Kailua cafe brings taste of Singapore to Hawaii

Sunrise meets two local Singaporean business owners who are bringing a taste of their homeland to Kailua.
Published: Mar. 5, 2023 at 10:41 AM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Singapore is about the size of Molokai but has five times the population of Hawaii. Several hundred Singaporean expats call Hawaii home, with more coming for work or study. Singapore’s Ambassador to the U.S. is in Honolulu this week to meet with U-S military leaders and the community. HNN’s Annalisa Burgos met up with two local Singaporean business owners who are bringing a taste of their homeland to Kailua.

“Kopi from Singapore is actually made of a different kind of being we use Robusta bean. So the usual espresso bean that we have in cafes will be Arabica. So Robusta beans are dark roasted, and the Singapore way of doing it this way roast it with sugar and butter. So something magical happens even in the roasting stage, there is a caramelization that happens. So the subtle, sweet and caramel flavor is already in the beans before we even start to make it. So that what we do is the way we do it is we pour it over like a sock like thing, you know, it’s a special filter. And then we add with evaporated milk, condensed milk sometimes have a little bit of sugar that depending on how the customer wanted, so the whole plan becomes this dark, full body a little bit on the strong side,” said Jeanne Ng, who co-owns the cafe with her husband Ernest Shih.

“We are an international cafe with an Singapore accent. So my husband and I, Ernest and I, we came from Singapore. And so when we opened this cafe it was always meant to be an international Cafe which means that we will have a espresso based drinks so the lattes and all the worlds we have it and we want to have French style bakery. So everything here is made here. However, we are brought in as the Singapore influence for example, kaya toast, which is made with our own housemate bread with our own house make Korea which I’ll tell you more about it. And also we serve coffee. We have Indian style samosas and on weekends we serve Singapore laksa,” Ng said. “This greenish brown jam is called kaya is it means rich in Malay, one of a big influence in Singapore food, which is it’s very rich. So it’s made of coconut cream, egg, sugar, coconut sugar as well as a pandan leaf. The pandan is this very fragrant leave that is very much used in Southeast Asia in Indonesian food and Filipino food as well.”

“When we started this cafe, we wanted a place where people can hang out and establish a friendship we be like creativity. So we are both of a certain age. And we want to make this into like a fun project that you know, you feel like work, but it’s also fun to establish. So when we started to have the whole image about one thing to have good coffee, we love coffee, everywhere we traveled to, we make stops to check out coffee. So when good coffee, good pastries. However, since we are here, we were thinking we are so proud that we were from Singapore, so why not bring a little bit from home. And for me, selfishly, when I came here, I found that I missing Singapore food very much. But I’ve tried, you know, various places and I was like, You know what, maybe it’s time for me to make my own do it yourself. I don’t know, a lot of work.”

Singapore laksa is a spicy, creamy coconut noodle soup made with fermented shrimp, ginger, garlic and other spices topped with egg, shrimp and a sponge-y kind of tofu that soaks up the sauce.

“We’re very blessed as well, because this was not too far after Crazy Rich Asian the movie. Yeah, there’s a lot of curiosity for people who have not been to Singapore. And they’re like, Wow, we saw this footage of amazing food, you know, but it’s during the pandemic people can travel so we were like, You know what, this is our version come try it,” he said.