‘Slime-coloured’ kaya and egg whites with the clarity of ‘dead fish eyes’: National Geographic description of traditional breakfast causes a stir

A number of commenters expressed their displeasure at the unusual description, and complained that it was exaggerated and unnecessary.
Singapore Press Holdings

Ask any Singaporean or Malaysian and they’ll tell you how much they love their kaya toast with half-boiled eggs and a cup of black kopi (coffee).

This traditional breakfast is no stranger to the locals, but for a foreigner who has never stepped foot on the sunny island, this meal of runny undercooked eggs and ultra-dark coffee may come as a surprise.

An article posted on National Geographic’s website on April 5 describes kaya as “sticky, slime-coloured coconut custard jam” and half-boiled eggs as “two eggs so undercooked that their whites retained the clarity of newly dead fish eyes”.

Titled  “A toast to Singapore’s traditional breakfast”, the article written by the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine, George W. Stone, also includes an unusual description of kopi as having “an oleaginous blackness that rejected the advances of condensed milk”.

But it was not until a few days had passed that the article started to raise eyebrows for its unique choice of words, thanks to a screenshot posted by Twitter user Ruby Thiagarajan on April 10.

Posting with the handle @RubyThiagarajan, the user criticised Stone’s article, calling it an example of how not to write about foreign food.

Screenshot of the article that was posted.
Twitter / @RubyThiagarajan

And it seems many Twitter users agreed.

A number of commenters expressed their displeasure at the unusual description, and complained that it was exaggerated and unnecessary.

One netizen even mocked Stone’s style of writing by saying that cauliflower rice looks like “cooked lice, plucked fresh off my child’s infested head.”

Another netizen who was not impressed said it was shocking that the “othering and problematic” article could be published.

However, one particular netizen pointed out that the screenshot was provided out of context and urged others to read the entire article before jumping in to attack Stone.

The netizen points out that while article’s opening had bad shock value, it was merely describing the writer’s first impression of the breakfast. In subsequent paragraphs, Stone says he eventually felt a “passion” for the traditional breakfast, even admitting that he developed an obsession for kaya.

Stone also writes about his experiences trying kaya toast from various eateries in both Singapore and Malaysia, including the famous Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Toh Soon Cafe in Penang.

“My passion for kaya – a food item my father found so inscrutable he put it on ice cream – really has nothing to do with jam. And everything to do with my love for and fascination with Singapore and Singaporeans,” he writes.

Calling his three-year experience with this traditional breakfast “the kaya quest”, Stone ends his article with a list of his top three places to have a traditional Singapore breakfast – Tong Ah Eating House along Keong Saik Road, Heap Seng Leong on North Bridge Road, and Keng Wah Sung in Geylang.

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