Kedai Kopi Otai - Kopitiam Semua

In 2016, Kedai Kopi Otai, a small coffee shop or kopitiam, opened to serve a menu of breakfast favourites to the local community in Desaru Utama.


Facade of Kedai Kopi Otai in Desaru Utama

And in 2017, when they started to bake their own loaves in an in-house bakery, they established a reputation as the preferred place not only for breakfast but all-day dining, both for locals and visitors to Desaru.


I first heard about this popular corner café in July 2019 (incidentally!) at the Grand Opening event of Desaru Coast where I distinctly remember my friends’ raving compliments for that mouth-watering taste of Laksa Nyonya served by Otai.


Serving a family-friendly menu, Otai gradually gained a loyal clientele of diners from all walks of life, who cannot get enough of their food.


Two choices of steamed Tapioca, each equally
popular [Left] Tapioca with grated coconut
and salted fish and [Right] Ubi Sira

Recently when my friends in Desaru Coast invited me for a dining experience at Kedai Kopi Otai, I jumped at the opportunity to meet with the family who runs this café.


It was a pleasure to meet with young entrepreneurs, Hadibah Sharif and her sister Nadiah, who had boldly quit their day jobs to pursue an ambition in setting up their family business, one that served a menu to meet the tastes of our multi-cultural community.


A family with Bugis-Javanese roots, their parents and seven children – four girls and three boys – originally from Pontian, later settled near Desaru at Kampung Air Tawar Dua.


Ubi Sira with Roti Bakar and Coffee

Hadibah shared about their business concept which aims to revive the spirit of unity from those good old days of racial harmony, where the coffee-shop was the meeting place for people from every race group, to chit-chat on any topic under the sun over cups of coffee or tea.


This brand identity was consistently reflected in their business name – the word Otai, a slang word for “Old Times” – from the signage and décor to every detail in its ambiance, all designed to smack of nostalgia in a bygone era.


Consistent with its concept, “Kopitiam Semua,” that speaks of a meaningful and inclusive sentiment, was the tagline for Kedai Kopi Otai.


A serving of Kacang Pool

Its signboard emblazoned with the name Kedai Kopi Otai, also has its brand name written below in Chinese characters and Jawi script. [Note: Tamil writing for “Sila Makan” (please eat), is written within a voice bubble designed in the wall mural.]


She recalled with a laugh, the challenges they experienced with Malay diners in the early days, about those who read the signboard, were skeptical and even hesitated to enter.


Ini kedai Cina ke?” they asked.


When she replied that it was their family business, they responded with more skepticism. “Betul ke?” the query continued.


This of course, is a thing of the past because once the locals understood their business concept, they readily accepted Otai for what it represented in the community here.


The in-house bakery in a 
kampung house inside the cafe

I smiled as I listened to Hadibah because it struck such a familiar chord with me.


What she shared about the unity through the kopitiam in a bygone era was in fact, reminiscent of my story, Our charming coffee-shop culture, featured in my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


While I was no stranger to the items listed in their menu, I made Hadibah and Nadiah more comfortable by sharing with them about my first taste of the Javanese way of appreciating steamed tapioca or cassava with spicy sambal.


It was in my homestay experience with a Javanese family at Kampung Sarang Buaya, a village in Semerah, Muar, where I ate what they served me in their home.


Ever since that exciting kampung experience, I was always thrilled to discover that this humble dish was now served in some café and restaurant menus, and never failed to place an order to enjoy its nostalgic taste again.


A serving of Laksa Nyonya that keeps
diners coming back for more!

Needless to say, this dish of steamed tapioca served with sambal tumis was the very item I longed to taste at Otai.


I was pleased to see that Otai serves their chunks of steamed tapioca, not only with sambal tumis but in traditional way, also with fresh grated coconut and salted fish.


Aware that I enjoyed my tapioca with a spicy zing, Hadibah recommended Ubi Sira, a version of their steamed tapioca that was stir-fried in sambal.


This recommendation was so agreeable that I had to remind myself to stop and keep some space so that I could sample other must-try items from their menu.


Lemping or kampung 
pancakes with sambal

Keeping to the kampung theme, lemping or kampung pancakes, are another popular dish to savour with a dollop of sambal.


In the tradition of kopitiam, Otai serves Nasi Lemak and Mee Siam wrapped in small packets for diners to help themselves from platters on the table.


Butter and kaya toast are also popular picks especially after diners tasted the quality bread made in-house in their tiny bakery designed within a kampung house built inside the café.


They bake four batches of bread daily so diners are assured of tasting freshly baked bread in their Roti Bakar or toast.


I soon learned that the Otai family business was a sisters teamwork project where eldest sister, Maslindah, helps with perfecting their recipes, along with the support from their sister-in-law who has a bakery in Segamat and brother-in-law who runs a frozen food business in KL.


A Nasi Ambeng set for four diners served
with Assam Pedas Ikan Kaci and a local salad

While Otai serves an all-day dining menu, the main course items are available after 9.30am.


Among the popular picks are Kacang Pool made with minced beef in their own recipe stew to savour with bread, Laksa Nyonya and Assam Pedas made with Ikan Kaci, a dish often served with the Nasi Ambeng set.


Their version of Laksa Nyonya has a distinct Peranakan flavour which is so agreeable that diners shamelessly slurped its gravy to its last drop.


In fact, (I was told!) those with larger appetites enjoyed finishing bowl after bowl of Laksa to stack the bowls up, in the style of boat-noodles!


Frozen pack of Ungkep paste by Kedai Kopi Otai

For those who preferred not to dine-in, Otai has a range of cooking pastes prepared frozen to buy as takeaways to cook at home.


Only the paste for Ungkep seemed unfamiliar so Hadibah explained that it was a typically Javanese recipe that they usually cooked with ceker ayam (chicken feet pronounced the Javanese way with emphasis on rolling the “r”) or innards.


Since I was unfamiliar with it, she graciously offered to prepare a portion cooked with chicken, to add to the Nasi Ambeng set, just for my taste experience.


Recognise any of these familiar treats?

The nostalgic feel in Otai continues in the furniture and fittings like wooden kopitiam chairs, table fan, old flasks and the décor which features a whole bicycle hung on the wall behind the cashier’s counter.


The sweets and snacks on the counter (for sale!) included familiar treats like Rabbit Sweets, Gold Coins filled with chocolate discs and rolls of Haw Flakes.


Local treats like crisps and snacks made from local farm produce as well as sauces like Otai’s own brand Sambal Belacan are also available.


My book presented to Hadibah 
and her family at Kedai Kopi Otai

For me, the top nostalgic treat here must be the taste of a cool tube of Ice-Cream Malaysia in a choice of refreshing flavours like Assam Boi (preserved plum), Red Beans and Rose Syrup or Choki-Choki (chewy chocolate).


When Hadibah and Nadiah saw how I struggled to chew off the tip of the plastic tube, they offered me a pair of scissors to snip it off, to which I declined because I wanted to reach this tasty treat in the typical schoolkid way.


With cool condensation melting into my hands, which inevitably dissolved the sheets of paper napkins I held, it was pure nostalgia to end my interesting dining experience at Otai with this cool treat.


Kedai Kopi Otai (Halal) is located at No. 74, Jalan Kempas 2, Taman Desaru Utama, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor. Open daily from 8am to 7pm; Closed on Saturday.


Hadibah and the friendly team at Kedai Kopi Otai in Desaru Utama

Visit Kedai Kopi Otai on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels for regular updates.


P.S. It was my pleasure to present Hadibah and her family with an autographed copy of my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


  1. Thank you for this informative post. Love the concept of a coffee shop for all. Will make a search for the place the next time I'm around Desaru area.

  2. Anonymous10/12/2023

    Yes my friends and I are very lucky to go there by chance …..the food there are so delicious and so many varieties 😋