Vernetta Lopez from early mornings on Gold 905 is our next Makan Kaki and she takes us to try one of her favourite places for Bak Kut Teh, or pork rib soup. We are well aware that everyone has their preferred regular place, especially along Balestier Road, but we can probably say this is one of the lesser-known BKT places that deserves a mention and a visit.
Ah Hak Bak Kut Teh has around for 30 years and you can tell the history when you walk in. You’ll be transported back in time, within a retro-tiled shophouse space that probably hasn’t changed in their three-decade history.
That’s not the only thing old school thing about Ah Hak Bak Kut Teh – their signature dish is also said to be favoured by those who prefer traditional ribs that have a firmer bite. However, when we went to give it a try, the meat was good, not tough at all, with substantial chunks clinging to the bones.
Be sure to start off your meal by performing the traditional tea ceremony. Stimulate your appetite with strong tea brewed in a clay teapot and served in the tiny cups, topped up with boiling water from a kettle that’s kept constantly on a low fire right at your table. The tea also serves as a fortifying palate cleanser that helps cut through the richness of your BKT meal.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the soup. This is the peppery, not herbal kind of Singapore-Teochew-style soup that is savoury, light, clear, not too porky and really feels good for you. We were there on a rainy day and what a comforting, soul-warming, satisfying meal it made!
Best of all, they give you free soup refills! We asked one of the workers, Mr Lee, how the soup was made, but he simply smiled and told us it was a secret. We can only guess pork bones are boiled for a long time along with herbs and spices and lots of whole garlic cloves that turn deliciously creamy, mild and caramelised after their swim in the hot soup.
A whole array of other essential dishes can be ordered to supplement your Bak Kut Teh experience, including whole steamed fish as well as Giam Chye, or salted vegetables, which Vernetta thinks complements the BKT perfectly because it’s not too salty, thick or vinegary.
Their selection of soy sauce stewed dishes are worth a try too, giving textural and flavour contrast to the peppery soup and boiled ribs. In particular, the braised pig trotters are tender, fall-off-the-bone, gelatinous and gorgeously fatty. But not too oily, so you won’t feel like it’s too much.
The braised small intestines are also a tasty treat, with its earthy, iron-y flavour, mellowed by the salty-sweet umami soy.
Everything is also a joy to eat when you have lots of chilli padi in dark soy sauce to dip into!
All in all, Vernetta’s verdict? Ah Hak Bak Kut Teh is the real deal at just $7 for rice and pork rib soup. When you’re sat in the charming old-school coffeeshop, surrounded by beautiful old mosaic tiles, history and tradition come alive with every mouthful you take. You’ve got to get a big bowl of steaming white rice to go with your hot peppery soup and meaty ribs, then dip the You Tiao (deep-fried dough crullers) into the soup, add chilli padi and soy-stewed pig parts for a meal made in porcine heaven!
AH HAK BAK KUT TEH
Kai Juan Coffee Shop
397 Balestier Road S(329800)
Open Daily: 6am – 2am