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Aug 2, 2012 11:23 PM

Kuala Lumpur - The Old-World Hainanese Coffeeshop that is Sin Seng Nam

"Grandpa loved this place since he was a kid!", my colleague said as his eyes scanned the lofty ceilings of this venerable 80-something years old Hainanese coffeeshop in downtown KL.

Since the late 19th-century, ethnic Hainanese immigrants from Southern China are renowned throughout Malaysia and Singapore as great purveyors of coffee and colonial-British-influenced dishes like the Hainanese pork chops. In the mornings, Hainanese coffeeshops served out a variety of hot beverages, soft-boiled eggs and toasts, and they are especially famous for their kaya (eegg-coconut-jam) toasts.

Famous Hainanese coffeeshops in Singapore included Killiney Road Kopitiam, Ya Kun and Chin Mee Chin. In Ipoh (Malaysia), they included Sin Yoon Long, Keng Nam, Thean Chun and Kong Heng. Penang still has a whole bunch of them, although the most illustrious ones, Wing Look and Loke Thye Kee, had sadly shuttered down. But Penang's most famous coffeeshop, Kek Seng, has been there since 1895 and is still going strong.

In KL, I can only think of one other oldie, Yut Kee, which matches Sin Seng Nam's ambience and old-world feel.

Breakfrast today at Sin Seng Nam consisted of the inevitable kopi-C (thick, freshly-brewed Hainanese coffee with evaporated milk) and kaya-margarine toast. The coffee was GREAT, the sugar content toned down these days. I still preferred Singaporean kaya toasts - we do it SO MUCH better than anywhere in Malaysia. Plus, I'd always preferred Nyonya-style kaya, scented with pandan, over the Chinese-Hainanese brown kaya, some of which has a strong ginger flavor.

My colleague insisted that I try the KL-style "chee cheong fun". Interesting - whereas in Singapore, we have "chee cheong fun" (rice-flour rolls) slathered in hoi-sin and chilli sauce, plus a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, the KL version was much more interesting: you get to pick and choose from a variety of "yong tau fu" ingredients: fishballs, stuffed chillis, okra, beancurd sheets, stuffed tofu, etc. You take your pick, as the chef to add a couple of "chee cheong fun" rolls, then slather it with hoi-sin and chilli sauce (KL's hoi-sin sauce seemed more liquid), and you have a breakfast fit for a king :-)

I'll need to come back here for lunch - I heard that they serve a mean Hainanese chicken chop, complete with potato chips, peas (out of a can - authentic Hainanese-style, heh) and covered with the thick, brown, aromatic Hainanese sauce.

Address details
Sin Seng Nam
2 Medan Pasar
50050 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-2070 2418

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  1. Sin Seng Nam is still a halal place, right?

    Win Heng Seng.

    The kaya toast at this place that you picture does look sad. I remember eating much more generous and substantial versions years ago with slabs of butter on it and with pandan kaya if you liked. Yes, in KL.

    The chee cheong fun with YTF combo I remember as a common one but was not the "only" way to get it - one could get just CCF with that sweet sauce commonly called "tim4 jeung3" ("sweet sauce"; not exactly just hoisin sauce) with or without chili sauce. Is that no longer available in KL?

    2 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      Sin Seng Nam is porkless, but am not sure if the Muslims will come to eat in this place, as Malay-Muslims in Malaysia have gotten so much more orthodox than I remembered. These days, many of them insisted on seeing the official "Halal" certification from the Malaysian official religious body (JAKIM or JAIS), I think.

      Win Heng Seng: I actually walked past this coffeeshop last Friday evening with my HK friends after our Oversea dinner. But I understand that its breakfast offerings differ significantly frrom its dinner options, so I shall have to do it one of these weekend mornings

      Hey, maybe it *was* "sweet sauce" which I had this morning on my "chee cheong fun" - it's brownish and fairly liquid, right, compared to "hoi sin" which tended towards a more ruby-reddish-brown color. Sorry, this *was* the first time I laid eyes on KL-style "chee cheong fun", and tasted one. I absolutely L-O-V-E it! BTW, there was a table of 4 young tourists right next to us- they sounded like they are from Guangzhou - also ordered one small plate to try out between them (they also ordered kaya toasts), but didn't seem like they enjoyed the dishes as much as I did. Too much of a culture shock for them, I guess - Malaysian/Singaporean tastes can be very, very different from those of the Mainland Chinese ;-)

      1. re: klyeoh

        [The lunch mix at Win Heng Seng was (still is?) also slightly different, with some stalls there in the early to mid morning and others coming on at around mid-morning into the afternoon and others there from morning to late one time.
        p.s. There are also some well-regarded egg tarts (tan tat) from the kopitiam-associated "bakery". :-) ]

    2. Sin Seng Nam will bid KL farewell as it closes down for good next month after 8 decades of dispensing Hainanese coffee and toasts to generations of office workers and bankers.

      The family's 3rd-generation running this place has decided to move on - after all, the city's demographics have changed in the past 2-3 decades and the old quarter of KL where this restaurant stood is now home to large blue-collar migrant communities fro Indonesia, Burma, Bangladesh & Nepal, whilst the banking district has moved onto newer parts of the city. So, it's adieu to an old faithful.