Despite Los Angeles’ well-earned reputation as home to a cornucopia of cuisines, some countries' food is still difficult to find, with Singapore being a prime example.
Few restaurants in our area feature the cuisine of this island nation, which, due to its location and history, is a fascinating blend of Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, Indian and Western influences. So it came as a pleasant surprise — if not downright shock — when QQ Kopitiam opened in Pasadena last year. Located in a former tea house directly across Colorado Boulevard from Pasadena City College, QQ Kopitiam brings a wider menu of Singaporean items than L.A. has seen before, and it's the first place we’ve seen such an array of Singaporean drinks, including the iced Milo Dinosaur (but, more on that later).
About the restaurant's name: Kopitiam means "coffee house" in Malay/Hokkien. Kopitiams are common in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, serving coffees, teas and some food items. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in Pasadena, especially foods you would find from street hawkers or in food-court stalls, such as laksa — the popular coconut-milk curry soup with both flour and rice noodles, shrimp, fried tofu, a hard-boiled egg and a diced laksa leaf atop — and char kway teow, flat, broad rice noodles stir-fried and wok-tossed with soy and chili sauces, bean sprouts, chives, beef, shrimp, egg, fishcakes and sweet Chinese sausage.
Among the other dishes you’ll find are char hor fun, flat rice noodles covered in gravy and served with shrimp in a bowl; ban mien, egg-noodle soup in a fish broth with meat and vegetables; and mee goreng, noodles fried with garlic, scallions and prawns and topped with a fried egg. There’s also a nice rendition of wontons, served either dry or in a soup. House-made sambal belacan (shrimp paste mixed with chilis and spices), a popular condiment, sits table-top for you to add at your discretion for an extra kick. And, of course, the de facto national dish, Hainanese chicken rice, is available as well, served here with an egg atop the rice.
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The coffee menu is listed in traditional kopititam fashion (kopi kosong, kopi c, kopi o), but fortunately a translation is provided. The strong kopi with condensed milk reminds one of Vietnamese café sua da both in flavor and jolt. On the menu under specialty drinks, you’ll find the granddaddy of all Singaporean drinks: Ice Milo Dinosaur. Made from Milo, a chocolate malt powder, blended with coffee creamer and ice, the signature finishing touch is a generous topping of unmixed powder. The end result is a creamy, chocolaty milkshake with an extra bit of texture you'll be glad you didn't have to travel all the way to Singapore to taste.
QQ Kopitiam: 1491 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91106; open weekdays 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; (626) 696-3179
Jim Thurman is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.