It consists of meaty pork ribs simmered in a unique broth of herbs and spices; the use of cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds and coriander in this dish reflects Singapore’s diverse cultural influences. The dish evolved as such in order to supplement the meagre, often innutritious diet of the coolies of yesteryear and popular among the locals and tourists to international celebrities and dignitaries.
Yet, the dark-coloured soup rich in herbs and spices is just one of two versions of bak kut teh. If you prefer a less herbal-tasting soup that’s just as satisfying, you’ll surely enjoy the other style of cooking, which serves up a soup that is clear and peppery.
The different varieties of this popular dish is a reflection of how descendants of immigrants from different parts of China have adapted bak kut teh to suit their palate. The Cantonese have a strong soup-drinking culture and thus tend to add more medicinal herbs to the dish, whereas the Hokkiens, who prefer their food salty tasting, add soy sauce to darken the soup of the bak kut teh.
Some of the most famous bak kut teh can be found along Balestier Road (Founder Bak Kut Teh 发起人肉骨茶餐馆 347 Balestier Road), Rangoon Road (Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Eating House 黄亚细肉骨茶餐室 8 Rangoon Road) and Joo Chiat Road (Sin Heng Bak Koot Teh 新兴瓦煲肉骨茶 439 Joo Chiat Road) and are available all through the day. The dish can be enjoyed with both rice and noodles, and is most often served with you tiao (deep-fried dough fritters).
A bowl of bak kut teh tends to come with pork ribs, preserved vegetables and braised beancurd skins, all of which make this a wholesome, healthy and inexpensive option at any time of the day.
So popular is the bak kut teh concoction in Singapore that it’s now a flavour in instant noodles and there’s even a DIY kit, consisting of a soup base, that’s ideal as a culinary souvenir from Singapore.