The Singaporean dish Bakut Teh literally translates as "meat bone tea." Despite its name, this popular broth among the early migrants from Southern China, is not flavored with tea leaves but garlic, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds and ginseng, a root used mainly for medicinal purposes. Meaty pork ribs are simmered in this concoction until it is tender. It is served with rice and Oolong tea which is believed to dilute all the fat you get from the pork ribs.
There were several patrons who seemed to be regulars which I took as a sign that the stall served good food. Not unlike our own carinderias, the stall served cooked dishes of all kinds, from stir-fried vegetables to noodles to stewed meats and seafood.
Their specialty was the Bakut Teh, served with rice, chopped fresh chillies and dried bean curd sticks stewed in soy sauce. The soup was rather disappointing. I found it bland and the eat not as tender as I thought it would be.What saved the meal was the dried bean curd stew.
I didn't want to leave Singapore with such a mediocre Bakut Teh experience so I went on to try another restaurant nearer my hotel in Baliester Road, the Founder Bakut Teh. Even before their dinner service started, the queue was already long. It turns out, it's a popular restaurant amongst Asian celebrities like Jay Chou ("The Green Hornet" was his Hollywood debut), Andy Lau ("House of Flying Daggers") and Jackie Chan.
The restaurant, founded by has been operating for 40 years with a promise to serve only the freshest and meatiest pork ribs. The branch we were at was being run by the son of Mr. Chua, the founder whom this restaurant was eponymously named from.
The Baut Teh serve here had bigger chinks of tender meat. Almost but not quite falling off the bone. The broth was aromatic but still not as flavorful as what we're used to. It still felt like I needed some patis or toyo to put on the meat. It may just be the Pinoy in me or maybe the weather was too warm for a bowl of Bakut Teh.
So that I won't leave disappointed, I ordered what I knew would satisfy my craving for a tastier dish to go with the rice: Braised Pig's Trotters (Pata Tim) and Braised Pig's Intestines.
On my first spoonfuls, it seemed like I was having a meal in any Chinese restaurant here in Manila. For this food adventure, familiar tastes won over new experience. There's always new places to visit in Singapore. Maybe we'll try finding a good place for Hainanese Chicken Rice next time.
Any suggestions where to find the best Bakut Teh in Singapore?