(Bonus points if you’re eating it at Ya Kun Kaya Toast.)
Toast, as most people know, is bread that has been exposed to heat until it turns brown and crunchy.
Toast browns because the reactive carbonyl group of sugar in the bread reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acids in the bread, forming a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules1 when exposed to heat as an accelerant2. This complex reaction is known as the Maillard reaction3. This is SCIENCE!4
Toasting is also a common method of making stale bread more palatable. It is quintessentially English; quite a treat with a pat of butter and a cup of tea.
Kaya, on the other hand, is not a science, but an art5. This delicious mixture is created with the flavours of the tropics from which it originates. Creamy lashings of Santan, or coconut milk is mixed with the eggs and then flavoured with the leaves of the tropical screwpine, known to locals as Pandan6, and then sweetened with sugar. Its name is derived from the Malay word Sri Kaya, meaning rich – a reference to the rich golden-brown colour of the finished product.
As evidenced by the vast use of tropical ingredients, Kaya definitely has its origins in South-East Asia and is used as a popular flavouring for desserts and snacks. Truly, it is a dish that can truly be called Singaporean.
That being said, Kaya Toast can either be thought of as a marriage of science and art or perhaps, we could explore it as a deeper metaphor for Singapore’s struggle to break free from its British colonial roots. Alternatively, it could just be a tasty snack that you eat for breakfast.
Essentially, Kaya Toast is just kaya and butter spread on two pieces of toasted bread and smooshed together as a sandwich – butter on one side and kaya on the other7. This may not sound particularly interesting or inspiring, but the Singaporean variant of this dish that has been made famous by a specialty chain called Ya Kun Kaya Toast is absolute perfection.
The hawkers in Singapore have somehow perfected a technique to make perfectly crunchy, wafer thin pieces of toast without burning the bread. In between these golden-brown slices, they place a generous pat of cold butter which is somehow only half-melted after contact with the heated bread and then liberally glop the kaya on as if there is no tomorrow.
Kaya Toast is usually served with two soft-boiled eggs and tea. Cooler Becky likes hers in a large pile of four to eight with tea but without soft boiled eggs.
While there are no absolute instructions on how to make toast like Singaporean hawkers, Cooler Becky has provided the instructions for toast making as follows8…
- 2 slices of bread
- Plug in toaster.
- Place slices of bread into slots at the top of the toaster.
- Depress lever on toaster.
- Wait until toaster goes “pop” or “ping”.
- Remove Bread from toaster.
2The process can also be accelerated in an alkaline environment as the amino groups are deprotonated and hence have an increased nucleophilicity.
3Discovered by chemist Louis-Camille Maillard in the 1910s while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.
6A plant famed for its delicious scent as well as for its fan-shaped sprays of long, narrow and blade-like leaves.
7Or, if you’re really cheap, you can just use one piece of toast and spread both kaya and butter on it. But it’s not as nice.
8Ask a stupid question…