Miles from Ya Kun Toast

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.
~ Charles Dickens

Living in New Zealand, my breakfast on extravagant days = poached eggs with sides; french toast with bacon & banana; a cream cheese bagel… to name a few. Some days I have toast, a muffin, or nothing. We are fortunate in Wellington to have many splendid cafes, so I usually have coffee out a few times weekly with friends.

Yesterday, I thought I would try to make kaya toast for breakfast. Found Dad’s recipe for microwave kaya (a shortcut method for the jam of my childhood) and was dismayed that the New World I went to after work did not have pandan essence. No kaya, noooo!

I awoke abruptly this morning to my phone ringing, head confused from a busy dream and body tired from a busy week. ALL I could think about was kaya, soft-boiled eggs, Grandma.

Good heavens. I shall have to try to locate pandan essence elsewhere sometime later today.

Meanwhile though, I could at least (try to) make soft-boiled eggs. You’d think they were easy to make. Well, eggs are difficult to cook perfectly as it is, and soft-boiled eggs are the hardest of all to perfect in my opinion. The egg needs to be exactly midway between raw/inedible and hardboiled – soft runny yolk, runny (but not like mucus) white, etc. It’s one reason Singaporeans go to places like Ya Kun to have them made for them.

(This is my oops version – try Googling “kaya toast” for more accurate depictions):

Breakfast in Singapore, by the way, is a colourful affair. There are so many choices you could probably spend at least a month trying out all the different things you could have, like the aforementioned kaya toast, which is usually served with soft-boiled eggs and coffee or tea.

There are a few variations of commercial kaya now available on the market, ranging from avocado-green to pale brown in colour (Grandma’s homemade kaya is a crazy bright green, takes hours to make and tastes beautiful). It’s an egg jam, rich and unlike anything else you call jam, except you can spread it on bread too. Its main ingredients are coconut milk, pandan leaves and eggs. A Nonya/Malay (Straits Chinese) specialty, some sources say it was inspired by the Portuguese who had established major trading outposts in the Straits of Malacca during the peak of the spice trade.

Eggs. Supposedly, 3 (minutes) is the magic number when it comes to how long you should cook them to achieve perfect soft-boiled eggs. A problem when you live in a place with 4 seasons, I think – different room temperatures affect the temperature of the water on your stove, and though my Grandma heats the water to a rolling boil then turns it off while she cooks the eggs for 3 minutes in the hot water before cracking and slipping them quickly into a bowl… I leave the stove on very low heat in cold, late-Autumn New Zealand. There may be other factors besides this too, but it’s the main one I thought of today. It is not uncommon for Singaporeans to splash a little soy sauce and shake some white pepper on to the eggs.

As a side note, something I LOVE about having grown up in Asia is the way it truly opened my palate and senses to the sharp, piquant flavours of sweet, spicy, salty, sour – and the ability to appreciate combinations of what might seem like an appalling clash of opposites in NZ. :-)

Alright, last thing – coffee. Here, I love the sweet and robust espresso topped with creamy New Zealand milk steamed/frothed by exceptional baristas. In Singapore, you either drink Starbucks/Coffee Bean frappuccinos, or traditional kopi in coffee shops/food courts (the latter being the type you must have with kaya toast and eggs). Twists on kopi include having it black, with condensed milk, with evaporated milk or with sugar.

This morning, I had no kaya, no perfect eggs, no kopi-o. But I had butter, bread, yummy eggs, black coffee, a good imagination… and some day soon, hopefully, I will have some very delicious kaya (maybe from my kitchen?) to share.

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2 responses to “Miles from Ya Kun Toast

  1. Hooray for eggs! Soft boiled are my favourite too! Must be something in these Asian culinary genes ay… I usually make mine by pouring boiling water from a jug onto the eggs in a small pot and leaving for about 12-15 minutes.

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