Bak kut teh (pork rib tea) is a comforting brew. If the authors of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" had been Asian, I bet they'd be tempted to name their work "Bak Kut Teh for the Soul". Plus, no crouton can beat our Asian fried you tiao!
The best part sometimes, for me, are the sliced chillies in dark soy. The pork ribs become a vehicle for these babies, and plain white rice gets its Cinderella transformation when drizzled with this stuff.
You can make bak kut teh quite easily at home, and I often think homemade ones are still the best. But bak kut teh shops remain extremely popular. Witness the long queues at Founder along Balestier Road, and the floor-to-ceiling photos of celebrities who have dined there.
I have never gone there myself as I'd heard many times that the quality has gone down since it became famous. But curiosity got the better of a few Founder virgins, so a group of us trooped there last night and braved the crowds.
The much-awaited bowl of bak kut teh (S$8) arrived. OK, if you disregard all the starry hype about this place, the food is actually passable. The broth is lovely when warm - nicely peppery and a little bit sweet. However, the meat was very lean and tough though. Not fall-off-the-bone tender. It's certainly not been stewed long enough.
There are a few side dishes (all S$4) to go with the pork ribs. Beancurd skin, I like! Tossed with fried shallots. A tad oily, but all the better for slithering down your throat.
The "mei cai" or preserved vegetables had chopped garlic generously mixed in. It was more sweet than salty.
The braised taupok (fried beancurd) was a little flat, flavourwise. Basically it was just a sodium bath.
The bowl of mixed innards (S$8) - kidney, liver and small intestines. All of which I don't eat, so I left it untouched. Medium rare liver fans may be glad to know the liver is still bleeding into the soup when it arrives at your table, imbuing the broth with a reddish tinge.
The pork trotter (S$8) tasted better than it looked. Even though the meat was also lean, the trotter was way more tender than the bak kut teh ribs. Oddly, the meat served here is incredibly lean. We all started discussing how pork is pointless without a bit of fat. After all, fat is flavour.
Service is brisk and relatively friendly. Our soup was topped up once. And I do appreciate the air-conditioning, no matter how feeble.
Well, now I can say "been there, done that". Now I just have this urge to buy lots of garlic, peppercorns and juicy pork ribs...time for a remake!
FOUNDER BAK KUT TEH
347 Balestier Road (under New Orchid Hotel)
Open daily except Tuesday
Lunch: 12 noon - 2pm
Dinner/Supper: 6pm - 2.30am