LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- This week's Neighborhood Eats travels to Kopitiam on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
It's where Chef Kyo Pang makes the Baba Nonya cuisine she ate growing up, a hybrid of Chinese and Malaysian flavors.
It's her homage to the coffee shops of Malaysia and Kopitiam means coffee shop.
It has a warmth and menu that extend far beyond its delicious cup of salted white coffee.
Chef Kyo, who is from Penang, shared with us that in Malaysia, they don't have separate breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, you can have soup and rice dishes in the morning and toast at night, there's no category.
So they serve up all those dishes, the kaya toast, Nasi Lemak, and fish ball soup, all day long.
"Everything in the restaurant is basically everything that I love," Pang said. "This is a taste that I was eating when I was growing up and every single dish has a story."
She described some of her favorite dishes.
"The Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia. Anchovies, peanuts, coconut rice, cucumbers, eggs, and a side of sambal," she said. "Nothing simpler than that but when they all mix together, you would be amazed, they actually work so well with each other."
She says the key to their success, is keeping it simple, yet beautiful.
"Our cuisine is colorful, flavorful, and we try to work with the simple ingredients and try to bring out the most harmonious relationship with one another," Pang said.
Our cuisine is colorful, flavorful, and we try to work with the simple ingredients and try to bring out the most harmonious relationship with one another.Chef Kyo Pang
One dish in her mind reigns supreme.
"The Kaya Toast is actually my favorite. We make our own jam, the kaya jam, and also the bread we make from our own recipe. It's crunchy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and the jam is green because we use pandang leaves," she said. "We don't use any food coloring so we use the natural ingredients, natural colors put into our thing."
Another of their featured items has a special meaning: "The blue sticky rice with the grated coconut we call it pulut inti, because pulu means wrapped," she said. "We express a lot of philosophies and also life lessons through our cooking so this is the feelings that was wrapped inside this sticky rice."
If you are looking for a beverage to pair with any of these items, they are known for their white coffee.
"This is our white coffee, the white coffee that we do exclusively here is salted white coffee. In South East Asia all of our to-go drinks are served in bags," Pang said. "The truck driver would hang this in front of the mirror so when they drive they saw this thing and it reminded them to drink water. Or people cycling, they cannot hold a cup so they hang it on the bike and they can do their job, this is how it is, it's one of the Malaysian traditions, yes."
When you visit the restaurant, they want you to feel like you are family.
"I think the vibe that we carry here at Kopitiam is like a grandparent's house," Pang said. "Always welcoming you with the same, warming heart, no matter you have a good day, bad day, come in, nobody judge you."
Always welcoming you with the same, warming heart, no matter you have a good day, bad day, come in, nobody judge you.Chef Kyo Pang
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