You probably haven’t tried bak kut teh or pork bone tea soup before. Neither did I before 2016. A friend of mine introduced me to bak kut teh when I was visiting Singapore and took me to the original Balestier Bak Kut Teh. He said, you have never tried anything like this before and it’s good!
When I first saw the soup. I thought, look it’s just soup. It was clear soup with some oil on the surface, some garlic cloves and a heap of pork bones and offal. The restaurant’s air oddly smelt like spices mixed with hot oil with some hint of pleasant tea aromas. Before sipping it, I thought again, how could this soup be anything more than mere soup? I have tried heaps of soup from various cuisines, from Italian to Vietnamese, and my expectations were low. But from that first mouthful of this hot, tasty soup, it just blew all my expectations. It was so amazingly simple and delicious. My friend was right.
I am glad I tried this, because now when I visit Singapore I make sure to bring the people I bring with me to try a bowl of this soup during a lunch session.
There are two main kinds of bak kut teh out there (but three kinds if you base it on language rather than country), the Malaysian variant and the Singaporean variant. The Malaysian variant is usually more herbal tasting and darker in color. It has its fans and is popular in its own right. I think the Malaysian variant deserves its own spot and there is no need to pit it against the Singaporean variant.
Bak kut teh is typically eaten for breakfast, but may also be served as lunch. Most establishments will still be open into the night.
For me, Singaporean bak kut teh hits the spot. It hits all the right beats in terms of texture. The peppery taste, with its various spices and eccentric umami flavor, is unique and delightful. The soup can be a side dish, but can serve as a main with a side of rice. Honestly, I would just order the soup if I had the choice, without the pork bones and offal.
At the various establishments around Singapore, any order of bak kut teh comes with free refills. Just finish your soup and the waiter/waitress will come top up the bowl with soup. Talk about value for money.
Here is my order of bak kut teh with pork pieces, some braised pork and a bowl of rice. All this for under $SGD10.
There are various chains that offer bak kut teh in Singapore. In January 2019, we tried the hawker center version of Balestier Bak Kut Teh at Vivo City shopping center within the Food Republik. The soup was still just as tasty and worth it, money-wise.
There is also chains like the Founder Bak Kuh Tea and Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. They are spread all over Singapore from Chinatown to each shopping center.