Friday, September 3, 2010

Local Drinks - An Imprints Post

This is my second post for's Imprint series which looks at all things memorable. Be it a nostalgic item from childhood or old-school things still revered today, many of these are worth keeping close at heart. We kicked off with breakfasts earlier. Now let's take a look at drinks with local flair...

Longan drink
Singapore is a hot country, and we love our cold drinks. This is a cup of iced longan drink, one that's got goodies added to it - sweet pineapple chunks and attap seeds. Longan is also known as "mata kuching" in Malay. You may also have seen pineapple drinks, grass jelly, lime juice and the like sold alongside this drink.

Anyone remember this mock birds nest drink?
This bird's nest drink used to be very common. It's really just pandan-infused syrup with bits of rough-textured jelly that resembles bird's nest. But it's no less refreshing.

I'm always a little bit alarmed by the amount of food colouring that goes into the drinks
If you saunter into the Geylang Serai area, there are even more varieties of drinks - air katira (a milky drink with buah kembang semangkuk or "pong ta hai"), bandung (rose syrup with milk; some with biji selasih or basil seeds added for crunch), limau kasturi (calamansi lime), barley, jagung (sweetcorn) and even new flavours now like blueberry or strawberry.

Pineapple Pitstop
Our fruit juices can also be quite unusual. We've got starfruit, soursop, papaya, honeydew, lychee, winter melon and even durian (although that's more likely in smoothies). Our lime juice is probably the equivalent of the West's lemonade!

Gogo Beanz
Of course, we have the cheap and nutritious soya bean drink - plant-based protein mean there's no cholesterol. And it's lactose free, a boon to many Asians who are lactose intolerant. Nowadays modern vendors add stuff like tapioca pearls, ginger juice, red beans, and even flavours like green tea to update the drink and give greater variety.

Iced Kopi-O, Coffee Shake and Tea Shake
And where would we be without our kopi and teh? Coffee and tea here come in such mind-boggling variations - hot or cold, with/without milk or sugar? With condensed milk or evaporated milk? Thicker or thinner? More sugar, less sugar? You want it pulled? Teh tarik! With ginger? Teh halia. Ordering terms have truly become a mishmash of Chinese dialects with Malay. Teh O-Peng Kosong. Kopi-C-Siu dai! Knowing how to order your cuppa is essential to kopitiam survival!


  1. I know for sure I can't survive without my daily iced cham (teh/kopi mix). :D

  2. The "birds nest" drink were one of my favs as a child ... it was one of the things that would help in persuading me to follow grandma out to the wayangs (which I never took to) ... I loved Bandung too! The ones at the sarabat stalls on Waterloo Street were good, but I liked the one sold by a Chinese vendor by the Farrer Park playing fields ... that had lots of agar agar pieces in them, and somehow went very well with the wonderful Mee Siam may parents would head to Farrer Park for!

  3. Katira seems to be a southern thing as the Ramadan Bazaars label it as a Johor drink. I love the look of the first drink with pineapple cubes, something we don't get here.

    For me, my std order in a kopitiam will be barley with a twist of lime, kopi-o or just herbal tea.

  4. I miss those old school bandung that is made with coconut milk instead of cow's milk.

  5. Oh my god! Where did you find the bird's nest drink cart?? Must be in a museum.... Haven't seen these in ages.

  6. the longgan drink looks so divine on the pictures.. sometimes it just make me wonder.. these drinks are so common yet we don't appreciate it.. until its being feature and get recognition from international reader then we realized how amazing it can be... we just have to better appreciate what we already have :)

    Leon Koh 许涵量
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  7. LFB: Oh, yuen yang is called ice cham in Malaysia? That's interesting.

    Long&WindingRd: Yes, I love the drink with lots of agar agar too! Nowadays dunno where to find...

    Boo: Hmm! I didn't know Air Katira was a Johor drink. Rarely saw it there while growing up.

    Southernoise: Bandung with coconut milk? Wow, that is so far back that even I barely remember it - but does ring a bell. I remember being very young and thinking cow's milk for bandung was not as nice a replacement.

    Shirley: I found it at the Geylang Serai ramadan bazaar, ironically.

    Leon: Thanks! Yes, sometimes we take common things for granted. We should enjoy whatever we have, it is true.

    Ah I left out sugarcane juice! lol

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