Above: Tea packing at Pek Sin Choon is still being done traditional ways. By hands and two masterful ladies.
Apart from poached eggs and kaya toasts, it’s the tea and Bak Kut Teh that make up for a real traditional Singaporean’s hearty breakfast.
FIRST, THE TEA
An old-time habit of drinking tea together with slurping a bowl of ‘Bak Kut Teh‘ is a kind of thing that defined a real Singaporean treat. The tea itself is no less special. Blended to match the taste of the pork ribs soup, the particular strong and bold tea is collectively called ‘Nanyang Tea‘ after the South China region that also includes Singapore. And among the tea merchants that have been blending this particular tea is the 93-year-old Pek Sin Choon in the China Town.
Above: The pink-and-white paper packaging which became a norm due to white paper shortage during the WWII has been perpetuated at Pek Sin Choon.
Bak Kut Teh tea or ‘Nanyang Tea’ has different aromas and flavours, but all made from a collection of tea leaves selected from different parts of China, hence featuring distinct tea terriors and tastes. Mixing different teas instead of depending on just a few sources is a very Singaporean thinking. Plan ahead, with lots of back-ups. Nanyang Tea, usually made from leaves originated in the Wuyi Mountain and the Anxi County in China, is bold and strong in taste, hence perfect for the labour crowds in the old days.
“Bak Kut Teh and teas used to be called men’s breakfast in Singapore,” explained Mr. Peh Ching Her, the fourth generation owner of Pek Sin Choon. “Because over Bak Kut Teh meal in the morning, men would gathered and exchanged information needed for the day’s works. There were no telephones back then and a club of working men trading their knowledge was at any Bak Kut Teh places around town.”
Above: Mr. Peh Ching Her – Pek Sin Choon’s fourth generation owner who passed the 5-year test and thorough assessment by his father and uncles to become today’s manager.
While the first Nanyang Tea was blended in Singapore back in the 1930s, taste developments in the later years have spawned new tea types now available in this shop. Green Tea, White Tea, Yellow Tea, Oolong Tea, Red Tea, Black Tea as well as Flower Tea with house blends consisting of 6 different fragrances: Unknown Fragrance (著名不知香), Preeminent Fragrance (超級香极极), Royal Daffodil (武夷水仙王), Charm of Buddha Palm (安溪佛手神), Royal Red Robe (正岩茶王大红袍), White Dragon Pearl (白龙珠), Dragonwell Supreme (特级龙井茶), Dian Hong Red Tea (滇红红茶) and White Peony (白牡丹).
Pek Sin Choon, 36 Mosque Street, Singapore. T: (65) 6323 3238. www.facebook.com/psc1925.
Above: Brewing tea at the Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh at Seng Poh Lane. Singaporean tea cultures include enjoy freshly-brewed tea in petite teawares.
Bak Kut Teh
1. Dark Soup Bak Kut Teh at Founder
Bak Kut Teh, despite traditionally being a breakfast, has become a day-long staple in Singapore. In the old days, there were just a simple pork ribs soup and steamed rice. But now, eating BKT has become quite an elaborate act. Different cuts of ribs are presented in the menu, along with myriads choices for sides. Founder Bak Kut Teh is one of Singapore’s multi-branch brand. The founder owned a pig farm that enabled him to select the best meat cuts for his shop. Thick cuts of their premium ribs present three interchanging layers: meat, fat and meat. The soup here is dark with the addition of soy sauce. The trimmings include various kinds of vegetables, pickled and stir-fried, pork knuckles, mushroom soup abalone, and You Tiao or dough fritters. Choices of steamed rice and bee hoon rice noodle.
Founder Bak Kut Teh – multiple branches. Details are at founderbkt.com.sg
2. Clear soup Bak Kut Teh at Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh
At the corner of Tiong Bahru’s Seng Poh Road is this long-standing BKT shop that boasts for their ‘clear soup’ version. BKT snobs would explain that the clear soup means the BKT is made only from chilled (versus frozen) ribs, hence clear broth. Cloves of tender garlic added to the subtle aroma. Open kitchen with simmering stoves where their famous sides such as cabbages and bitter gourds are being warmed. While in other BKT shops, you will find most diners Chinese Singaporeans, here you will see a multi-national clienteles, for this is the expat-dense Tiong Bahru district.
Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh, 58 Seng Poh Road #01-31, Singapore. T: (65) 62244990. Daily (closed Mondays): 6.30 – 21.00.
MORE ON SINGAPORE