Header image courtesy of Danielle Tsi (Alamy)
A simple yet ingenious combination, kaya toast was created in maritime Southeast Asia by Hainanese Chinese immigrants, who worked as galley hands on colonial British ships. As they settled in Singapore, Malaysia, and beyond, members of the community opened their own cafes, and kopitiam culture (kopi meaning coffee in Malay, tiam meaning shop in Hokkien) evolved. Berry preserves and marmalades made way for luscious coconut spread flavoured with pandan, and in kaya toast– the pale green, vanilla-scented spread sandwiched between two slices of bread– Southeast Asia found its most popular breakfast pick.
Here in Hong Kong, we may be in cha chaan teng territory, but there’s plenty of kopitiam making their mark. So, whether you’re looking to start your day off right or nibble on some sweet treats for tea-time or dessert, here’s where to find the best kaya toast in Hong Kong.
Founded back in 1944 by Loi Ah Koon, a coffee-stall assistant who emigrated from Hainan to Singapore, Ya Kun has grown to become the McDonald’s for Singaporean fare. Today, with outposts in over ten countries, it’s the gold standard in kaya toast. Get the Kaya Toast Set ($33) with soft-boiled eggs and milk tea or coffee. Add a dash of dark soy and white pepper, and dip your crispy, thin brown toast in the eggy ooze for the optimal sweet-savoury ratio of the ages. If you’d prefer to DIY at home, grab a 290-gram jar of Kaya ($40) to go.
From Michelin-rated dim sum to Bourdain-approved bamboo noodles, Sham Shui Po is a dense microcosm showcasing the best of Hong Kong dining. And Kopitiam Bagus-Bagus, a neighbourhood spot modelled after the traditional coffee shops or kopitiam of Southeast Asia, adds to the medley. The basic afternoon tea set, served from 11.30 am to 6 pm, includes Kaya Margarine Toast ($38) with the standard trimmings of soft-boiled egg and a drink.
Kopitiam Bagus-Bagus, 188 Yu Chau Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2253 6911
With six locations spread out over Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, Malacca Cuisine is a sensible option in a kaya toast emergency. Service is brisk, and the offerings satisfactory. But the most compelling reason to head here is the variety: Choose from Egg Yolk Kaya ($23), Durian Kaya ($23), or the classic Pandan Kaya ($26) for your tea-time snack. Liberal butter is guaranteed no matter which flavour you go for.
Named for the Peranakan Chinese community, Baba Nyonya offers a range of popular Malaysian fare. Follow a portion of the roti canai– Malabar paratha-esque flatbread served alongside redolent potato curry– with Kaya Butter Toast ($28) and a cup of teh tarik (pulled tea) or kopi o (black coffee). The kaya here is the most visually striking: vivid, nearly radioactive green Nyonya-style coconut jam flavoured with pandan. And don’t be alarmed by the slab of yau.
Baba Nyonya, locations across Hong Kong
Café Malacca is frequently cited as the best Malaysian-Singaporean restaurant in Hong Kong. The menu is a gallery of the classics: Dishes like tender beef rendang, nasi lemak, and mutton korma trace the complex, multicultural history of the region. And you can’t fault the Kaya Toast ($48) either. The bread comes perfectly charred, the pandan kaya generously slathered, and there’s molten butter in abundance– just the way it should be.
Café Malacca, Hotel Jen Hong Kong by Shangri-La, 508 Queen’s Road West, Sai Wan
Ancient Moon has been honoured on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list every year since 2016– and it’s no surprise. With quirky hand-painted art on the walls and a succinct menu of affordable one-bowl wonders like chilli pan mee and laksa, this eastern island gem is a hit with the lunch crowds. The Kaya Toast ($26) here comprises two thick-cut triangles slathered generously with butter and the eponymous golden jam. Pair it with a glass of creamy and aromatic teh tarik– it’s the very best you’ll find this side of Penang.
Ancient Moon, 29 Kam Ping Street, North Point
True to owner Stephen’s mixed heritage (his father is Singaporean), Tai Ping Shan’s Wing Wah serves up an eclectic tea set of Kaya Toast ($26) with Hong Kong-style milk tea between 3 and 5 pm every day. This is also the only place in Hong Kong to serve up kaya pineapple buns! Think fluffy bolo bao smeared with Hainanese-style brown sugar kaya.
Wing Wah Southeast Asia Café, G/F, 1A Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan
Visitors flock to Wai Kee to experience the “gritty” and old-school underbelly of dining in the fragrant harbour, but the cafe is well worth journeying to off-tour. In addition to noodle soup with pig liver, Wai Kee’s signature is decadent Kaya French Toast ($19). It comes with a hearty dollop of butter on top, and you’ll see patrons around you pouring honey over the pillowy bread. Follow suit—because what happens at Wai Kee stays between you and your plastic fork (and a dozen strangers you’ll share your table with).
Wai Kee Noodle Café, 62–66 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po
A stylish little restaurant specialising in Singaporean-Malaysian cuisine, Rempah Noodles is among the few spots (if not the only one) in Hong Kong to actually make its own kaya. Here, you’ll find pale green Nyonya-style kaya prepared fresh each morning and flavoured with what the head chef calls “the vanilla essence of Asia”: pandan. And you can tell this stuff isn’t coming out of a jar, either. Fondly smeared onto toast, Rempah’s coconut jam is luxuriously creamy, almost like choux pastry filling. It’s no wonder they often run out by dinnertime.
Rempah Noodles, G/F, 18 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 3618 4863