Ng Ah Sio bak kut teh

Ng Ah Sio Signature bak kut teh with you tiao and liver and kidney soup

Ng Ah Sio serves traditional Teochew bak kut teh. Literally translated, this means pork rib tea.  The reality is a bowl of pork ribs simmered for hours to make a complex and delicious soup full of flavour and spices and herbs, predominantly garlic and pepper, served with hot tea.

The other type of bak kut teh is the Hokkien variety (there are various stories of which variation is the original between Teochew and Hokkien) which uses dark soya sauce as well as the addition of other spices like star anise and cloves to the stock to produce a sweeter, almost medicinal herbal stock.

I remember the Hokkien style from my childhood but have to admit it’s been a long time since I’ve tasted it – perhaps it’s time that I attempt to cook it 🙂

Kung Fu tea

But I digress – bak kut teh is traditionally a breakfast meal, although there are often people enjoying this dish as supper around Singapore at the 24 hour bak kut teh restaurants.  Ng Ah Sio opens at 6am and closes at 2pm, and I had the luxury of being able to take my dad there for breakfast this morning.

The shop is located in a quiet part of Rangoon Road and it was lovely to be able to sit down, relax and enjoy the food and just catch up with my dad in the relative cool of the morning.  By the time we left at 10.30 the place was full and I assume it will only get busier towards lunch time.

The menu is limited – they only do a few dishes…very very well.  We ordered the prime rib soup (which comes with soup top-ups if you ask for it), a liver and kidney soup, which comes in a more subdued and sweeter stock than the pork rib stock and you tiao – Chinese donuts.

It’s one of those dishes which is really difficult to describe other than if you like pork and pepper and garlic, it’s a must-try.  The tea is a must, to help neutralise the fat in the soup and cleanse the palatte.  It’s served out of old ceramic teapots with a large kettle of boiling water next to the table for you to refill, and drink out of traditional teeny tiny tea cups.  Enough to hold one sip of the strong tannic tea.

A million bowls have been served since 1988 in their current location – they’ve got to be doing something right.  Their site seems to be down but there’s a cached version of the history which is below if you’re interested in the history and evolution of this famous eating house.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House
208 Rangoon Road
tel: +65 6291 4537
Opening hours: Tue–Sun: 6am – 2pm
(Closed on Mon)

History
As one of the pioneers of this now famous dish, Mr Ng Siak Hai’s (nickname: Ng Ah Sio’s) father – Mr Ng Mui Song, began plying the pork-based, peppery herbal soup cooked in a distinct Teochew style in the 1050s at the current River Valley and Hill Street vicinity.  These early servings of the bak kut teh was accompanied by Chinese donuts (you tiao) and a strong brew of Chinese tea and there was no chilli and soya sauce dips.  One of the common beliefs of the origins of bak kut teh is rooted in the early days of the 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 the bak kut teh and their legendary stamina and strength after taking it soon led to other groups of Chinese coolies making the same with variations in the types of herbs added.

On 1 December, 1977, with an initial crew of seven workers, Mr Ng Siak took over from his father at his retirement and began serving the crowds at new World Amusement Park (current Kitchener Road) with an improved recipe that further enhanced the aroma of pepper in the soup, which is more robust than the original, while retaining many of the hall-mark use of fresh pork ribs, garlic and a secret blend of herbs.  He named his shop Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House.  It is this unique robust flabour that many have come to associate Ng Ah Sio with, and his team of workers soon increased to 18 to cope with the surging numbers of people looking to fulfill their craving for this invogorating version of Singapore’s heritage dish.

Since moving to Rangoon Road on 15 March 1988, over a million bowls of this classic heritage dish have been served.  Ng Ah Sio as a brand has since become synonymous with the dish.  It remains a firm favourite with both locals and foreigners and this is the place many would come to savour a truly original bowl of bak kut teh, served with chilli, soya sauce and many other accompanments for the ultimate enjoyment of this dish.

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About Carolyn Chan

A girl slowly eating her way around Singapore and farther afield when she's lucky. View all posts by Carolyn Chan

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