[Singapore] Kaya-butter toasts & traditional eats at Heap Seng Leong

We managed to get a slice of old Singapore from one of the last remaining Hainanese-style kopitiams at Heap Seng Leong, which has been operating at this location on 10 North Bridge Road since 1974.

The elderly 83-year-old kopitiam owner, Shi Pong Hsu, still brewed all the beverages, whilst his 55-year-old son, Shi Ting Chow, took the orders, prepared the bread (either steamed or toasted), and served the food. The elder Shi himself inherited this business from his father, who was operating in the Bugis area before moving to this current location in 1974. Mr Shi still wore his trademark white singlet and blue pyjama pants whilst he sets about brewing the kopi and teh.

The toasts are prepared the old-fashioned way: Slices of Hainanese sliced bread placed over charcoal embers.

These charcoal-toasted bread had a wonderful aroma and are perfectly crisped. Slathered with eggy-coconutty kaya and sandwiching cold thin slabs of butter, these kaya-butter toasts are some of my very favourite breakfast items, especially washed down with mugs of hot, thick kopi (Hainanese-style coffee, where the coffee beans are roasted with sugar, butter and other aromatics, before being ground and brewed).

Other breakfast options at Heap Seng Leong include a good Malay-style nasi lemak stall ran by a couple of genial Malay guys from Tampines.

The two guys also make some very good curry puffs and sardine puffs. I actually preferred the sardine puffs, which have more assertive flavours.

Curry-potato-chicken puffs, which have rather crisp, mottled-skin pastry shells:

Sardine puff, which have thicker pastry shells, but with very nice spicy-sour-sweet sardine filling:

Heap Seng Leong is one of the last of its kind in Singapore as the city-state rapidly modernises, with Starbucks & its ilk taking over from the old traditional coffeeshops. Heap Seng Leong, like its counterparts in Malaysia and Thailand, still offers sustenance to working-class workers at nearby wet markets and odd-job labourers who start their day very early, hence its 4am opening hour.

Heap Seng Leong
10 North Bridge Rd, #01-5109
Singapore 190010
Operating hours: 4am - 8pm daily


Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your posts and pictures.

Where do places like this source their kaya? Do shops ever make their own or is there a common dominant commercial brand that most shops use? Growing up in SF bay area, I’ve only had Yeo’s brand kaya from a can.

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I ate quite a lot of kaya toast in Kopitiams in Malaysia but none looked as good as that.
Coincidentally I had sardine puffs on Saturday in London (In a small place in Queensway market ) I will try and post on the UK board later. As we were the first customers of the day they wanted to offer us a small something on the house. They asked if we liked empanadas , so I enquired if they meant curry puffs and indeed they did. The missus was expecting standard veg puffs and wasn’t sure but i really liked them.

curry%20puffs ,


Thanks, seamunky.
Traditional kopitiams usually make their own kaya. Large chains like Ya Kun, Toast Box and Killiney Road usually would have their own central kitchens to produce their respective kaya. Usually, kaya are made in small amounts without preservatives, and could not be stored for too long - a few days at max if refrigerated.

There is no specific brand of kaya which coffeeshops will source to use: a big no-no - if an eatery is seen by customers using any bottled or canned kaya is used, it could spell the end of that cafe or eatery. :joy: It’s almost akin to a restaurant being caught using, say, frozen pizzas out of a box.

Yeo’s has always been producing its canned kaya since I was a kid (I’m now in my 50s). It’s passable, but nowhere near freshly-made kaya, of course. Can you find Glory-brand kaya in the SF Bay Area? If you do, try it - it’s better than Yeo’s.


Curry puffs were most likely introduced to this part of the world here in South-east Asia by the early Indian traders. South-east Asians have been influenced by Indians since 200 BC.

Once, in Singapore, a visiting Japanese colleague from Tokyo and I were dining at Margarita’s, an extremely popular Tex-Mex restaurant on Dempsey Hill. It was full house that evening and, after a while, my colleague quipped that everyone else in there seemed to be Indian, except us! It was then that we surmise that the popularity of Tex-Mex/Mexican cuisine amongst Indians can be attributed somewhat to their “similarity” - a case of parallel development, cuisine-wise. Of course, chilis, tomatoes and potatoes - all central to Indian cuisine, came to the Indian sub-continent from Mexico by way of the Portuguese explorers.

Anyway, we looked at the menu items at Margarita’s and tried to think what their Indian equivalents might be.

Mexican = Indian
Empanadas = Samosas
Tortilla = Naan
Nachos = Papads
Salsa fresca = Tomato-onion chutney
Refritos frijoles = Dal Makhni
Chicken Mole = Murgh Makhani
Mexican rice/arroz rojo = Biryani

The list can go on for quite a bit.


Cannelloni = Enchilada
Beijing duck in pancake = soft taco
Won ton = Kreplach
Potsticker = fried Pierogi
“Mu shu” pork = Burrito
. . .
. . .
. . .

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That makes sense that each place prides itself in its own kaya. I will keep an eye out for Glory brand kaya. Thanks for the tip!

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