Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe is an old-school kopitiam eatery in Tanjong Pagar
Nothing spells comfort for most of us like good ol’ kaya toast with eggs or nasi lemak. Much like hawker favourites, these kopitiam classics are hard to beat when it comes to meals you don’t have to think twice about having. If you frequent Tanjong Pagar—or even if you don’t—there’s a new old-school kopitiam eatery that’s just opened on Craig Road. Called Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe, it’s the brainchild of Yang Ming Seafood founder Keith Kang, and is a project that’s been three years in the making.
Keith is no stranger to kopitiams—he grew up on coffeeshop fare back in his hometown of Penang, and started out in the F&B industry with kopitiam-style eateries, some of which he later converted into Yang Ming Seafood outlets. If you aren’t familiar with the brand, the live seafood and zi char restaurant is famous for their Salt Baked Crab, Andrew Lobster Chee Cheong Fun, and Pig’s Stomach Chicken Soup, all of which have been widely raved about by local foodies.
Food at Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe
The menu at Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe reminded me of that at Restoran Hua Mui JB, which I visited last year for their Hainanese-style chicken cutlet. Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe has this too, in the form of Signature Hainanese Chicken Cutlet ($15.90), which is said to be one of Keith’s favourite foods—he tried more than 20 different eateries before creating the version that ticked all his boxes!
There was an audible crunch as I cut into the chicken cutlet, which was a pretty well-marinated, whole piece of boneless chicken leg meat. It’s not heavily battered and wasn’t greasy at all, while remaining juicy within.
It came with a house-made gravy, which was intriguingly light in colour, unlike the usual tomato-based, or darker brown gravies that you’d typically get with Hainanese cutlets. “It tastes like corn potage!” My dining companion exclaimed, quite puzzled. We later discovered that this was Keith’s own concoction, made with onions, butter, and pandan leaves. It was a touch sweeter than I would have liked, but was interesting nonetheless.
You might be more familiar with the concept of wet, soupy mee siam, but Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe serves the dry version, which you can have with one of four proteins: Chicken Berempah Leg ($8.90), Curry Chicken ($8.90), Sambal Petai Prawn ($10.90), and Rendang Mutton ($10.90).
It’s served with a dollop of slow-cooked, house-made sambal that’s chunky with ikan bilis and onion, and delightfully fragrant—but a squeeze of lime is all that’s needed with this stir-fried bee hoon, unless you want to up the spice quotient. I liked how it was nicely moist, with the tangy-spicy flavours plus dried shrimp cooked into the thin noodles.
Petai, also known as bitter or stinky beans, is a contentious legume. If you do love them, consider the sambal prawn petai with your mee siam. They pack a flavourful punch, believe it or not, and the prawns are pretty fresh too. If I had to gripe, it would be that I wished the prawns were deshelled for convenience, or their long feelers trimmed at least.
Swap out the mee siam for rice in Nasi Lemak Kukus; it’s a close fight between the coconut rice and noodles for me. They’re priced similarly, with the same four sides.
Each plate comes with a mountain of lemak basmati rice, steamed for 45 minutes to fluffy, light ends—’kukus’ is ‘steamed’ in Malay, thus the name of this dish. The long-grained rice, unlike our local nasi lemak, has added fenugreek seeds, which lend the rice a subtly sweet, nutty flavour.
On the side, there’s the quintessential nasi lemak accompaniment, roasted peanuts, and the same sambal as with the mee siam dish.
We tried the Chicken Berempah Leg, which here is prepared with boneless pieces of chicken thigh, marinated in more than 10 different spices, and deep-fried.
While the flavour of this berempah was spot on, I thought that the pieces of chicken could be cut bigger, rather than in such small pieces, leading to them drying out—which I felt was such a pity.
This same fate befell the pieces of bone-in chicken meat in Curry Chicken, which we had a la carte ($6.90). I also wished there was more curry gravy—like the berempah, this was aromatic thanks to the lemongrass.
Doused in a different, more lemak Nyonya-style curry is Curry Fishball ($4.80), which I enjoyed for its bouncy fishballs in the thicker gravy.
Another side that we got to try was Prawn Paste Chicken Wing (from $6.90), a zi char classic that is pretty well done here too. Each wing sported a light, crackling batter, not too pungently perfumed with shrimp paste.
On that zi char note, you could also order Moon Light Hor Fun ($7.90), topped with a raw egg that you’re meant to break and toss into the rice noodles for a silkier, decadent finish.
I quite enjoyed this, with its light kiss of wok hei that wasn’t overpowering like at some other eateries.
If you’re at Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe for kaya toast and the like, start with Soft Boil Kampung Egg ($2.50), starring a pair of white-shelled eggs sourced directly from a Malaysian farm, and shipped twice a week!
Dip your Traditional Kaya Butter Toast (from $2.50) into these eggs for the ultimate kopitiam experience. You get to choose from traditional thin-cut bread ($2.50), thick-sliced ($2.70) or even wholemeal ($3) bread, baked by an old-school supplier to Keith’s own recipe. It’s spread with a house-made kaya, made with no preservatives, that I enjoyed for its rich, not-too-sweet flavour, and generous hunks of SCS butter—they get serious brownie points for not skimping on the cold butter.
In a nod to modern times, there are also more contemporary takes on toast, such as Chicken Floss Thick Toast ($4.80), where a thick slice of white toast is topped with piquant sambal, and topped with chicken floss.
Alternatively, Egg Mayo Toast (from $3.80) allows you to choose from thin, thick, or wholemeal bread options too. It’s then slathered with a luscious, creamy egg mayo.
I adored their Peanut Butter French Toast ($4.50), which came in nifty little cubes that were drizzled with maple syrup and were super fluffy within.
Besides peanut butter, you could also opt for Kaya Butter ($4.50) or Cheesy Ham ($5) in your French toast.
Finally, pair your meal with drinks including Coconut Coffee ($5.90), served as a cup of pressed coconut water with evaporated coconut milk on ice, and a small jug of Nanyang espresso coffee that you pour over yourself. I was pleasantly surprised by how the coconut flavour in this wasn’t overwhelming, balancing well with the rich coffee.
Fans of mocha might go instead for the old-school version known as Hor Ka Sai (from $3), whose Chinese name is 虎咬狮 (hǔ yǎo shī). Literally translated, this reads ‘tiger bite lion’—the drink is said to originate in Taiping, Malaysia, where miners found themselves energised after drinking this mix of Milo and coffee.
This was truly extra gao, and came in a super large glass which in hindsight I should probably have shared, looking at the caffeine-and-sugar high I had mid-afternoon.
Ambience at Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe
Stepping into the cafe is meant to transport diners to kopitiams of 1950s to 80s Singapore and Malaysia; it’s decked out in bits and bobs that Keith has collected over the years, and purchased specially for the cafe.
This includes a first-edition photograph from former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s 1963 visit to Malaysia, vintage movie and beer posters, traditional wooden doors, window grilles, and gates salvaged from heritage houses and more.
The cafe is 240m, or a two-minute walk from Tanjong Pagar MRT Station. It’s right beside Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market & Food Centre, and before you start thinking that kopitiam equals no aircon, Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe is fully air-conditioned, so you won’t feel the pinch of our tropical heat.
Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe is open from 7:30am every day, till 9pm at night—with opening hours like this, and a menu that covers you from breakfast through to dinner, I’m definitely recommending this spot to my family and friends as a happy alternative to your usual Killiney Kopitiam, Toastbox and more. The only problem with this is that there is only one outlet—for now. Here’s hoping that there are more to come, and that the quality of the food can be maintained. Of course, there are some improvements to be had, for example with the slightly dry meat that I had in the chicken curry and berempah. In spite of that, I’d be back for more of these comforting kopitiam classics and zi char dishes.
Tanjong Pagar is full of foodie spots to check out: there’s Elijah Pies at Tanjong Pagar Plaza, and right around the corner, on the main thoroughfare that is Tanjong Pagar Road, you’ll find Chengdu Bowl, where you can feast on Sichuan-style grain bowls and more!
Address: 5 Craig Road, Singapore 089665
Opening hours: Daily 7:30am to 9pm
Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe is not a halal-certified eatery, but uses no pork or lard
Photos taken by Ke-ian J Leong.
This was a media tasting at Great Nanyang Heritage Cafe.