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History of Ng Ah Sio who Put Singapore Teochew Bak Kut Teh on the World Map

Bak kut teh 肉骨茶 (literally pork bone tea in Hokkien & Teochew) started as a cheap herbal tonic for overworked coolies in Singapore and Klang which were major ports of British Malaya. The original concoction was dark from dark soy sauce, spices and Chinese medicinal herbs.

Ng Mui Song's nephew Sim Choon Lian helped him at his bak kut teh stall in the 1960s. Sim said his uncle's stall was along River Valley Road across the road from the swimming pool and opposite the petrol station. It was at the foot of Government Hill (Fort Canning Hill) which is visible in the background. This picture is dated 1959. Sim now runs Lau Ah Tee Bak Kut Teh

In 1955, Ng Mui Song 黄美松 started a street side bak kut teh stall at today's Clarke Quay (which is known to Singapore's old Teochews as 皇家山腳 which literally means "foot of Government Hill [ Fort Canning Hill ]"). Elderly owners of another bak kut teh stall there taught Ng Mui Song their recipe.

In the 1960s, Ng Mui Song tweaked the herbal savoury concoction by removing most herbs and added in peppercorn, creating a savoury peppery bak kut teh. This appealed to customers as life of coolies had improved by then and they no longer needed medicinal herbs like before in their bak kut teh.

The next evolution was to replace cheap meat bones with better cuts of ribs as towkays (bosses) soon acquired a taste for Ng Mui Song's savoury peppery bak kut teh and the dish was thus elevated to suit their preferences.

This savoury peppery garlicky concoction by Ng Mui Song with premium Sarawak peppercorn, garlic cloves, soy sauce and prime ribs became synonymous with Singapore bak kut teh today. It edged out the original herbal version which today is a disappearing dish in Singapore.

New World Amusement Park 1960s. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

In 1977, after Ng Mui Song retired, his son Ng Siak Hai 黄锡海 took over the business and opened a bak kut teh stall at New World Amusement Park (today's Kitchener Road) and named it Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House 黃亞細肉骨茶. Ng Ah Sio is Ng Siak Hai's nickname.

Ng Ah Sio placed even more emphasis on premium white and black pepper than his father. Ng Ah Sio was winning fans and influencing the Singapore bak kut teh world with his robustly peppery savoury soup.

Ten years later, New World Amusement Park was demolished and Ng Ah Sio moved to his present location at Rangoon Road in 1988.

Donald Tsang. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ng Ah Sio was doing well enough with a good following of mostly Singaporeans - a popular but typical Singapore bak kut teh shop. One day in the 2006, a phone call from Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) changed everything.

A caller who didn't identify himself or his organisation enquired about making reservations for the coming Monday. Ng Ah Sio replied that the restaurant is closed on Mondays, and that was that. At that time, bak kut teh shops typically close on Mondays as the abattoir closes on Sundays.

So, Ng Ah Sio was taken aback when he was informed that Hong Kong media had gone to town with news about how Chief Executive Donald Tsang was snubbed by a Singapore bak kut teh restaurant.

The little pork rib soup restaurant at the quiet end of Rangoon Road shot to international fame or notoriety after sensational headlines hit Hong Kong, Singapore and the region. 

Many people from Singapore and visitors from overseas came to Ng Ah Sio, curious about what was this restaurant that "snubbed" the Hong Kong Chief Executive.

Eventually, Donald Tseng had his bak kut teh at Ng Ah Sio five years later in 2011.

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying Jeou is a fan of Ng Ah Sio's bak kut teh.

Former Thai prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck are also supporters of Ng Ah Sio.

Many entertainment industry personalities also graced Ng Ah Sio's restaurant.

These put Ng Ah Sio and also Singapore'e peppery bak kut teh in the spotlight and limelight, giving it fame in Asia and the world. Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House and eating Singapore bak kut teh became musts in tourist itineraries.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup became part of the Jumbo Group of restaurants in 2010.

Ng Ah Sio (born 1936) still maintains a share and comes to the restaurant regularly to ensure standards and quality.

Food review of Ng Ah Sio Pork Rib Soup Eating house 👈 click

Written by Tony Boey on 3 Mar 2023

There are many versions of what happened during the episode with Donald Tsang. This is from the man Ng Ah Sio himself.

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