What is Kaya Toast?
The Singaporean breakfast of soft-boiled eggs and kaya with butter on charcoal-grilled toast.
In the 19th century, many Hainanese workers arrived on British ships as cooks. The English breakfast they served was bread and jam with the crust cut off, (according to the custom in England apparently!). When the Hainanese arrived in British Malaya, they sold the food they made for the British — but modified.
Western jams were expensive and the fruits to make them were not readily available here. So the Hainanese improvised and made jam with coconuts that were cheap and plentiful here. There are debates over who invented kaya — some say it was the Hainanese, and others say the Portuguese in the 15th century. There are also are many types of kaya in the region, including Filipino, Thai and Indonesian versions.
What is Kaya exactly?
“Kaya”, meaning “rich” in Malay, was the name that stuck for the jam, perhaps because of the flavour. The Nyonyas (foreign married lady) added pandan leaves into the mix, a common ingredient in their cooking.
The kaya toast combo Singaporeans eat today originated from the Hainanese, and the earliest Hainanese coffeeshop sold kaya toast in 1919.
Whether green or red or orange, served on toast, crackers or steamed bread, kaya can be found in Singaporean homes across all cultures, making Singaporeans different but the same.