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How To Order LOCAL Drinks Like A PRO In Singapore

Here's your beginner-friendly guide to ordering drinks around the island.

Quick guide to our favourite thirst quenchers. 

Ever wanted to just get coffee but are confused with the many local drinks offered and what it means? Kopi, kopi-o, teh – these are just some local drinks commonly listed at local hawker centres. Rest assured, we have a quick cheat sheet just for you. 

Here’s a beginner’s guide to ordering local drinks in Singapore:

1. Kopi (“koh-pee”)

(illustration: Tan Si Ying Vanessa)

A favourite for many in the mornings, kopi is coffee with condensed milk if you like your cuppa sweet. If you are looking for a less sweet version, you can opt for Kopi Siew Dai (“koh-pee see-ew dye”). For more sweetness, say Kopi Gah Dai (“koh-pee kah dye”) and for a stronger coffee, say Kopi Gao (“koh-pee gow”).

2. Kopi-C (“koh-pee-see”)

(illustration: Tan Si Ying Vanessa)

Kopi-C is basically black coffee with less-sweet evaporated milk and sugar. The non-sweet version is Kopi C Kosong (“koh-pee-see-koh-su-ung”).

3. Kopi-O (“koh-pee-oh’)

(illustration: Tan Si Ying Vanessa)

If you are lactose intolerant and only take your coffee with only sugar and no milk, get a cup of Kopi-O. The less sweetened version is Kopi O Siew Dai (“koh-pee-oh-see-ew-dye”) and for a stronger version say Kopi O Gao. (“koh-pee-oh-gaw”).

4. Teh (“tay”)

(illustration: Tan Si Ying Vanessa)

If you are not a coffee drinker, how bout’ a cup of tea? Just say Teh when you are looking to get tea with condensed milk and sugar. For tea without milk, say Teh-O (“teh-oh”). For no milk and a less sweet version say Teh-O Siew Dai (“teh-oh-siew-dai”), and for no milk and sugar say Teh-O Kosong (“teh-oh-teh-su-ung”).

5. Teh Tarik

(illustration: Tan Si Ying Vanessa)

A little twist to traditional tea, Teh Tarik contains either condensed or evaporated milk and is made with a little showmanship involved. To cool the frothy drink, you will often see it being transferred from one cup to another, mimicking the action of being “pulled”, which is what “tarik” means in Malay.  

Other commonly ordered local drinks

6. Milo Dinosaur

local drinks
(illustration: Tan Si Ying Vanessa)

What on earth is milo dinosaur? Does it come with a roaring dinosaur? Nope! This local favourite is basically Iced Milo with condensed milk, sugar, topped with more Milo powder. You can also order this with a scoop of ice cream, just say “Milo Godzilla”.

7. Bandung

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…is a place in Indonesia, yes. But on the dining table, it refers to a pink drink that’s made of rose syrup and condensed milk (although evaporated milk is sometimes used as well). You can also buy it in a can. My go-to drink when I don’t have any preferences. 

8. Lime Juice 

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A refreshing drink for a hot sunny day! Tip? Sometimes you can also add a sour plum for more flavour. Make sure to eat the plums!

9. Sour Plum Drink

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There are a few variations on how to serve this drink but the most common way is by using Calamansi juice and a few pieces of sour plum. Some places offer Sour Plum Soda, which is topped with soda water (or sometimes Sprite/7-Up).

10. Grass Jelly Drink

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Also known as Cincau (pronounced “chin chow”), this drink is also considered a dessert and is common in many different parts of Asia. It is great if you are feeling a bit “heaty”, which is what the Chinese refer to having for too much heat in your body.

11. Soya Bean Drink

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What is essentially soy milk (or “tau huay chwee” in Hokkien), it’s known to have many health benefits and some places can even whip up some homemade version of this popular drink. 

12. Sugar Cane Juice

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The first time I saw a friend recording the process of how sugar cane juice is extracted was when I realised it’s the little things that make Singapore and Asia fascinating to visitors. Its unique taste also helps to make it a popular choice at hawker centres. 

13. Coconut Juice 

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You know you’re in the tropics when you can easily get a young coconut to sip from. And it goes well with a lot of our favourite hawker fare!

14. Barley Drink

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Also known as “yu mi shui” in Chinese, Barley is also a pretty easy drink to make (barley grains are boiled, sieved and served. This drink can also include lemon or a little bit of sugar for a little bit of flavour. Doctors here often recommend drinking this to ease urinary tract infections.

15. Iced Lemon Tea

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It’s hard not to love this drink no matter where you’re from. Most coffee shops and hawker centres serve homemade iced lemon tea so you know you’re not getting yours from a can. 

16. Chrysanthemum Tea

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Chrysanthemum tea (or “ju hua cha”) is made from chrysanthemum flowers. This drink is served either from a can or brewed on-site at hawker centres in Singapore. 

17. Tiger Beer

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We cannot mention drinks found at hawker centres without including Tiger beer. This beer from Singapore is a common sight and is a local favourite. If you are feeling a beer to beat the heat, give it a try!

18. Water Chestnut

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Lastly, this drink is a common fave in Singapore. Water Chestnuts (also known as “ma ti shui” when ordering) are extremely high in fibre and nutritious. If you are looking for something to cool your body or just to quench your thirst, this sweet drink is for you!

Originally by Muneerah Bee, May 2016 / Last updated + Additional Reporting by Jasia Shamdasani / Illustration by Tan Si Ying Vanessa

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