Like mamak stalls, kopitiam is another type of eatery that is synonymous to Malaysian culture. Kopitiam, derived from the Malay word “kopi” – meaning “coffee” in Malay, and “tiam” – meaning “shop” in Hokkien, has become a cornerstone of any vibrant and lively community. Though closely connected to Chinese communities, people of different backgrounds can be seen frequenting kopitiams.
How does it look like?
Kopitiams are rather easy to find in Malaysia; towns and cities with a significant Chinese population will have at least a few kopitiams. However, most kopitiams do not bear the word “kopitiam” in their name; the phrases “restoran” and “kedai kopi” are more commonly used, and the signboard has Chinese writing on it, denoting the kopitiam’s name.
Kopitiams can also have multiple hawker stalls selling different types of dishes, adding variety to the food served there. This, however, makes it harder to distinguish between kopitiams and the larger hawker centres and food courts.
Known for their casual, lively environment and affordable food, kopitiams are popular among the Malaysian Chinese, and are gaining traction among people of other races. Although typically not open 24/7, kopitiams are still good places to eat, drink, hang out, and get accustomed to the local culture. Chit-chatting in kopitiams has become a common pastime among many Chinese people, especially the middle-aged and elderly.
What to eat/drink?
Kopitiams are synonymous with coffee – they often serve many different variants of coffee, such as kopi O (black coffee), kopi C (coffee with evaporated milk) and kopi cham (coffee mixed with tea). Many kopitiams also serve drinks like milk tea, barley drink and Milo.
Among the many dishes served by kopitiams, roti bakar (toasted bread) and soft-boiled eggs have been most closely associated with kopitiams. Other dishes commonly seen in kopitiams include chicken rice, noodles, hor fun (rice noodles) and char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles). Non-halal food such as pork noodles and char siew (barbecued pork) rice may also be served there.
The modern kopitiam
Due to the immense popularity of kopitiams, a new breed of “modern” kopitiams have sprung up, including modern kopitiam franchises, such as Old Town White Coffee and PappaRich. Most commonly found in shopping malls as well as among rows of shops, these restaurants are reminiscent of old kopitiam in terms of decor, but are usually more modern and more hygienic.
Though they usually only serve halal food to appeal to the Muslims in Malaysia, you can still find most traditional kopitiam food and drinks in modern kopitiams.
Kopitiams have become popular eateries among Malaysians, and are known for their casual dining enviroment and good selection of affordable food. Feel free to step inside a kopitiam and enjoy a cozy time there.