Friday, September 5, 2014

Return to Lau Ah Tee - One of the Pioneers of Teochew Bak Kut Teh in Singapore

Mention Teochew bak kut teh and inevitably, names like Founder, Ng Ah Sio and Song Fa will come up, but there is one that is often left out. And that is Lau Ah Tee Bak Kut Teh.

Currently, it is situated next to Boon Keng MRT in the heart of Bendermeer and Whampoa West. It's founder, Lau Ah Tee himself is 67 this year, and is one of the genuine pioneers of white, peppery bak kut teh.

For those who are not in the know, Teochew bak kut teh is simply pork, garlic and pepper broth. It is seasoned with salt and the simple, clear taste is its most distinctive quality.

Originally meant as a simple food to cater to coolies along the docks of where Middle Road is at today, the beauty of this dish is the natural sweetness emanating from the pork, and grounded with the slight bitterness from the garlic cloves and the kick of the spicy peppery notes.

Lau Ah Tee, on the left with PinkyPiggu

Lau Ah Tee himself is the nephew of Ng Ah Sio's dad, who is the real father of Teochew bak kut teh. The elder Ng started this style of pork rib soup many decades ago and blossomed over time. His sons then took over, and with Ah Tee learning the ropes at the same time, managed to bring it to an even wider audience during their tenure.

Ah Tee started cooking bak kut teh at the tender age of 16, and over the years has been following the same recipe. He also worked with some Teochew porridge stalls during his career, and when he decided to start his own bak kut teh shop, he incorporated other elements like steamed fish and steamed squid, two very distinctive Teochew delicacies.
Dragon Bone Pork Rib Soup

This higher grade of prime rib is only available in Teochew bak kut teh. The piece of meat is one long bone encased with a marvelous slab of meat and fat that is undeniably rich and flavorful. Cooked to a tender texture, it will literally fall off the bone, as it is here in Lau Ah Tee's shop.

The soup is naturally sweet and subtle, and untainted with herbs and additional flavorings, it has a comforting taste and there is just enough of a peppery kick to provide a welcomed brightness to the overall flavor profile of the broth.

Braised Pig Trotters in Soya Sauce

According to Ah Tee, the original bak kut teh shop by Mr Ng did not include such dishes as pig trotters and braised pig parts. It was only later when the later generation of bak kut teh owners came along that they decided to offer a variety of different pork related dishes.

The ter ka or pig trotters on offer here is beautifully braised and dutifully generous. There is only a hint of some herbs and the meat wonderfully braised to a hairpin tender texture. It is a wholesome, delicious bowl of braised meat that provides a perfect accompaniment to the pork rib soup.

Steamed Squid

One of the highlights of eating at Lau Ah Tee is savoring this plate of well cooked squid that is perfectly steamed. There is no rubbery texture, but instead every piece has a delicate nature and inserted in almost every piece is a portion of translucent squid roe, which is utterly delicious.

Served with a light, sweet sauce, dipping the pieces of squid into the sauce will help to bring an extra dimension to the squid flavor and give it a sweet sharpness that just elevates the taste to an ecstatic delight.

Teochew Steamed Cod

Teochew steamed fish is really one of the highlights at Lau Ah Tee. Ah Tee personally goes to the market to select the fish himself as he wants to ensure that his customers get the freshest of picks. Each fish is steamed with the classic Teochew condiments of sour plum, ginger and tomatoes.

The fish broth is a perfect balance of savory, acidic and a natural sweetness from the fish protein. It is just like homecooked fare, except that the fish here is exceptionally fresh and meaty. The cod that is shown here was just amazingly done, the flesh so joyously tender that you feel like hugging the fish after every bite.

Gongfu Tea

In the olden days, the coolies will wash down the grease of eating the pork ribs with some simple chinese tea. Over the decades, the tea culture has evolved with bak kut teh and today, it is so synonymous with the eating of Teochew bak kut teh that connoisseurs will only pair bak kut teh with gongfu tea and nothing else.

The purity of the tea is so welcomed after a meal of pork rib soup that many have used eating bak kut teh and having gongfu tea as an opportunity to bond over a meal. In fact, many friends have met through this custom of eating pork rib soup and drinking tea and I myself, have been privileged to be part of such drinking sessions over the years.

As for Lau Ah Tee, he is still doing the same business and the same food as it originally was with the original Teochew bak kut teh owners many years ago. There are very few things that you can call authentic these days, and Lau Ah Tee's food is as authentic as it can get.

Lau Ah Tee
34 Whampoa West

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