6 September 2010


Lingxiu Chong, Architectural Student, AA
Justin Zhuang, Writer, reclaimland.sg


The kopitiam, or coffeeshop, is one of the most popular type of eating space in Singapore. Despite each being privately owned, most have been created in the mould of a generic space. Each kopitiam is typically anchored by a stall selling drinks and has two or three other stalls each selling one type of food. The eating space is then filled with tables and chairs that are shared amongst these stalls. In London, however, similarly popular eating spaces usually serve only one genre of food. While they are built in similar kinds of spaces to Singapore, the results are standalone cafes, bars, and restaurants, that reflect a personal wish of its owner, instead of a multi-flavoured kopitiam.

In these different spaces, people seem to eat differently as well. In London, customers who sit outside the streets, are readily orientated towards the street to people watch as they enjoy a meal. Yet in Singapore, people eating at food spaces are turned away from the street as if it’s not there. There are several reasons this may be so. Does the tropical climate in Singapore, as compared to London’s less harsh weather, encourage people to eat ‘in’ rather than ‘out’? Or is the the street as a stage, rather than just a functional traveling space, a concept that has a stronger tradition in Europe? This might explain the increased spectatorship in London. Perhaps how each eating space has been designed in these cities has an effect on how we eat? More space for stalls, means less space for people. Tables and chairs in the kopitiams seem arranged to maximises eating capacity, while those in London give space for viewing street activity while eating. These are some things worth chewing over.

These photographs are taken by Lingxiu Chong and Justin Zhuang as part of the Uniquely Singapore - Distinctively London? exhibition.