photo credit: Teddy Wolff
You probably walk around the city with a few different mental lists. Maybe you have one list of the people you actively avoid, another list of bodegas that don’t have cats (or do, depending on how you feel about cats lurking behind stacks of paper towels), and one more involving casual places that serve really good, affordable food where you could show up anytime. If you spend any portion of your waking life downtown, Kopitiam belongs on that third list.
This all-day Malaysian cafe used to have a small location on Canal Street serving mainly sweets and drinks, and a very short list of savory snacks (though you couldn’t spend much time sitting down to eat them, since there were only three or four seats). That old place closed in 2017, and the new location not only has at least four times as much space, but also a much more extensive menu, and the kind of atmosphere we’d recommend for any type of low-key meal - not just takeout lunch or coffee and a snack.
To be clear, the new Kopitiam is still very casual. You order from a laminated menu at the counter, take a number, get your own silverware and bowls, eat happily, and then bus your table. You might see some families, some people on dates, and some solo diners on dates with their phones - all of whom are there for the same reason you are. To hang out and eat some some affordable food that’s good enough to hold its own against what you’d find at more expensive full-service restaurants.
That food ranges widely from sweet buttered toast to noodle soups and desserts. Since Kopitiam serves food all day, you can get breakfast - which includes some very good fish ball soup and sugary Malaysian-style French toast - anytime. And starting at lunchtime, there’s even more to choose from. Like an oyster omelette we'd elope with, and a rice dish with dried fish that comes wrapped in a banana leaf. Overall, the best things Kopitiam makes are light, with a combination of sweet and salty flavors. A great example of this is the pan mee soup, which has wide hand-pulled noodles, bits of pork, a sweet anchovy broth, and enough dried fish to use as bait to catch another, larger fish. It’s our favorite thing here.
So the next time you get hungry in between avoiding the people on your first mental list and the cats on your second, remember that Kopitiam belongs at the top of your third (the list of casual places you could go anytime to eat something really good). It might even inspire you to come up with a new mental list - of reasons to come back here.
This is the national dish of Malaysia, and it involves coconut rice topped with fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumbers, and hard-boiled eggs. Eat it for breakfast, eat it for lunch, eat it for dinner. Just eat it.
Malaysian-Style French Toast
There are two types of French toast on the menu. One of them comes with chocolate malt powder and condensed milk, but this version is completely coated in sugar, and it’s best when really hot. Expect a crash in a few hours.
This is our favorite thing here, and it’s got tons of great things in it. Like flat, unevenly cut noodles and dried fish that add great texture to the sweet-ish broth. Even people who don’t like soup will like this soup.
Which came first, the chicken or the oyster? It doesn’t matter, you need this oyster omelette on your table. It’s fishy and salty, and it comes with some great seafood sauce.
A couple triangles of fried ground-up chicken that come in a little leaf jacket. This is a great appetizer to share. Make sure you disrobe them before eating.
Another good appetizer to split or order solo. Opening the banana leaf feels a little like unwrapping a present. A present filled with dried shrimp and sticky rice.
These are individual desserts that are made fresh every day, and they change frequently. Most involve sticky rice and and sugar, and they’re not too sweet. Pick one or two to try at the end of your meal.