Singaporean DrinksSingaporean Drinks


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 25 Apr 2019  

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Local Coffee  |  Hawker DrinksSingapore Sling

While there is no shortage of chain coffee outlets in Singapore, the truly unique Singapore experience is about heading to a kopitiam (coffee shop) and trying local coffee, tea or other drinks which you won’t find anywhere else. Aside from being a great way to rest your feet and refuel, a stop at a kopitiam is a must-do activity in Singapore. 


Kopi and Kopitiams

The word kopitiam itself is a testament to Singapore’s rich multicultural heritage: it is a combination of kopi, the Malay/Hokkien term for coffee, and tiam, the Hokkien/Hakka term for shop. Kopitiams are found in various incarnations around Singapore — from air-conditioned food courts in shopping malls to counters that will serve up fresh local coffee — but the real kopitiam experience is an open air ‘hawker centre’ or mamak stall serving local food and drinks. Local coffee, or kopi, is in itself different from coffee you’ll find in other parts of the world. The beans are roasted with butter or margarine and sugar, then brewed inside a white cloth bag placed in a large metal pot with a long, narrow spout. The result is a thicker brew and more intense taste than you’d find at your local Starbucks.


Ordering Kopi

When confronted with the variety of options, however, it’s not unusual for a first-time visitor to feel overwhelmed. Ask for a standard kopi and you’ll get a cup of coffee with sweetened condensed milk (fresh milk is never used). If you prefer it less sweet, ask for kopi C – coffee with unsweetened evaporated milk and sugar, or kopi C kosong – coffee with evaporated milk and no sugar. Kosong is the Malay word for zero or empty, so ordering kopi kosong means you won’t get any sugar. If you prefer your coffee black, ask for kopi O (black, with sugar) or kopi O kosong (black and, you guessed it, no sugar). Substitute the word kopi for teh in any of the above combinations and you’ll get tea.

Teh Tarik

Drinks for every occasion

Of course, there’s the added option of teh halia (tea with ginger), hailed as a cure-all whether you have a cold and a headache, or have just had a difficult morning. And if it’s too hot for any of the above, ask for kopi peng – which gets you an iced coffee. If you prefer to stay away from caffeine completely, you’ll find plenty of options available: ask for a hot Horlicks or Milo (both malted milk drinks, the latter being much more chocolatey) or an iced version of either one. If you really want something special to Instagram, ask for a Milo Dinosaur, a cup of iced Milo with a heap of powdered Milo on top, or a Milo Godzilla, an iced Milo topped with ice cream or whipped cream and possibly more powdered Milo.


Pretty in Pink

For something much lighter, ask for a bandung, a cold, milk-based drink flavoured with rose syrup and sometimes with the added aroma of pandan leaves – a refreshing, sweet and very pink drink to beat the heat!

If you don’t want to stop at drinking, add food to your kopitiam experience in Singapore. Kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce are part of a standard Singaporean breakfast with kopi; in a mamak shop, you might want to pair your teh halia with a roti prata, or your bandung with a nasi biryani. Just for fun, try a different combination every day.

Guide to the Singapore Sling

The Singapore Sling is one of this island nation’s most iconic creations, a throwback to its colonial past, and, for all practical purposes, a great way to cool down in the tropical heat of the city. Read on to learn a little more about the intrigue, history, and modern variations on this famous cocktail.
Singapore Sling

It all started on a sultry tropical day in the early 20th century at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, nestled in Singapore’s Civic District. The bartender was a Mr Ngiam Tong Boon, of Hainanese Chinese descent, and he developed a drink he called the gin sling, comprising two parts gin, one part cherry brandy, and one part juice (a blend of orange, lime, and Sarawak pineapple).

Legend has it that it was created as a light drink for the ladies, with its pink colour and sweet taste. While the Raffles Hotel says that it was created before 1910, other experts point to 1913 and 1915. The drink was popular in the Long Bar for a decade or so, but fell out of fashion by the 1930s. 

Raffles Hotel

It is therefore difficult to know how close the current version of the Singapore Sling is to its original, since all the bartenders have left for us is a loose collection of written notes. It’s no wonder then, that the cocktail has undergone so many variations. Many will insist that the original recipe used Bénédictine and Cherry Heering, and more recent recipes have almost always included grenadine.

In the 1930s, the Savoy Cocktail Book simply said that the ingredients should be lemon juice, dry gin, cherry brandy, and soda water. The Raffles Hotel today serves a version that they say resembles the original, and you’ll find the cocktail on the Singapore Airlines drinks list, too.


The versatility of the Sling makes it easy to adapt into modern twists, including what you’ll find at Marina Bay Sands' bars, where the classic is reinvented in a stylish blend of gin, liqueurs, pineapple, and lemon. You can even find a few Sling-inspired dessert recipes online!

One of the reasons for the Singapore Sling’s long-term impact is its association with the exotic, colonial past of Singapore. Take a walk around the historical heart of Singapore and you’ll find that it’s not difficult to imagine the city as it was at the start of the 20th century, with graceful white columns, leafy shaded gardens, and people seated in wicker chairs on verandahs with a Sling in hand. 

Maybe that’s why the cocktail developed such an enduring legacy. So grab a Singapore Sling, and continue to be a part of history!

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