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Singapore food language


haresfur

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I am stopping over in Singapore for unfortunately only one night and have been reading up on the food, particularly hawker centres, and how to order it. I'm sure I would be able to get by with English and pointing but I find their crossroads culture fascinating and I always like to learn a tiny bit of the language wherever I go. So it is part practical, part cultural. I realize that I am not getting pronunciation from internet sources but I have started to compile information, that may be interesting to others here, in a text file.

 

What other food-related language in Singapore do you know? Obviously much originated with Chinese, Malay, and other cultures and I would be interested in similarities/differences in the language.

 

Rather than a total dump, here is what I have thus far on coffee and tea. Even more complicated than ordering coffee in Australia or at Starbucks!

 

Kopi (coffee with condensed milk & sugar)
Teh (tea with condensed milk & sugar)
Kopi o (coffee with no condensed milk, still has sugar)
Teh o (tea with no condensed milk, still has sugar)
Kopi o kosong (coffee with no condensed milk & no sugar)
Teh o kosong (tea with no condensed milk & no sugar)
Teh c (tea with evaporated milk & sugar)
Tak giu (Milo)
Diao yu (tea bag in hot water)
Ditlo - no water added to your coffee or tea
Kosong (no sugar, usually for beverages)
Siew dai - less sweet
Siew siew dai - less than siew dai
    (Malay stall usually go with ‘kurang manis’ than ‘siew dai’)
Peng (Bing)  (beverage with ice, Eg. kopi peng, teh peng)

Teh tarik: Pulled tea. It is the national drink of Malaysia (Indian origin)

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Interesting. I have to say that most in Singapore speak English very well so the bits of language you learn may be more for personal use not necessity. Enjoy the beautiful food of the blended cultures and post some if you have time. I was ony there once after a nasty divorce. I purloined all the Amex points and ran off with my son for a week. It was great.

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36 minutes ago, heidih said:

Interesting. I have to say that most in Singapore speak English very well so the bits of language you learn may be more for personal use not necessity. Enjoy the beautiful food of the blended cultures and post some if you have time. I was ony there once after a nasty divorce. I purloined all the Amex points and ran off with my son for a week. It was great.

 

I am sure I can get by. This was in part inspired by a question from someone who lives there who wanted to improve their chit-chat in the hawker centres (and maybe get a better portion of food). So that brings me to one of the other tips:

 

Most commonly used when ordering "cai fan" aka "economic rice", because most of us don't really know the actual names of the dishes lol, and there are so many of them.
    zhe ge is 这个 "this" in chinese
    na ge 那个 is "that" in chinese

 

[another commenter] Same for malay dishes. Sometimes, i just say ini and itu hahahaha this and that too

 

So now I know to look for cai fan

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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The de facto main language in Singapore is British English followed by Mandarin Chinese. Most schooling there is done in English.

 

菜饭 (cài fàn) is Mandarin and simply means 'food', in Singapore especially hawker food. It may be well economical, but the word doesn't hold that meaning.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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12 hours ago, haresfur said:

I am stopping over in Singapore for unfortunately only one night and have been reading up on the food, particularly hawker centres, and how to order it. I'm sure I would be able to get by with English and pointing but I find their crossroads culture fascinating and I always like to learn a tiny bit of the language wherever I go. So it is part practical, part cultural. I realize that I am not getting pronunciation from internet sources but I have started to compile information, that may be interesting to others here, in a text file.

 

What other food-related language in Singapore do you know? Obviously much originated with Chinese, Malay, and other cultures and I would be interested in similarities/differences in the language.

 

Rather than a total dump, here is what I have thus far on coffee and tea. Even more complicated than ordering coffee in Australia or at Starbucks!

 

Kopi (coffee with condensed milk & sugar)
Teh (tea with condensed milk & sugar)
Kopi o (coffee with no condensed milk, still has sugar)
Teh o (tea with no condensed milk, still has sugar)
Kopi o kosong (coffee with no condensed milk & no sugar)
Teh o kosong (tea with no condensed milk & no sugar)
Teh c (tea with evaporated milk & sugar)
Tak giu (Milo)
Diao yu (tea bag in hot water)
Ditlo - no water added to your coffee or tea
Kosong (no sugar, usually for beverages)
Siew dai - less sweet
Siew siew dai - less than siew dai
    (Malay stall usually go with ‘kurang manis’ than ‘siew dai’)
Peng (Bing)  (beverage with ice, Eg. kopi peng, teh peng)

Teh tarik: Pulled tea. It is the national drink of Malaysia (Indian origin)

As I'm sure @liuzhou has as well, I've spent a decent amount of time in SG - basically, EVERYONE speaks English.  There is no language to learn because there are so many different cultures there - if you were to walk around getting snacks everywhere, you'd have to learn like 20 languages!  Which is why they all speak English.

 

More important that the actual words are where you plan to spend your limited time there!  So much great food, so little time!

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11 hours ago, liuzhou said:

The de facto main language in Singapore is British English followed by Mandarin Chinese. Most schooling there is done in English.

 

菜饭 (cài fàn) is Mandarin and simply means 'food', in Singapore especially hawker food. It may be well economical, but the word doesn't hold that meaning.

 

 

 

It fascinates me how these words and phrases can change meaning as they change location. Of course as an outsider I don't know the nuances of "what it originally meant" vs "how it is used in SG now". Or for that matter if the words have the same origin at all.

 

It seems from Wikipedia that its usage in Singapore originates from Singaporean Hokkien not directly from Mandarin.

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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3 hours ago, KennethT said:

As I'm sure @liuzhou has as well, I've spent a decent amount of time in SG - basically, EVERYONE speaks English.  There is no language to learn because there are so many different cultures there - if you were to walk around getting snacks everywhere, you'd have to learn like 20 languages!  Which is why they all speak English.

 

More important that the actual words are where you plan to spend your limited time there!  So much great food, so little time!

 

Oh I know that English is an official language and that I don't need to learn anything else to get by. But it is toe into learning about the culture. Just as there are a whole variety of coffee drinks in Australia, I think it will help me to know the kopi drinks in Singapore. I'm trying to memorize kopi siew dai. I don't expect to be able to get a flat white.

 

I'm now regretting not scheduling more that a recovery day between intercontinental flights but it will be a very long trip as it stands. Maybe I'll be able to go back and spend more time.

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It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Right I get the coffee terminology thing. Even here when my Aussies come it is amusing, though not to the folks in line behind. Quite the coffee culture there. Her Turkish coffee guy in the lobby has her usual ready to hand off as she scurries to elevators (she runs a tab) and delivers when the offices call down. 

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7 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

If the name of the food originates from Hokkein, why does it retain the very different Mandarin pronunciation. Does Wikipedia explain that ?

 

It would seem that it came to Singapore directly from Mandarin, but the local Hokkein speakers changed the second part, meaning 'cooked rice' to 'pñg', leaving the first part in Mandarin. Yet , many outlets in Singapore use the full Mandarin.

 

This is interesting information about how the name morphed in its journey. You could always edit the Wiki

Edited by haresfur
addition (log)

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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  • 6 months later...

I just learned another drink order in Singapore, termed yuanyang by the SG people posting on line, which is a mixture of kopi and teh, so coffee, tea, condensed milk and sugar. I'm sceptical but I'd try it. It apparently originated in Hong Kong (according to Wikipedia - yeah, I know, it's the best information I could find), who have an entry for Yuenyeung, 鴛鴦.

 

The person online was complaining that it cost 10-20 cents more.

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On 10/4/2023 at 3:10 PM, haresfur said:

I just learned another drink order in Singapore, termed yuanyang by the SG people posting on line, which is a mixture of kopi and teh, so coffee, tea, condensed milk and sugar. I'm sceptical but I'd try it. It apparently originated in Hong Kong (according to Wikipedia - yeah, I know, it's the best information I could find), who have an entry for Yuenyeung, 鴛鴦.

 

The person online was complaining that it cost 10-20 cents more.

 

鴛鴦 is the Hong Kong orthography. In Chinese as used in Mainland China and Singapore, it is 鸳鸯 (yuān yāng) which actually means Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), which always hang around in pairs. This has led to almost anything usually in pairs being given the epithet. More common than tea/coffee mixes are the double pans used for Chongqing / Sichuan hot pots, known as 鸳鸯锅 (yuān yang guō), Mandarin duck pots..

 

yuang-yang.thumb.jpg.a4cfea42339db54acf2090fef4ac8d12.jpg

 

I've seen the tea/coffee abomination here, but never indulged. I have standards. Low standards, but not that low. 🙄
 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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On 10/4/2023 at 9:10 AM, haresfur said:

I just learned another drink order in Singapore, termed yuanyang by the SG people posting on line, which is a mixture of kopi and teh, so coffee, tea, condensed milk and sugar. I'm sceptical but I'd try it. It apparently originated in Hong Kong (according to Wikipedia - yeah, I know, it's the best information I could find), who have an entry for Yuenyeung, 鴛鴦.

 

The person online was complaining that it cost 10-20 cents more.


It is very common in HK and I had it on numerous occasions.  Most people think of it as a curiosity made from coffee and (black) tea, but it is actually meant as a mixture of coffee and milk tea, with the emphasis on milk. So, think if it as a milk-heavy coffee drink (kind of latte macchiato), with some roasted/herbal undertones. It is popular and ubiquitous. The cold version is very refreshing in a HK (and Singapore for that matter) climate …

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