Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Problem of Conversion

In baking, the Europeans use weight measurements; the Americans use volume measurements.  The Europeans also use metric, except for the Brits who stick by their pounds and ounces (as do the Americans).  Most of the time, cook books sold in Singapore use metric weight measurements.  So most of the time, my little weighing scale does the job for me.  And, for older recipes in old cookbooks (which are in pounds and ounces), I have my mother's old measuring cup.

So, I thought I had it all covered.  Until I looked at my grandaunt's recipe for pineapple tarts and found out it was in "katis".  Katis?  I have never cooked anything in katis (although vague memories emerged of visits to the wet market and my mother making her orders in katis).  Going down the pages, I did find a metric-based recipe (I assume my aunt updated her mother's recipe more recently), but my curiosity was piqued and I decided I would find out more about the "kati".

So I tried Ellice Handy (the doyenne of Singaporean cookbook writers).  Surely a book written in the 1960s (or so) would have kati conversion.  And indeed she did.  From katis to pounds and ounces.  Well, that was indeed useful.  So I would have to do a double conversion.  According to Handy,

1 kati = 16 tahils (what is a tahil!)
1 tahil = 1 ounce
16 ounces = 1 pound
Therefore, 1 kati = 1 pound.

Reading another cookbook, I got 1 kati = 21 1/2 ounces (!!)

I decided to check on-line.  Here I found that the "kati" or "catty" weight was used in China and Japan.  And depending on which country it was, the conversion factors are different.  For example:

1 kati (China) = 500g = 17.636 oz
1 kati (Japan) = 600g = 21.164 oz

Don't believe me?  Fiddle with the conversion here.

Going through Wikipedia, I found some more intriguing references to the kati.  First, I found out that the term "catty" is also used in Hongkong (which reinforces the Chinese linkage).  According to the Hongkong weights and measures ordinance

1 catty (kan) = 0.60478982 kg
1 tael (leung) = 1/16 catty
(i.e. my second cookbook appears to be more correct).

I was also delighted to come across, for the first time, a Singlish dictionary! I leave readers of this post to explore the dictionary on their own.  But let me, for the record, reproduce here its definition of the kati:

kati /ke-ti, ˈkɛtɪ/ n. [Mal. & Jav. kātī, katī; > Eng. catty] hist. A unit of weight equal to 16 Tahils, that is, about 1⅓ lb. avoirdupois or 625 grammes (more accurately, 0.604790 kilogramme).

1894 N.B. Dennys A Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya 177 Kati. – Frequently written “Catty,” a weight of 1⅓ pounds avoirdupois; the kati contains 16 taels, and 100 katis make a pikul, or picul, literally “a load.” The tael, the kati, and the pikul are native words, but the weights they express are Chinese. 1947 Richard Olaf Winstedt The Malays, ch. 6, 112 Soon after the founding of Malacca Chinese annals under 1416 record.. that, ‘tin.. is cast into small blocks weighing 1 kati 8 tahil or 1 kati 4 tahil official weight... They use these pieces of tin instead of money.’ [1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 516 kati. .. «catty»; a measure of weight of sixteen tahil or about one and one-third lb. avoirdupois.] 1970 Metrication Act 1970 (No. 52 of 1970), s. 5(b). Conversion of imperial standard units to metric system units. The values expressed in terms of .. the local customary system of weights and measures, may be converted into the values expressed in terms of the International System of Units in accordance with Schedule C. .. Schedule C .. Conversion of Local Customary Units to Equivalent SI Units .. 1 kati = 0.604790 kilogramme approximately 1972 The Straits Times, 25 November, 15 col. 1 The gold bars, weighing 15 katis seven tahils.
Goodness.  I am just glad that we have shifted to metric and so not have to worry about these complicated conversions.


  1. There is a easier way to get it right in Metric...

  2. LOL I had a good giggle reading this post.
    I don't recall the kati but I sent an email to older sister about it and she remembers our Mother and Granny buying rice,flour etc from the corner provision shop in katis. To her 1 kati was to 1 pound. Anyway she's glad the metric system came along.
    She also recalls Ah Pek(everyone called him that) the owner of the provision shop calculating everything with his old abacus and that he kept his change in a tin that was tied to a rope and hung from the ceiling! Ah those were the days of neighbourhood trust and we didn't worry about locking our doors ^_^

  3. The much awaited new edition of My Favourite Recipes has just been published in Singapore! You can write to to place an order.

    It'll be great if you could share this news with the followers of your blog.



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