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Kopitiam: Malaysian Family Recipes In Lower Manhattan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Kopitiam — named after the Malay word for "coffee shop" — aims to bring the spirit of Malaysian cafe culture to Lower Manhattan.

The restaurant has become a neighborhood hangout for affordably priced, colorful snacks.

"In Malaysia, a coffee shop is more like a hub of generations," co-owner Moonlynn Tsai told CBS2's Elle McLogan.

Malaysian families convene regularly at their preferred cafe, which is passed down "like an heirloom," she said.

"Your grandfather brings your father, and your father brings you," executive chef and co-owner Kyo Pang said.

In the spirit of Malaysia, a nation of many ethnic backgrounds, the two strive to create a gathering place for people of all ages and cultures.

Pang specializes in her native cuisine, Baba Nyonya, a centuries-old fusion originating among Chinese immigrants to Malaysia.

On the menu are homestyle flavors from Pang's childhood.

"I did not go to any culinary schools. I was home-trained. I was in the kitchen when I was seven," Pang said.

Among the offerings is her version of nasi lemak, a dish which combines anchovy, peanuts, and vegetables atop coconut rice.

"Nasi lemak is the national dish of Malaysia," Pang said.

Nasi Lemak at Kopitiam
Nasi Lemak at Kopitiam

Coffee made from hand-roasted beans is available black or milky.

"It's charcoal-roasted with some salt, butter, and a little bit of sugar," Tsai said.

White Coffee at Kopitiam
White Coffee at Kopitiam

When customers reach out on social media to request a Malaysian dish not yet on the menu, Tsai and Pang often make it happen.

"It's been really fun on our end to keep [the menu] not so stagnant."

The two hope newcomers to Malaysian cuisine have an experience at Kopitiam that sparks their curiosity and awakens their appetite.

"It's like, 'Okay, that was actually really good. It wasn't that scary,'" Tsai said. "[We hope] it makes them want to explore not even Malaysian cuisine, but just new cuisines in general."

Tsai and Pang are proud that the restaurant has connected with the local community.

"We hire a lot from the neighborhood, so we basically hired the whole basketball team of one of the high schools nearby. And for a lot of them, it's their first job. So there's a lot of enthusiasm, and everyone just gets along really well," Tsai said.

Tsai and Pang strive to keep Kopitiam accessible to everyone from students to local elders.

"We want to keep the food still very affordable for the grandmas, the grandpas who are used to paying $5 for a bowl of noodles," Tsai said. "We're doing our best paying the Lower East Side rent, but also promoting Malaysian culture and food for those people our age in the Lower East Side who kind of want to experience something new and fun. So I think that also helps with the melding. That's why we have so many different age ranges coming in."

"It's a very good and supporting community right here," Pang said.

151 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002
(646) 609-3785

What's something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.

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