In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, kaya can be found everywhere — from coffee shops and grocery stores to local bread shops and artisan bakeries. At the convenience store that services the apartment building where my mother lives, little plastic pots of kaya line the shelves next to loaves of Gardenia bread and the daily newspapers. These are essential items and come in two flavours, original and pandan.
One of my favourite kaya memories involves a walk with my father and a stop at a local coffee shop or kopitiam. We ate kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs and drank thick, black coffee from chipped cups and saucers.
To recreate the culinary part of this kopitiam memory, I use SBS Food's recipe for kaya toast with half-cooked eggs and Hainanese coffee.
"Kaya is a very sweet coconut jam, considered a staple throughout Singapore and parts of Malaysia. It is best served on unseeded whole meal toast with a soft boiled egg, and washed down with strong black coffee." Adam Liaw, Destination Flavour Singapore
The word kaya means rich in Malay, which may refer to the rich texture and taste of the jam. Kaya can range in colour from green to various shades of brown, depending on whether it's infused with the juice of the pandan leaf, and how much the sugar is caramelised.
Hunting for kaya in Sydney
Asian supermarkets stock some popular brands of kaya, but there's nothing like the homemade thing. Café Rumah in Surry Hills makes a really good version, based on the co-owner Sook Yoon Yang's grandmother's recipe.
Sold by the jar, served as part of a kopitiam breakfast and used as a filling in their house-made madeleines, Rumah's kaya is the colour of burnt caramel and tastes so good that I bought a jar and hid it in the back of my fridge, because, well really, it's spreadable gold dust.
I first came across a lesser-known kaya flavour — pumpkin kaya — when my cousin in Malaysia told me she found an eggless version of the much-loved local spread. She's not fond of the eggy taste of regular kaya, so this pumpkin version is perfect. Also, because pumpkin is naturally sweet, the recipe doesn't need as much sugar.
I admit I was hesitant at first. Although pumpkin is a fruit, it does masquerade as a vegetable and I don't like making a vegetable the hero of a sweet treat (sorry, carrot cake). However, when I tried pumpkin kaya, I was sold.
If you're vegan, allergic to eggs, or simply fancy something different, this might be the kaya for you.
This pumpkin version of Malaysia's coconut jam recipe is a surprising, vegan twist on tradition.
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Pumpkin coconut jam (pumpkin kaya)
Makes 1 jar
- 500 g pumpkin
- 200 ml coconut milk
- 100 g palm sugar or coconut sugar
- 5 pandan leaves, knotted
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Pinch of salt
- Peel the pumpkin and cut it into small chunks.
- Steam the pumpkin for 20 minutes until soft.
- Combine steamed pumpkin and coconut milk in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Transfer the mixture to a non-stick pan and add the sugar, pandan leaves, coconut oil and salt.
- Stir continuously over low heat for 15 mins or until the jam thickens.
- Remove from heat and discard the pandan leaves. Allow to cool then ladle kaya into a sterilised jar. Refrigerate.
Note: Pandan leaves can be found fresh or frozen in Asian supermarkets. The fragrant leaves add flavour and colour to Southeast Asian cooking. Palm sugar is also available in Asian supermarkets. You can use brown sugar as a substitute.