𝘌𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘩 𝘧𝘢𝘮𝘰𝘶𝘴 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘤𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘏𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘦 𝘊𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘊𝘩𝘰𝘱? 𝘖𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘱 𝘶𝘱 𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴 𝘕𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘺𝘢 𝘤𝘶𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘏𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘦? 𝘙𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘰𝘯 𝘵𝘰 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘶𝘵.
The history of Kopitiam in Malaysia began with the Hainanese migration to Malaya. Hainanese is a Chinese dialect group from the Hainan Island in Southern China. The Hainanese were the last to arrive in Malaya in the 1850s. Other dialect groups such as Hokkien, Cantonese, and Teochew, had arrived earlier and were plying their trades in agriculture and entrepreneurship.
Therefore, the Hainanese migrants had to look for other alternatives and found a lifeline in the culinary arts and hospitality. They became cooks and waitresses in hotels, restaurants, bakeries, and the house of rich Europeans or the Peranakans. Some of them even work as canteen operators at British military bases or cooks in ships.
After World War II, when the economy was gripped in turmoil, many of them lost their jobs. Arm with culinary skills and experience working in hospitality and/or working for the Europeans, the Hainanese opened their own Kopitiam, serving staples like half-boiled eggs, butter and kaya toast as well as Hainanese-style chicken chop. Popular drinks are Hailam tea or coffee, regular coffee, and tea.
The word "kopitiam" is an abbreviation of two words: Kopi (Coffee in Malay) and Tiam (shop in Hokkien). Therefore, Kopitiam means Coffee Shop.
Traditional Kopitiam is mostly run by Hainanese family members themselves and inherited from generation to generation. In the 1960s, about 90% of Kopitiam in Malaysia was operated by the Hainanese.
Photo Credit: Peter Yeoh