Fancy a Cuppa at the Raffles?

May 18, 2010

Tea time. Those words conjure up images of ladylike Laura Ashley dresses, fine porcelain, delicate tea sandwiches, and scones with clotted cream.

But for the riff-raff like me, I got to drink with the locals. You could wear anything to the kopi tiams, or coffee houses, all over the city. Most people wore flip-flops, T-shirts, shorts, and the older men would wear their uniform of yellowed cotton tank tops, scruffy shorts or pajama pants, and flip-flops. I learned to love the condensed milk sweetened tea. I also enjoyed two other variations, all considered somewhat crass, and favored by recent immigrants or serious local food buffs: teh tarik and teh halia. Teh tarik, Malay for "pulled tea", is the same strong and sweet black tea, but poured from great heights between two cups to create a bubbly froth on top. Teh halia is a potent black tea, again sweetened with condensed milk, offset by a spicy ginger bite, and lightened with the tarik method.

These hearty teas would overpower the frou-frou tea sandwiches that pair well with English teas. Instead of those, you might have kaya toast, thick cut, heavily buttered and spread with this coconut milk based jam. Or you could have otak-otak, a fish paste grilled in banana leaves. Plain roti prata (Indian flatbread) or murtabak, a spicy meat filled flat bread served with a curry sauce, make good accompaniments as well.


teh and kaya toast


Any of these teas would make a great hot drink for a cold winter's day, or for a hot (or hot-headed) one in the tropics.




Teh Halia (Ginger tea) Serves 4.

teh halia

Black tea, 4-5 tsp leaves or 4 teabags

1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into quarter sized pieces

4 cups of water

Condensed milk

Boil ginger slices in water for at least 10 minutes (the longer your boil it, the stronger the ginger flavor). Add your favorite strong black tea to the ginger/water brew and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Add a few teaspoons of condensed milk to each of 4 teacups or mugs. Strain tea into teacups. "Tarik" the tea by pouring back and forth between a filled and empty cup, until frothy. Enjoy immediately.


Kaya (coconut egg jam)

kaya toast


2 cups of coconut milk (ideally from two fresh coconuts, but canned is more than fine)

10 large eggs

1 1/2 to 2 cups of granulated white sugar, adjusted to taste

1 tsp. Pandan extract (extract of a tropical leaf, added for both fragrance and green color. May be omitted.)

Accompaniments: bread and butter

Beat eggs with an electric mixer until just blended. Add in sugar until well combined. Then add in coconut milk and continue mixing until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Pour mixture into a heavy pan, then cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture caramelizes and thickens. Take off heat and add pandan extract, if available. (Without pandan extract, the jam will be caramel colored.)

Toast thickly cut white or wheat bread. Spread lots of butter on top. Spread kaya on top of butter, and enjoy with teh tarik or teh halia.


Linda Shiue also blogs at Doctor and Mama

Photo credit: Linda Shiue


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