Hainanese Cuisine in South-East-Asia: Rise of Kopitiam Culture and ‘Hainanese Dishes’
Kopitiam is the term for coffee shop in South-East Asia. The name came from Kopi, which means Coffee in Malay, and Tiam, meaning “shop” in Hokkien dialect. In Chinese, it becomes “咖啡店”.
Traditional Kopitiams, which were (and still are) often situated in colonial shophouses, consist of a drink stall (usually run by the proprietors) and several individual stalls (tenanted) that serve various types of hawker food.
Though they were not the pioneers in running Kopitiams in South East Asia- it was the Fuzhou dialect group that were the pioneers – the Hainanese were the ones that took it to the next level. As written in the previous blog post, many Hainanese in the region began striking out and venturing into operating Kopitiams before and after World War II. Equipped with skills that they acquired while working in the service and domestic industries, they began churning out different varieties of drinks and expanded the food menu. A different kind of Kopitiam began to take form.
In such Hainanese Kopitiams, there was just one sole operator dishing out both food and drinks on a single menu- no longer were they relying on tenants to serve food. They thus gained full control over the quality of both the food and beverages and became solely responsible for the viability of the business.
Now, Hainanese continue to operate both types of Kopitiams and in some cases they have expanded the businesses into franchises (Killeney Kopitiam), and some even attained public listing status (Old Town White Coffee).
As they became more entrenched in the food and beverage industries in post colonial Malaysia (which gained independence from the British in 1957) and Singapore (it joined the Malaysian federation in 1963 and became an independent state in 1965), many more signature dishes were churned out from the kitchen of these entrepreneurial and enterprising Hainanese. invariably, these dishes took the name of their inventors’ ancestral origin – Hainan.
As such, dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice or Hainanese Breaded Pork Chop are dishes that were invented by Hainanese residing in South East Asia, instead of part of the cuisine in the origin island-province itself.
Below are some examples of the dishes attributable to such heritage:
Hainanese Breaded Pork Chop;
Hainanese Chicken Cutlet;
Hainanese Curry Rice;
Hainanese Chicken Rice;
Ipoh White Coffee;
And as I am finishing up the blogpost, news emerged that a Dutch coffee company, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, has put in a bid (reportedly offering an amount of 1.47 billion Malaysian Ringgit) to take over the listing entity of Old Town White Coffee. It looks like the story of Hainanese Kopitiam and its evolution are still brewing.