Singapore Bak Kut Teh Recipe (肉骨茶)
Bak Kut Teh is a comforting hawker dish consisting of pork rib soup served with white rice and Chinese tea. As a food from childhood, I grew up eating and loving it. For a more detailed account on the origins of this dish, you can read about Ng Ah Bah Kut Teh in Balestier - my favourite bak kut teh stall in Singapore.
Cooking this dish at home isn’t rocket science. In fact, there are many premade spice packets that you can buy from your local Asian grocer that will make a pretty decent bak kut teh. Just add water & simmer the pork ribs.
All the same, for the purpose of authenticity, I was still keen on recreating this dish using self-selected herbs from my cupboard full of Traditional Chinese herbs (I’d like to thank Fakegf’s dad for passing the recipe to me verbally). For cooking nerds, getting to know the individual herbs that make up bak kut teh may interest you!
But first, I’d like to make the distinction that this recipe is for the Teochew-style (peppery / garlicky) bak kut teh that’s commonly served in Singapore. The darker, herbal bak kut teh (more often seen in Malaysia) is a completely different recipe which I won’t be touching on here.
From left: dang gui (angelica sinesis), codonopsis, garlic, white pepeprcorns, onion
These are the core ingredients for Singapore-style bak kut teh. As you can see, making the stock features heaps of white peppercorns, garlic, and not that much herbs. When cooked correctly, the herbs push in as a very mild hint only.
On that note, when following this recipe, please stick with the suggested 2-3 slices of dang gui. Adding too much will make the soup unbalanced and bitter.
Goji berries, liquorice bark, star anise, ligusticum
These are optional ingredients for the stock, once again used sparingly. I like to add the goji berries during the last 30 mins of cooking, too much goji berries can sour the soup. Both the ligusticum and licorice bark helps sweeten the soup while the star anise can make it a touch more mellow.
To learn more about the herbs used here, how to prepare them and their medicinal properties, please check out my compendium post ‘Traditional Chinese Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide‘.
And of course, you’ll need pork ribs. If I were you, I’d source free range pork.
One problem I have making this is there just isn’t enough soup to go with the proportion of pork ribs used. Using too much water makes the soup thin, but I really love drinking the soup! I guess you could make more stock by using pork bones.
Like many hawker dishes, bak kut teh isn’t a dish with veggies in it. So I normally have bak kut teh with a bowl tang-oh (garland chrysanthemum). It’s a delightful Asian vegetable with an uplifting coriander-like fragrance that goes very well in Chinese soups. Just blanch it in the bak kut teh stock till cooked (about 30-60 secs) and serve in a separate bowl.
You can probably do this with other Asian veggies like choy sum or buk choy (but not kai lan).
Singapore Bak Kut Teh
(Adapted from Fake Father-In-Law’s recipe, Serves 3)
600g free range pork ribs
1.2 litres water
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
Half a big red onion
3-5g crushed white peppercorns (depending on how peppery you want it to be)
2-3 slices of dang gui
2 sticks of codonopsis
4g goji berries
Dark soya sauce
Long grain jasmine rice
2-3 pieces liquorice root
Few slices of ligusticum
1 small star anise
Blanch the pork ribs in a pot of boiling water to remove the scum
Drain, cut into rib pieces
Leave aside in a bowl of cool water
Add garlic, onion, crushed white peppercorns, dang gui, codonopsis (and the 3 optional ingredients if you’re using it) into a stock pot with 1.2L of water, bring to a boil.
Lower the rib pieces into the stock
Cover and simmer for 1 hour
30 minutes before serving, add the goji berries
Before serving, season to taste with salt, light soya sauce and sugar
Serve with Chinese tea, blanched veggies, steamed jasmine rice and cut red chillies in dark soya sauce
Tips: For a more flavoursome stock, turn off the heat and let the soup cool down for a few hours to half a day. Bring it back to a boil when you want to serve. To serve piping hot soup to your guests, pre-warm the serving bowls by ladling the hot stock into them, giving it a brief swirl, and pour that stock back into the pot.
For more comforting home recipes, check out my recipe section.