My first memory of a kopitiam (it literally means ‘coffee shop” in Hokkien) was when I was 7. Back then I was living above a kopitiam in Teck Whye which sold (and is still selling) one of the nicest Yong Tau Foo I’ve had. Nothing elaborate, just the basics, maybe I hold very fond memories of that because it was a family favourite. I haven’t visited for some 10 years ever since we moved but in 2007 I went for a quick lunch and surprisingly and until now, the auntie there still remember me, It was quite a warm feeling – our only contact was when we ordered the food, but yet it’s almost like she saw us growing up. Not close to them, but certainly not a complete stranger either.
The kopitiam culture is something deeply ingrained in the lives of most, if not all Singaporeans. In the morning, you’ll spot housewives buying breakfast back home for their families or groups of ‘uncles’ drinking teh (tea) and coffee. Come afternoon time, you’ll probably see younger groups of students buying their lunches. During the evenings and the night time, it’s not uncommon to see diverse groups of people – from groups of uncles drinking bottles of beer, to youngsters/working professionals catching up over dinner or just friends catching up over a drink.
After living away from home (and getting a little homesick at times) makes one sees things through a different lens with a different perspective, and often with higher sensitivities with the ‘regular’ things we have gotten so used to. This kopitiam vibe is certainly something unique to Singapore(ans) and something you can’t easily replicate elsewhere. Not to mention the feeling of nostalgia one feels.
My most memorable meals in Singapore during this Christmas/New Year break, not surprisingly, were all at kopitiams. Catching up with friends on many occasions over teh, rojak, black pepper crabs, fishball noodles, laksa, etc. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of our neighbourhoods. One of the few things that make me go, this is home.