Bak Kut Teh, roughly translated to Meat Bone Tea, is a hearty pork bone soup popular amongst the Chinese community in Singapore and Malaysia.
Despite its name, one should not be mistaken: there is, in fact, no tea in the dish itself. The ‘Teh’ actually refers to the strongly brewed Chinese tea that is traditionally served alongside the dish, which is believed to dilute the fats consumed in the soup.
Many believe Bak Kut Teh originated from China’s Fujian province, introduced to the local communities in Malaya by Hokkien immigrants. Historically, it was served to coolies as a nourishing, hearty breakfast before they went about their long, labourious day. In current times, Bak Kut Teh is generally had during lunch or dinner.
Primarily, there are two different versions of Bak Kut Teh in Singapore: one with a clear peppery broth and a Klang-style herbal broth. Although both types are made with different soup ingredients, the core of the dish has to contain tender, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs simmered in a beautiful stock of spices that’ll warm you up on a cold, rainy day.
To help you along, we’ve rounded some of the best spots for both herbal and pepper Bak Kut Teh in Singapore. Read on for the full list.
Herbal Bak Kut Teh
Kota Zheng Zong Bak Kut Teh Singapore
Kota Zheng Zong Bak Kut Teh Singapore hails from a humble pushcart stall in Kota Tinggi, Malaysia, which subsequently expanded to Johor Bahru and Singapore. The flavourful broth is boiled with a mixture of 18 different Chinese herbs, dark soy sauce and another pork cut-offs, and is paired beautifully with a steaming bowl of rice on the side. Each spoonful is delightfully fragrant, with just a smattering of herbal notes from its aftertaste.
Kota Zheng Zong Bak Kut Teh Singapore, 15A Lor Liput, Singapore 277730.
Hong Ji Claypot Bak Kut Teh
One will be able to smell the offerings at Hong Ji Claypot Bak Kut Teh permeating through the air before you even arrive at its doorstep. The broth takes a whopping six hours to cook, and is simmered with Chinese herbs like dang shen, dang gui and dried tangerine peel for an aromatic explosion of flavours unlike any other. Each of the juicy pork ribs are cut into shorter lengths for easy dining, and the broth also comes with a mixture of fried beancurd, mushrooms and lettuce to give the dish a little more variety.
Hong Ji Claypot Bak Kut Teh, Blk 107 Ang Mo Kio Ave 4 Street 11 #01-138, 560107
Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh
Mention Leong Kee Bak Kut Teh and you’ll be instantly reminded of a claypot packed with pork ribs, liver, stomach, intestine, fried beancurd and vegetables soaked in a thick, cloudy, herbal broth. The pork ribs here are cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection: just a little nudge from your chopsticks and you’ll be able to pry off some of that tender meat. Just in case you’re not a fan of pork, Leong Kee also serves a Herbal Mutton Soup option shares the spotlight with the original Bak Kut Teh.
Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh, 251 Geylang Rd, Singapore 389309
Pepper Bak Kut Teh
Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh
If you’re one for a spicy, peppery broth, look no further than Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh. Located at a discreet corner of the estate, this heritage spot is one that loyal fans like to keep a secret amongst themselves. Here, the broth isn’t just peppery, it comes with a beautiful, garlicky sweet aftertaste that is built from the slow simmer of the pork ribs. Most diners that come here get an order of the mee sua (wheat noodles) and the homemade dough fritters on the side to soak up all of that delicious broth.
Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh, 58 Seng Poh Rd, Singapore 160058
Founder Bak Kut Teh
Founder Bak Kut Teh recently hit the headlines after its open plea for diners to visit their establishment due to a drop in sales from COVID-19. This came at a surprise to many, as Founder is one of Singapore’s most famous Bak Kut Teh establishments, notable for having its entire walls pasted with pictures of celebrities who have visited its stores.
Founder’s originator was a pig farmer, who decided to formulate his own recipe based on the freshest ingredients he could find. Here, you’ll be able to find meaty pork ribs swimming in a clean, peppery broth that takes centre stage for the perfect afternoon lunch.
Founder Bak Kut Teh, 347 Balestier Rd, Singapore 329777
Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh
A firm favourite amongst locals, Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh has been serving comforting bowls of Bak Kut Teh with the same recipe since 1955. The old-school establishment takes pride in offering a delightfully savoury broth that is made with a special blend of peppercorns, adding a sort of milky aftertaste with every mouthful. Besides their signature Bak Kut Teh, they are also popular for their braised pork dishes (including pork skin and pork intestines!), all of which are braised with 10 different types of herbs and spices such as the star anise, cinnamon and galangal.
Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh, 208 Rangoon Road, Hong Building Singapore 218453
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Singapore.
(Main and featured image: Getty Images/Lifestyle Asia Singapore)