As a colloquial term for coffeeshops in Singapore, kopitiam is an integral part of any Singaporean. Very much like the microcosm of local culture, Kopitiams effectively capture the multi-racial fabric of our society – from the food choices to languages spoken. Even the word kopitiam itself is a mishmash of two different languages. ‘Kopi’ means coffee in Malay while ‘tiam’ is the Hokkien dialect for the word stall. Indeed, our kopitiam lingo is a curious and eclectic mix grounded in Singlish, and the result is that of a unique language system surrounding this humble and traditional eatery.

Image credit: EDWIN KHOO/ The New York Times

Spend some time at your neighbourhood kopitiam and I’m sure you’ll pick up a whole slew of lingo that is baffling to the uninitiated. These diverse stall owners themselves are a reflection of the Singapore culture. With all of them under one roof, the various languages have blended together over the years to create an eclectic concoction of kopitiam lingo. Let us explore this curious lingo and at the end of it all, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of kopitiam talk one lah.

Bottoms Up

Kopitiam-Talk-5

Ordering a cup of coffee or tea at Kopitiams is in itself an art form. With so many suffixes that can be attached to the stem word of coffee or tea, getting your caffeine fix from Kopitiams might be a little daunting especially if you’re new to the scene. Fret not, for with the help of this flowchart, you’ll find yourself ordering your cuppa like a Singaporean in no time.

I’d Drink To That

It won’t be surprising to hear drink stall owners echoing something completely different after ordering a drink. Many of the drinks have alternative names affectionately coined by drinks sellers. Let’s uncover some alternative names of drinks that have caught on with the Kopitiam culture.

Kopitiam-Talk-6

From these Kopitiam lingos, we can see how language has revolved around this eatery, making it the perfect representation of Singapore itself. From Malay, Chinese and dialects, it really is amazing to see these various cultures blend into one.

Also, read Look How Far Singapore Has Come! We Compare The Now & Then

 
 
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