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Nankin Street Bak Kut Teh. A Last Bastion of Hokkien Bak Kut Teh in Singapore 南京街肉骨茶

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Today, Teochew clear soup peppery bak kut teh is synonymous with Singapore BKT. But, dark herbal Hokkien bak kut teh was holding its own till the 1980s. The standard bearer of Hokkien BKT was 李旺世 Ong Say bak kut teh of Nankin Street.

During its heyday, Ong Say Bak Kut Teh was often full house and customers overflowed onto the five foot way.  Ong Say closed in 1989, when Nankin Street was slated for redevelopment.

The closure of Ong Say Bak Kut Teh coupled with the steady rise of Teochew bak kut teh since the 1960s, led to Hokkien BKT receding into obscurity.

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When Ong Say Bak Kut Teh closed, it separated into three different offshoots. Ong Say's son set up a stall at Alexandra Village (where the famous ang ku kueh shop is today). This Ong Say offshoot has closed. The second offshoot was a stall in Hong Lim hawker centre by Ong Say's chief cook, who passed away a couple of years later. The third stall known as Nankin Street Bak Kut Teh 南京街肉骨茶 at Maxwell Food Centre by a kitchen helper Mdm Teo is the only surviving bak kut teh stall with Ong Say's legacy.

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Mdm Teo Hang Poh said her former boss Lee Ong Say himself gave her the recipe and encouraged her to try running her own stall. Mdm Ong's Nankin Road Bak Kut Teh is still going strong mostly with regulars coming back for the nostalgic taste. Though under the social media radar, Nankin Street Bak Kut Teh also has the support of the younger generation.

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Mdm Teo said the original Ong Say bak kut teh restaurant served only pork meat bones, pork liver, kidney and you char kway. She has added pork stomach and small intestine etc, chye buay (stewed vegetables) and braised peanuts to keep up with current customer preference.

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I enjoyed Nankin Street's Hokkien herbal bak kut teh. Mdm Teo said she hasn't tweaked or changed anything in the recipe since she started her stall.

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The juicy meat was cooked till fall-off-the-bone tender. It was naturally sweet with slight infusion of savoury sweet herbal flavours. There is a subtle peppery trace if you paid extra attention.

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The dark soup was just mildly savoury sweet herbal at the right level of intensity for me. Despite its black colour, it was not overly herbal - most of its savoury flavours come from good quality dark soy sauce, sweetness from pork and a bit of herb taste. There was a slight pleasant herbal aroma. Mdm Teo said that to this day, she gets her dark soy sauce from the same supplier as the original Ong Say Bak Kut Teh restaurant.

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Ong Say Bak Kut Teh was famous for their pork kidney which were served in thick slices and very well cleaned. Today at Nankin Street BKT, they were crunchy and clean tasting.

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The liver, kidney, intestine, pig stomach, pork ball, lean meat slices were slightly stiff perhaps because we let it sit a bit too long in the soup while we enjoyed chatting.

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In Hokkien bak kut teh, the dark soy sauce plays an important part in the taste profile. Mdm Teo insists on using the same sauce as Ong Say back in its heyday. Be sure to use this dark soy sauce and cut chili dip - it will really enhance your enjoyment of the bak kut teh.

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This is how I eat my Hokkien bak kut teh 😄

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Where there is bak kut teh, whether Hokkien or Teochew, there is Nanyang tea. Nankin Street Bak Kut Teh serves Pek Sin Choon's famous Unknown Fragrance tea.

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If you like bak kut teh, the dark Hokkien herbal style is worth a try for a change from the mainstream Teochew peppery style. Nankin Street BKT at Maxwell Market is a place to taste one of the oldest brands of Singapore bak kut teh. The items to go for in my opinion are the pork ribs and kidney in the lovely pitch black herbal soup.

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My makan kaki today. Thanks Victor for recommending Nankin Street Bak Kut Teh for that soon to vanish (hope not) old school nostalgic taste. It tasted and felt so good on this rainy wet morning!

Nankin Street 1981. Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
Ong Say Bak Kut Teh started as a pushcart stall before they become the flag bearer of Hokkien bak kut teh at Nankin Street.

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Nankin Street 2020
The Nankin Street shophouses were vacated in 1989 and redeveloped into a modern pedestrianised, upscale Food and Beverage hub.

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Restaurant nameNankin Street Bak Kut Teh 南京街肉骨茶
Address: Stall #01-89, Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore 069184
Hours: 7:00am - 3:00pm (Mon off except on public holidays)

Non Halal

 

Date visited: 14 Aug 2020

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