Since we cannot travel, let food come to us. The Coffeeshop by Yaowarat at Kovan is just two doors down from Yaowarat Thai Kway Chap. The owner of Yaowarat is the nephew of the famous Soi 19 Thai wanton mee. And like Soi 19, Yaowarat Thai Kway Chap isn’t an overseas outlet from Thailand. Both stores are Singapore-based, they just happen to sell Thai food. Just like Prada sells wallet, so does Prata.
With that assumption, I assume that the food at The Coffeeshop is also based in Singapore, borrowing recipes from elsewhere, particularly from Malaysia and Thailand. Here, there are about 6 stalls selling Shen Ye Pig Trotter Rice 深夜猪脚饭, Mistress Lane Ipoh Curry Noodle 二奶巷家乡咖喱面, Simon Road Hougang Hokkien Mee 六条石后港福建炒虾面，Ng Kuan Chilli Pan Mee 伍坤辣椒板面 (selling KL pan mee), and Breakfast Club (western food).
It may be disingenuous to borrow famous street names as if the food stall came from that place when in fact they are the first stall in Singapore to be established. For example, in Ipoh, “Mistress Lane” is a popular tourist attraction. Ipoh is also known for their curry noodles. So Yaowarat joins them together, “Mistress Lane Ipoh Curry Noodle,” which may mislead people to think that there is an actual stall at Ipoh and this is their outlet. I don’t know if I approve of this sort of marketing.
The food here is—I don’t want to mince words—mediocre and expensive. The pig trotter rice ($6.50) doesn’t have that deeply braised flavour. The Ipoh curry noodles ($5) is nowhere that intensely aromatic flavour of spices. The KL pan mee ($7.80) has not the fragrance of the chilli and not the umami of the stock absorbed by the noodles. And the Western food–rosti with egg and sausage (at the price of $8.90!!!)—is something easily replicated at home. Everything was subpar.
BUT—in capital letters—it is a super welcoming place. The young workers are a cheerful and jolly bunch. They switch on 80s, 90s classic Canto-pop and sing along as if they are in a KTV room. Their happiness is infectious, and perhaps it is what we need at this moment of crisis, and the reason why I visited the place twice already.
One funny incident occured. I ordered the very expensive rosti from a boy with tattoos covering 3/4 of his limbs. It’s self service, and I took the rosti back to my table. 30 seconds later, the boy shyly came over to talk to me. (It’s quite adorable and endearing that a tattoo boy can be so shy.)
He said, “Sorry, I didn’t do a good job at cooking. I’ll refund you.” And he passed me the money. It’s hilarious that this is the first time I was refunded money at a kopitiam. But what he did was the right thing to do. The rosti was chao-tah at the edge and mushy at the nucleus. He has a fantastic attitude, and I think he will go far in life.
My mom usually cooks well but sometimes her food turns out terrible, and I never complain and always finish it because it’s a privilege that someone labours for me. Usually, with outside food, since I pay for it, I expect a certain standard and would request the cook to re-do it. But the tattoo boy’s attitude made me feel like someone close to me cooked it for me. Even though the rosti was horrible, I finished it because I didn’t want to make him sad.
Plot twist: despite the food, I think I will return to the coffeeshop. People have criticised that I am critical towards food, and why shouldn’t I? Standards have to be maintained. When I spend my hardearned money, I should get something delicious in return. But at times, it’s not really the food that draws me. It’s the people. Their warmth, their sincerity, their humility, their merrymaking, their goodness. I think I’d like to make friends with the workers at the coffeeshop.
The Coffeeshop by Yaowarat
941 Upper Serangoon Road Singapore 534709
tel: 8822 5637
Decor/ambience: Kopitiam–what do you expect?
You may be interested in…
–Malaysian Hup Kee Fishball Noodle 合记鱼丸, AMK: I Hate Sick People’s Food But This Is Awesome
–Go-Ang Pratunam Chicken Rice, Nex: Bangkok’s Michelin Bib Gourmand Chicken Rice is now in Singapore
–Shi Xiang Ge 食香阁, Bishan Bus Interchange: Shan Xi La Mian and Dao Xiao Mian 刀削面 with Long Queue
–Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh, Rangoon Road: Free Kung Fu Tea for Breakfast
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.