Aug 20, 2010

Lingua Kopitiam Malaysiana: Prologue

Back at a time when Starbucks was unheard of, before we have Old Town (in brand new malls), and chain outlets that sell exactly the same food all across the country, there was an even larger consortium of food outlets that tailor its services to local communities in small kampungs and large cities alike. Its name, kopitiam, is a true representation of the 1Malaysia spirit - a combination of Malay (kopi for coffee) and Hokkien (tiam for shop).

If you think a kopitiam sells only coffee ala-Starbucks, then be prepared to be surprised by the versatility of the kopitiam tauke. For breakfast they cater a wide range of continental items that set the standards for these chain outlets in shopping malls to replicate - soft-boiled eggs with a dash of soy sauce, charcoal-grilled toast with thick butter and kaya, sweet tea or coffee that kick start your day.
Back when the person taking your orders or making your coffee isn't some foreign worker who understand only the first half of the order, the tauke takes great care in your drink. That's why we have an entire list of vocabulary that we leash out for drinks. It's even more complicated than "How Would You Like Your Drink" in Starbucks - we have instructions for hot/cold/lukewarm/chilled but less ice, we have instructions for the different level of sweetness (especially so if you're in an Indian kopitiam), we have options for milk as well - condensed milk or evaporated milk, and we have a whole range of genuine though diluted fruit juices.
The kopitiam culture defines who we are as Malaysian - our love for good food, our boisterous talking (that we even bring into Michelin-starred restaurants) and our laid-back lifestyle.
It is with this in mind that I decided to compile a list of Lingua Kopitiam in line for Malaysia's 53rd birthday. Afterall, 53 is my lucky number, and one can never get the oomph from the teh tarik served in Starbucks (if they ever come up with one).