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Local Culture Series – How to Order Drinks in Singapore?

“Hey, uncle, kopi c peng siew dai.”

Ordering drinks in Singapore are nothing alike any other countries. Whenever an uncle or auntie in kopitiam (Malay-Hokkien meaning: coffee shop) comes over and asks “要水嗎?”, they are asking if you want any drinks but not just water only. At hawker centers and kopitiams, some stores sell only drinks to the customers at an affordable price. It is not uncommon seeing some elderly holding a cup of coffee, sitting down, and chatting with each other to spend their afternoons under the sun.

Among many drinks available in the kopitiam, ordering kopi (meaning: coffee) and teh (meaning: tea) is probably the most unique experience that best represents the local food culture. Unlike any other drinks that you could simply order by their names, Nanyang-style coffee and tea have their own “ordering formulas” to abide by, or else most of the time uncle/ auntie might not understand what you are ordering.

The most basic formula is simple: Kopi/ Teh + C (evaporated milk & instead of condensed milk)/ O (no milk) + Siew Dai (less sweet)/ Gah Dai (sweeter) / Kosong (no sugar). Of course, there are more variations and combinations it can develop, but I’ll let you explore it by yourself when you come here.

A little advice to any first-timers, don’t hesitate when you order. Just take a deep breath in and order it as if you are a true local here in Singapore!


Dickson Tong

Placement Site: HealthServe, Singapore

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