Bak kut teh–Singaporean comfort soup
If we Filipinos have our bulalo, then Singaporeans and Malaysians have their Bak Kut Teh.
Just like bulalo, Bak Kut Teh is comfort food, a soup to savor on rainy days such as the ones we’ve been having for the past two weeks. The difference is that while bulalo uses beef, Bak Kut Teh is made with pork ribs slowly simmered in a broth enriched with an enticing blend of herbs and spices.
It’s said that Bak Kut Teh was brought to Singapore and Malaysia by the Chinese workers from Fujian and Canton provinces, whereupon it soon evolved into the dish we know today.
In honor of Singapore National Day, which is being celebrated today, Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati is including some of Singapore’s most loved dishes in the lunch and dinner buffet of its Basix All-Day Dining Restaurant.
Aside from Bak Kut Teh, executive sous chef Liew Tian Heong of Meritus Mandarin Orchard Hotel in Singapore, is preparing Hainanese chicken, chili crabs, the spicy laksa noodles, prawn fried Hokkien noodles and an array of desserts.
Holder of the title Gold Winner Hospitality Asia Platinum Award Master Chef-Asian Cuisine, chef Liew is a veteran of food festivals, having promoted Singaporean cuisine in various countries before coming to the Philippines.
Here’s a recipe for Bak Kut Teh, tender pork ribs in a broth infused with the haunting flavors of Oriental herbs and spices.
(Singaporean cuisine is being served as part of the lunch and dinner buffet of Basix Restaurant in Dusit Thani Hotel Makati until Aug. 16. For reservations, call 2388888.)
Bak Kut Teh
1 k pork ribs, sliced into 2-inch pcs
16 c water, divided
4 whole cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
2 pcs cinnamon barks or cinnamon sticks
2 pods of star anise
2 tsp cloves
2 tbsp black peppercorns
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 bunch wansuy (coriander) leaves
2 siling labuyo (bird’s eye chilies)
For the chili sauce:
¼ c soy sauce
1 red finger chili, seeded and diced
Wash spareribs well. Put ribs in a large cooking pot and add four cups of the water. Bring to a boil. Let boil for 10 minutes, then remove spareribs from the pot and discard water.
Wipe the pot clean with paper towels. Return ribs to the pot and add the remaining 12 cups water, plus the garlic, onion, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, peppercorns and soy sauce.
Bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Let simmer until ribs are tender, around one hour to 1 ½ hours.
Add the coriander leaves and bird’s eye chilies, if desired. Heat through about 1 minute. Serve piping hot with the chili sauce.
To make chili sauce: Combine soy sauce and the diced red finger chili.
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To make preparation easier, when you buy the ribs, have the butcher slice the ribs for you in two-inch portions.
If you can’t find cloves (which can be difficult to find), just omit them.
When bringing the water to a boil, cover the pot so the water boils faster. Then remove cover and lower heat to a simmer (low heat).
If desired, after the Bak Kut Teh has been cooked, remove the pork ribs from the broth and slice the meat into bite-size pieces. Return the meat to the broth before serving.
Be careful when removing the seeds from the chili. The seeds contain a substance that can burn the skin. Wash hands very well after touching the chili.