Balestier must be the epicentre of Bak Kut Teh in Singapore. There are altogether 9 places selling Bak Kut Teh along this road, but the one that probably has the most photos of celebrities pasted on the wall is Founder’s Bak Kut Teh.
It’s been a while since my last Bak Kut Teh post. Since then, many things have happened including the Malaysian Tourism Minister trying to claim Bak Kut Teh as a Malaysian dish. Well, in my previous posts, I traced the origins of the Singapore version of Bak Kut Teh to the coolies working at Clarke Quay needing an energy boost in the mornings in order to carry out the back breaking (literally) work of carrying sacks of rice of the bumboats to the warehouses that line Clarke Quay. The Teochews came up with the peppery version while the Hokkiens had their herbal version. It is quite evident that the Teochews have beaten the Hokkiens at Bak Kut Teh since there many more stalls selling the Teochew version than the Hokkien version. Small consolation given the fact that the Hokkiens won the battle of the banks when UOB swallowed up OUB. However, it is evident from the comments on our facebook fanpage that there are still quite a lot of people who enjoy the Hokkien version so I shall be on the lookout for a good Herbal Bak Kut Teh to blog.
I don’t know if you realise it, but something has happened recently to cause a monumental change in the way we eat Bak Kut Teh. Bak Kut Teh is one of the few Singapore foods that enjoy some sort of cultural status. It is not like Char Kway Teow where you just walk up to the shop, order a plate and sit down to eat. One of the most essential things about Bak Kut Teh is in the third word of that name, viz the Teh. Bak Kut Teh really is Bak Kut (Pork Ribs) soup eaten with Teh (Chinese Tea). However, recently the authorities have outlawed the use of gas tanks in the restaurants, which meant that a lot of Bak Kut Teh places have had to keep their tea trolleys.
The best time to enjoy Bak Kut Teh is in the mornings. This is what the coolies used to have it because the dish is the “Redbull” of the the times. If you don’t believe me try having Bak Kut Teh early in the morning for breakfast. It tastes better at that time of the day. First order of the day is to make your cup of “Gong Fu” tea and cleanse the palate. Then have a sip of the soup before soaking a piece of You Char Kway. Then pick up the prime rib, dip it into the dark soy sauce with cut chilli and savour. Drink another cup of tea to wash it all down. Arrrhhhh!
The Uncle here explained to me why the restaurant is called “Founder”. His family used to be pig farmers in Punggol in the days before they got rid of the pig farms in Singapore. He used to love Bak Kut Teh, so he started experimenting with his own recipes. So, since he has never learnt how to cook Bak Kut Teh from a Bak Kut Teh master, he called his stall “Founder”. By the time they drove out the pig farmers, this uncle was already operating a Bak Kut Teh stall.
Being a pig farmer, he knows his pork very well and sources only the best pork for his Bak Kut Teh. Ask any person selling Pork and they will tell you that Indonesian Pork is still the best. They don’t like Australian or Canadian pork because according to him, the pigs from the Western Countries are not castrated and so they have a porky smell.
The pork rib here is done very well. It is tender but not overcooked that it falls off the bone. For Bak Kut Teh, it should retain some bite and the meat should be tender and have a nice bounce. The soup here is very sweet. They actually have two pots to prepare the Bak Kut Teh. One pot is specially for the soup. Here is where they boil the bones to produce a rich stock. The soup needs to be simmered slowly as a rolling boil will cause the soup to turn cloudy (ala Tonkotsu Soup). The soup here is sweet and peppery and quite light and refreshing. 4.25/5
So is Founder Bak Kut Teh the undisputed King of Bak Kut Teh along Balestier? Overall the Bak Kut Teh soup is very sweet and the prime ribs are some of the best I have eaten, but the side dishes are nothing to shout about. Is there a hidden Bak Kut Teh gem along Balestier which we need to know about?