What is Chope?

The word Kopitiam is a combination of two words – kopi meaning coffee in Bahasa Melayu and Tiam meaning shop in Hokkien (a Chinese dialect). The Kopitiam (coffee shop) is not just for coffee but for all types of food and beverages. I think this most relates to the many and varied food courts and centres across Singapore which sell really cheap local food which is delicious and frequented by everyone.

To chope is derived from ‘chop’ which means to ‘leave your mark’ and is used in Kopitiams and other places in Singapore. We’ve discovered it used extensively in food courts but also in Starbucks – where unsuspecting tourists may sit at a table that’s been choped (seats reserved and taken).

How does one chope?

The most common way of choping is to leave a packet of tissues on the table (and also explains the extensive sales and market in pocket tissues here in Singapore – there are sellers in every mall). A packet of tissues usually indicates one or two people have reserved seats. A handbag sized umbrella may indicate 2 or more people have reserved seats. A large golf type umbrella is used for 4 or more seats. Alternatively large groups leave a single person at the table whilst food is obtained.

Receiving the ‘evil eye’

As tables and chairs are hard to come by in food courts and Starbucks, it is entirely acceptable for people to hover over you to chope the table immediately you have finished eating. its first come first served and no waiters to assist! It is considered polite here to not stay in your seats once you have completed your meal. Its called ‘being automatic’ as in being gracious enough to offer up your seats without being asked. Otherwise you are likely to receive the evil eye!

The Kopi Aunty and Uncle

Much like Bangalore, it is common to address elders as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ and that is the same in Singapore’s Kopitiam culture. These aunties and uncles go around tables in the food courts taking drinks orders. They remember your orders and know where you sit and give you the change straight from the money belt around their waist. they also clear tables to make room for the next customer. They are also extremely helpful to foreigners like me who have no idea how the system works. They are very kind, understanding, gracious and helpful.

Ordering tea

Who knew this could be a minefield or similar proportions to a Starbucks coffee menu?! It’s been a steep learning curve and an education to boot. So here is what I’ve discovered so far.

TEH – this is tea with sweetened condensed milk.

TEH PENG – iced tea with condensed milk

TEH SIU DAI – tea with lesser sweetened condensed milk

TEH KAH DAI – tea with more sweetened condensed milk

TEH-C – tea with evaporated milk and sugar

TEH-C PENG – iced tea with evaporated milk and sugar

TEH-C KAH DAI – tea with evaporated milk and more sugar

TEH-C KOSONG – tea with evaporated milk and no sugar

TEH GAU – strong tea with sweetened condensed milk

TEH PO – weak tea with sweetened condensed milk

TEH HALIA – ginger tea with sweetened condensed milk

TEH-O – plain tea with sugar

TEH-O SIU DAI – plain tea with less sugar

TEH-O KAH DAI – plain tea with more sugar

TEH-O KOSONG – plain tea without sugar

TEH-O ICE LIMAU – iced lime tea

TEH CINO – milk layered with sweetened tea on top

TEH TARIK – cooled, frothy tea

TEH DA BAO – takeaway tea with sweetened condensed milk

and then there’s ‘DIAO YU’ which means to leave the teabag in the cup. DIAO YU means fishing in Mandarin. The dipping of the tea bag is similar to fishing.

There’s a similar array for coffee too but as I am mainly a tea drinker I’ve not ventured into that arena yet. There’s still time.

It’s been enlightening discovering how to chope and what it means. Another interesting feature of #SensationalSingapore.