ALHAMBRA, CA - MARCH 31: Kaya & butter toast with a cup of white coffee from Ipoh Kopitiam on Thursday, March 31, 2022 in Alhambra, CA.(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A cup of white coffee and toast with kaya (coconut jam) and butter at Ipoh Kopitiam in Alhambra. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Periods)

The color of the Malaysian-fashion white coffee that Kenji Tang serves at his Alhambra restaurant Ipoh Kopitiam hews nearer to milk chocolate than pure product. Its style hints of chocolate far too, in the way that evenly roasted coffee can, though a easy, layered caramel taste strongly shades most sips.

Tang imports vacuum-packed, pre-floor beans sent from Chang Jiang, a popular coffee brand name in Ipoh, the metropolis in northwestern Malaysia wherever he grew up. They are roasted in margarine with sugar and salt, a combine that is normal for generating the distinctive sweetness of white espresso. To brew them, a personnel member pours boiling h2o about the grounds in a sock-shaped fabric strainer that’s suspended over a tall steel pot. A swirl of evaporated milk lightens the bubbly froth that types at the leading of a full mug.

If you favor an inky, additional frivolously sweetened caffeine deal with in Ipoh (and at Ipoh Kopitiam), which is the variation known as black coffee, or kopi-o in Malay.

Slices of toast sandwiched with kaya (coconut jam) is a traditional snack served along with espresso. Tang and his group make the kaya, stirring and simmering coconut milk, egg, sugar and a couple of fragrant pandan leaves into a distribute that’s a little thicker than a pourable dulce de leche. Pats of clean, chilly butter, which your enamel slice into with gratification, incorporate an optional (and suggested) third dimension to the sandwich.

An array of dishes from Ipoh Kopitiam

An array of dishes at Ipoh Kopitiam: clockwise from top rated, char kway teow, Hainan hen rice, roti canai and beef rendang. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Instances)

Tang’s menu handles a concise span of Malaysian curries, soups and rice and noodle dishes, but his awareness to the sweet staples of his youth reveals the heart of his ambition. The term “kopitiam” interprets as “coffee shop” in Ipoh’s polyglot vernacular. The city’s society of coffeehouses — affordable hangouts serving sweet and savory treats and in some cases beer — became entrenched in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the region was a heart of tin mining under British colonial rule. Tang remembers kopitiams as laidback centers of local community, a model he seeks to emulate in the San Gabriel Valley.

He was elevated in a spouse and children of foodstuff industry gurus who ran hawker stalls and places to eat and also catered banquets, but he did not see the trade as his contacting at to start with. He arrived in the United States two a long time in the past, doing the job in wholesaling, centered on tech-improved household furnishings like massage chairs. When the pandemic toppled his career, he turned to the kitchen area.

At 1st he was planning foods to give absent, posting on a Facebook team for his Southeast Asian pals when he had parts of Hainan rooster rice to share. A person last but not least claimed, “Why really don’t you begin advertising it so we do not sense humiliated asking you to have some for absolutely free?”

A portrait of chef Kenji Tang.

Chef and co-proprietor Kenji Tang outside Ipoh Kopitiam. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Situations)

Tang ramped up his output of Hainan rooster rice and included other dishes, including laksa, rooster curry and a laborious seafood curry. Often he struggled to maintain up with requests, but he felt fulfilled feeding persons. Throughout a hopeful minute in 2021, he attained out to the team and instructed them he was pondering about opening a restaurant serving the sorts of food items he’d been building via the shutdowns. Might everyone think about investing in his small business?

Far more than 70 persons responded indeed. He selected three of them as silent partners.

Ipoh Kopitiam opened in early January in a modest strip mall with ample underground parking in close proximity to the frantic intersection of Valley Boulevard and South Garfield Avenue. The culinary riches of Los Angeles include things like remarkably couple Malaysian dining establishments term unfold speedily about the new cafe and its legitimate-minded cooking. Tang instructed me people are exhibiting up that he has not found considering that he to start with arrived in California 20 decades ago.

The restaurant is open for lunch and evening meal noon or evening you will likely want to start off with roti canai. The cooks aren’t making flatbreads from scratch — it is a tiny kitchen area — but the types they are sourcing attractiveness with their elastic, buttery flakiness. Much more important, Tang and his crew painstakingly pound and blend distinct pastes for each and every of their curries, and the roti arrives with a vegetarian coconut-laced dipping sauce which is at the moment sharp and mellow. A lone okra pod drifts in the little bowl, absorbing the flavors of garlic and ginger and sweet, rigorous spices.

As when Tang was advertising food from his home, the Singapore-model Hainan rooster rice is a beacon: It lands on approximately each individual table. This is 1 regional specialty you can discover produced by numerous arms all over Southern California. If you’re a fan you should really unquestionably consider the model at Ipoh Kopitiam. It is a examine of subtleties: the poached chicken, slice into tidy items the exact mound of softly aromatic rice and the placid sauces (gentle chile and garlic-ginger are classics, and there’s also a dish of soy-primarily based sauce on the plate).

Char kway teow at Ipoh Kopitiam.

Char kway teow at Ipoh Kopitiam. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Situations)

Honestly, other dishes more capture my devotion. One of them is bak kut teh, a pork rib and vegetable stew served in a clay pot with a tea-like broth steeped in herbs and spices. An earthy gust of ginseng threads between the scents of cinnamon and star anise. Consumers would request for this soup for the duration of the pandemic and I comprehend why: It goes down as a nourishing balm.

Char kway teow elicits an opposite, virtually frantic response. Historically a preferred street-foods breakfast of flat rice noodles stir-fried with seafood and vegetables, this version comes nevertheless heaving smoke from the wok: I inhale it rapid whilst it is almost much too scorching to eat, when the sprouts squiggling between the noodles are even now crisp and the shrimp arranged on major retain their snap.

Curries show very low-and-slow patience. I really like the mulchy high quality of the beef rendang, the way the chile hums by way of dense sauce, and how the minced shallots and lemongrass pierce by way of as equally textures and flavors. Sometimes the hunks of meat get there in small lobes, but it’s greatest when the batch has been cooked down so considerably that the beef is in shreds and you consume the dish partly with a fork and partly with a spoon — and the rest you mop up with roti.

And the hen curry, creamy in its combination of tomato paste and coconut milk, is just about anything but primary. Wrapping my head close to its spice paste, I photograph a cheerleading pyramid formation in which the ground coriander winds up on top. It’s scarce that the dried seeds of the cilantro plant get these types of a starring role to showcase their nutty-citrusy brightness. This dish can make the situation.

Even better, order the rooster curry paired with nasi lemak — rice cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves and served with boiled egg, a several slivers of anchovy and fiery sambal spiked with belacan (dried shrimp paste). It’s a plate of rousing contrasts: delicacy and efficiency, soothing textures mingling with advanced, head-clearing tastes. Tang explained to me in an job interview that receiving the elements of the nasi lemak just ideal can take more function than any other dish he makes at the cafe.

That stated, I was at Ipoh Kopitiam at the finish of a single modern lunch support and seen Tang sitting down with his kitchen crew acquiring a meal. It wasn’t nasi lemak he was consuming to recharge at the stop of one more busy afternoon. It was white coffee and kaya toast.

Kenji Tang stands beside a mural depicting two children on a bicycle.

Kenji Tang stands in entrance of a mural outside the house Ipoh Kopitiam. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Situations)

This tale at first appeared in Los Angeles Instances.