Sunday, 22 April 2012

Kopitiam, truly Malaysia Boleh!

Ah, for that nice cuppa in the good old kopitiam


I GREW up drinking coffee like plain water. Kopi-O was served from morning till late at night in my home in Penang. And the best coffee was the one we bought from the nearby kopitiam.

An open-air kopitiam (coffee shop) in Bendemee...
An open-air kopitiam (coffee shop) in Bendemeer, Singapore.
It was common, in those days, for us to tar-pau coffee by the kettle. So when there were visitors, or when the men sat down to play mahjong, the young ones usually had to bring an empty kettle to the kopitiam for it to be filled to the brim, minus the sugar.

Where I grew up, there was even a small coffee mill nearby, and I enjoyed watching the men at work. Rumour has it that they added some special ingredients into the coffee to make the people addicted to their brand.

So where do you think are the 100 best kopitiams in Malaysia?

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen has challenged the Malaysia-Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors General Association to compile such a list to showcase to the world.

And the minister is correct to say that our kopitiam is a unique heritage that can only be found in Malaysia and that it is time to promote the kopitiam globally.

The kiasu people across the Causeway might disagree but I believe we should quickly trademark this heritage by taking a leaf out of the “Malaysia, Truly Asia” tagline and declare this heritage, “Kopitiam, truly Malaysia”.

Some of us may think that the franchise upmarket coffee houses like Starbucks, Coffee Bean and San Francisco are on the top of every country’s list but if you do a search on the Internet, you will find lists for the best coffee shops in the UK, the US, Japan, Australia, etc. and these global brands will not be found there.

Seriously, I do wonder why people want to spend so much money for a cuppa when the real thing is actually found at our humble kopitiam.

I am glad that our own Malaysian versions of franchised coffee houses have sprouted up. Whether their roots are from Ipoh, Kuang, George­town or some other old town, they have cleverly linked their names to the ubiquitous kopitiam.

So when you enter these places, where I am told the wifi access is the fastest, you still get a tinge of nostalgia as the layout and ambience al­­ways pull you back into a different era.

I am indeed quite curious as to where the list of 100 top kopitiams will come from. Will they be the modern-day kopitiam or the real thing nestled in some small town throughout our country?

The minister has mentioned that tourists prefer to patronise the franchise outlets because of better hygienic conditions. So it is time for the association, set up in 1946, and with more than 20,000 members, to push their mem­bers to adhere to high standards.

And financial institutions should do their part to help them groom kopitiam operators and instil greater professionalism among them.

Instead of a crowded franchise at KLCC, I would rather be in a friendly small town set-up, like Sitiawan, sipping kopi-O while having my roti bakar with kaya and butter and two half-boiled eggs.

Except that I will also have my faithful iPad2 next to me connected to a highspeed wifi while I engage in conversation with the owner, in his white singlet.

I will be sharing YouTube videos with him while he tells me his grandfather stories. And as he browses through The Star, I will show him how the newspaper can talk to him because of iSnap. That, truly, must be a kopitiam that should be on the top of the 100 list.

SUNDAY STARTERS By SOO EWE JIN > Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin wonders why he can no longer take coffee after lunch because it keeps him awake at night, unlike during his growing-up years when he had to take coffee as a nightcap.

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