Monday, July 30, 2012

Bak kut teh

Bak kut teh (literally 'meat bone tea') is one of the most famous dish of Singapore and Chinese regions with sizable Teochew community. It is a Chinese soup of meaty pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices. I like it a lot but since it is a quite heavy dish to eat, I do not eat it frequently. Actually it has been a whiles since I have eaten Bak kut teh. Last week, one of my wife's friend came to Singapore and she wanted to try Bak kut teh. For me, a Bak kut teh stall in a hawker center near my house is the best but she wanted something famous so I planned to take her to Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House at Rangoon Road. She could not make it to there with us but later she went there with her husband and next day they wanted more of it. So since it was near, I have taken them to their stall in Marina Bay Sands food court. The food in Marina Bay Sands food court is usually quite bad and expensive but the bak kut teh here in Ng Ah Sio stall was quite delicious and expensive.

They say the dish is originated from the Chinese coolies and workers of Hokkien origin. These men who took the long way to Singapore for a better life were terribly paid so they could not effort to buy and eat meat. So  they have come out with this soup which was to strengthen them with meat soup and many herbs and quickly became popular. Teochew community originated version of this soup is different from Hokkien version. And if you believe Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House, bak kut teh actually was first cooked by Teochew coolies in Singapore:
As one of the pioneers of this now-famous dish, Mr Ng Siak Mai’s father – Mr Ng Mui Song, began plying the pork based, peppery herbal soup cooked in a distinct Teochew style in the 1950s at the current River Valley and Hill Street vicinity. These early servings of the Bak Kut The was accompanied by Chinese doughnuts (You Tiao) and a strong brew of Chinese tea. There was no chilli and soya sauce dips. 
One of the common beliefs of the origins of Bak Kut The is rooted in the early days of Republic’s founding where large numbers of young men migrated from China to work as coolies at the godowns by the historic Singapore River. As their jobs involved much physical hardship and their meagre salaries could ill afford the luxury of meat then,  they used the bones of pork to brew their soups as a form of nourishment. It is said that the Teochew labourers came up with the original version of Bak KutTeh and their legendary stamina and strength after taking it soon led the other groups of Chinese coolies making the same with vanation in the types of herbs added.
Anyway, we had a chance to go to Rangoon Road to eat the dish. Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House is one of the best places to try Bak Kut Teh. Their secret recipe for the spicy herbal soup is very delicious and quite different than the other shops. The place is quite accessible, walking distance away from Farrer Park MRT Station. The shop is at the end of the road. Ng Ah Sio is in this business for quite a long time. Mr Ng Siak Mai took over the shop from his father upon his retirement and served food in New World Amusement Park until 1988. Since then the shop is at this location at Rangoon Road. Other than this road, they have a shop in Marina Bay Sands food court and at Tanjong Katong Road (since April 2012).

The shop at Rangoon Road is quite in the middle of nowhere but since the shop is famous and the dishes are delicious, they have plenty of customers and it is usually crowded here in the morning and evening. They are open from 7 am to 10 pm except Mondays.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House
We have ordered one signaturespare ribs soup (S$8), braised pig trotter (my favorite - S$8) and blanched xiao bai cai (the veggie dish below, S$4) and rice. My wife likes to drink the soup so I usually end up eating most of the meat. For this reason only one bak kut teh dish is enough for us. They renew the soup for free when it finishes but you need to ask for it. 

Bak Kut Teh (the plate with the spoon)
Below map shows the location of the shop in google maps:

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