolk.
Traditional bread used in kaya toast is grilled over charcoal but that would entail smoke and various building violations, so at Ya Kun in Manila, it's toasted over an electric grill then layered with thin squares of butter. The bread used here is a caramel-brown bread that's less sweet than that used in Singapore. Whatever it is, it makes for a memorable breakfast. Other interesting things to try here are the French Toast with kaya and the Milo Toast, which is condensed milk and Milo (!). Far out but it works.
G/F AYK Bldg.
Escriva Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Open Mondays-Sundays 7am — 11pm (or until the last customer is served.)
The one thing that sets this kopi tiam apart from the rest is its butter tower. Intimidating in color, height, and shape, I've always wondered if its purpose was purely ornamental. Other distinctive things about Toast Box is its use of white bread—the previous two use brown bread. In addition, heavier dishes round out one's Singaporean-style breakfast here, so if Nanyang Kopi and Kaya Toast or Peanut Thick Toast aren't your thing, this place is for you.
Consider the Nasi Goreng (fried rice) or the Singaporean Fishball Soup. Spring for the Hainanese Chicken available in quarters and halves and my goodness, Laksa too! Wash it all down with Teh (tea) available hot or cold and milky. This tea is especially strong because of the Ceylon tea leaves used.
Toast Box Philippines
For more information and store locator, check out their Facebook Fan page
Do you agree with Lori's top three kopi tiams? What are your favorite kopi tiams in Manila? Or do you have other favorite breakfast foods from other countries?