Soon Yee Bak Kut Teh
No. 29/31 Sultan Gate
+65 6298 8538
If I had to choose among beef, chicken and pork, unquestionably the latter would be my most favorite animal protein. The diversity of cuts, textures, flavors, and the many ways it can be prepared, I feel is unsurpassed by the other two. “Just wrap it in bacon”, which could be dubbed the ‘Jeffrey Steingarten Porkosophy’, is used by many to explain how pork can add so much to the taste of any ingredient or dish. I must say I am an avid card carrying member of this Cult of Bacon.
Having spent some time in southern Alberta where I visited and toured countless times some of the province’s massive pork producing farms and slaughtering plants, I have had a good opportunity to learn about the whole gate-to-plate system that hogs go through in the mass commercial food production industry. It’s a marvel really, how such a disgusting beast that spends most of its life wallowing around in its own bodily messes, can taste so good when cooked. Even after seeing with my own eyes how they are brought to an abattoir, put to sleep, sliced open, broken down and boxed, I could not turn down offers to have a seat in a slaughterhouse test kitchen and be served various cuts of pork by the in-house chefs. Yes, I became quite immune to the whole ordeal, with my love for pork at the heart of it all.
My eating interests with pork though are limited mainly to the muscle meats. All of the other offal are something that I am not a huge fan of. But given the opportunity to try some Bak Kut Teh (translated literally as “meat bone tea”), a Chinese-origin soup that is popular in parts of the Mainland as well as southeast Asia and that I knew included some of the pig intestines, I knew that I had to be flexible. After all, I am always open to trying something that I’ve never had before, especially when I am traveling abroad. So this impromptu visit to Soon Yee, an average looking establishment built inside a concrete building near Sultan Gate Place in the Arab Street district (not far from the Bugis MRT station), led me to try those usually avoided pork innards.
Served in a clay pot, a single serving could be had for just four Singapore dollars. I chose to have a side of steamed white rice with it, as I understood it, you could also get some noodles instead as well. Visually, its not the most appetizing dish for obvious reasons. Pieces of the tenderized pork ribs, pig stomach, intestines, skin, along with other ingredients such as tau kee (which I know better as yuba in Japanese cuisine, albeit this one was a thicker wafer) and mushrooms that could all be seen inside the rich colored broth.
But when its brought to your table, the scent is quite appetizing with it being very fragrant with strong herbal tones (anise, ginseng and cloves being the most prominent) and some sharpness from the pepper. The soup itself (this type being of the Hokkien variety which is darker due to the inclusion of more soy sauce than other variants), was pipping hot and the pepper that I smelled was clearly picked up by my taste buds as well, making for a salty and fiery mixture. Each piece of ingredient had been well tenderized through the cooking process, which I assume is done over a long period of time to get it to this stage, though I must say that the meat off the ribs were my most preferred part. I guess some things never change.
My friend had a much more simplier dish, a similarly richly flavored soup filled with a bunch of greeny leafy vegetables, that looked like a type of lettuce/spinach. Unfortunately, I failed to catch the name of this offering, so this visual is all I can provide at this time. As I was, he was also given a bowl of rice to go along with the dish.