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By Elena Kadvany

Singapore's oldest cafe to bring imported coffee, kaya toast to Palo Alto

Uploaded: Jul 29, 2019

Come this fall Killiney Kopitiam, known as Singapore's oldest cafe, will have its first U.S. outpost in downtown Palo Alto.

Amanda Steckler, a Singaporean native who has lived in Palo Alto, is opening an outpost of the now-franchised cafe chain at 552 Waverley St. in early fall. The space between Tai Pan and The Prolific Oven last housed longtime office-supply store Congdon and Crome.

Steckler described herself as a food lover and avid home cook who felt University Avenue's dining scene was "lacking in southeast Asian comfort food -- some place casual that individuals and families could go to enjoy great food," she said. "This is something that not only I missed, but my Asian friends and others that had lived in or visited Singapore missed."

Killiney Kopitiam is named after the street on which the cafe first opened 100 years ago (and where it still exists today). In "Singlish," a mix of English, Malay and Chinese, Kopitiam means "coffee shop," Steckler said. The cafe became well-known for its coffee and traditional charcoal-grilled bread toast but the menu expanded over the years to include curries, rice and noodle dishes.

Killiney Kopitiam's kaya toast with coffee and soft-boiled eggs. Photo courtesy Killiney Kopitiam.

"Singapore is a food lover's paradise with Michelin-starred restaurants as well as a tremendous wealth of street food, with Killiney Kopitiam in the middle," Steckler said. "Singapore is a blend of cultures and ethnicities -- Chinese from many Chinese provinces, Punjabi, Hindi, Malay, Indian, Muslim, vegetarian, as well as the British colonial presence. Not only have these cultures been blended, but the foods have blended also, resulting in the very unique Singaporean cuisine that we will be offering."

Killiney Cafe Palo Alto will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Steckler plans to import a Singaporean coffee roast that she said isn’t available anywhere else in the United States. The coffee, or "kopi" in Singlish, is made "in a very theatrical fashion by pouring between long-spouted vessels," she said.

Steckler suggests learning some Singlish to order other drinks that will be on offer: "kopi-c," or coffee with condensed milk; "kopi siew tai," coffee with less sugar; and "kopi-o," black coffee. 

Traditionally, Singaporean coffee drinks are served with soft-boiled eggs and kaya toast, bread topped with a spread made from eggs, coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaf. There will also be Singaporean coffee buns and some dim sum.

Other dishes will include fried carrot cake, a radish cake stir fried with egg and dark soy sauce; bee hoon, vermicelli noodles with egg, vegetables and chili; nasi lemak, coconut rice topped with satay and curry; and Hainaise chicken rice, poached chicken served with rice and topped with chili, ginger and dark soy sauce. 

Killiney Kopitiam also serves laksa, a coconut curry soup. Photo courtesy Killiney Kopitiam.

"The core of these dishes are common to Killiney Kopitiams around the world but we will be modifying some of them to better suit American tastes," Steckler said.

Steckler grew up in Singapore and has since lived in Prague, Cupertino and Palo Alto. She worked for many years as a flight attendant out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Bahrain. She moved to Palo Alto six years ago with her husband Vince Steckler, the former CEO of Avast Software. They returned to Singapore last year after he retired. Steckler is also opening a new Killiney Kopitiam in Singapore.

The Palo Alto Killiney will be a "trial cafe" for future locations in Silicon Valley and Southern California, Steckler said.

She's aiming to open in September.