The first time I was in Singapore 19 years ago, I quickly became fanatical about two local foods. The first, chili crab, served with fried mantou (Chinese wheat buns) to sop up the sauce. As for the second ….
Kaya jam, or more formally, serikaya.
Kaya jam counts as its main ingredients coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and pandan, a tropical plant with a uniquely sweet flavor likely originating from the Mascarene Islands (near Madagascar). Pandan, sometimes known as the screw pine, is also used to add color to ice cream, as well as in cakes and other regional Southeast Asian pastries.
The color of kaya can be more green (as in the jar above) or more brown, depending on how much pandan is used. Too easy? Try one with saffron.
There are some theories as to how kaya jam came to be. Two involve Portuguese traders in the 16th century, who introduced two desserts to present-day Singapore/Malaysia. The first, doce de ovos, is a mushy mix of water, egg yolks, and sugar. Then again, it could have been influenced by sericaia, something like a flan, made with eggs, milk, sugar, and cinnamon.
Perhaps it was Hainanese merchants who worked aboard British ships as cooks, adapting Western preserves and jams into something more adapted to the Singaporean palate.
No matter where it came from, the most common method for enjoying kaya jam is to spread it on grilled toast. With butter.
What’s that…coconut and butter? Well, just take a look:
Singapore makes it easy for you. There’s no need to spare a moment to search the city-state for this artery-clogging delight. As soon as you arrive at Changi Airport, make a beeline for any ol’ food court, where the fun awaits.
Oh, and in case you think the kaya toast counters might dash your dreams and run out of butter:
If you have tried kaya jam before, how have you enjoyed it? Virtual high-fives to all of those folks who eat it right out of the jar.