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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bak Kut Teh, Soba and a Mountain of Kueh - Final Day in Singapore

Happy New Year!

With a New Year's resolution to tidy up the house and the blog, I'm finally concluding the posts on my Singapore trip. Oh yes, Singapore, remember that?

Our fifth and final day in Singapore greeted Suze and I with the usual sticky heat and humidity. The taxi ride to breakfast took a circuitous 15 rather than five minutes, but eventually we made it to the Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha Restaurant, a trek made specifically for their bak kut teh.

Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha restaurant

Much like our lunch at the otherwise hidden Siang Hee, the Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha restaurant would likely be missed by the fleeting tourist. It's a simple albeit large stall in a foodcourt that serves the PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex, an industrial estate near the Port of Singapore.

Bak ku teh menu

Bak ku teh translates as "meat bone soup" and is a broth made by boiling pork rib bones with herbs and spices. Here, a DIY menu allows patrons to choose their side dishes. Our group shares a collection of dishes - the pig's tail is surprisingly meaty, reminding me of a chicken neck but with extra skin and fat.

Pork ribs soup

In Sydney, I'm more used to the herbal style of bak ku teh, a dark-coloured soup that is rich and fragrant with medicinal herbs. In Singapore, the usual version served here is in the Teochew style, a lighter coloured soup with a distinct use of white pepper.

There's an element of fun chewing on the pork bone, crunching on rings of deep-fried bread, nibbling on boiled peanuts, and sampling bits of bean curd or pig's tail in-between sips of the clear sweet soup. It's also very cheap. Breakfast should cost you about SG$5 depending on how much you order.

Liver soup

Braised beancurd

Pig's tail soup

Choy sum with oyster sauce

Boiled peanuts

Tea ceremony

Despite its innocuous appearance, the pork soup is actually quite high in cholesterol. Tea is served as an essential accompaniment, an intricate ceremony that involves rinsing the teapot and cups several times.

Pouring the tea

The tea, which has a slight aniseed flavour, provides a welcome palate cleanser, helping to alleviate any oily residue on the tongue from the soup.

Another pig's tail soup pic
- because you know you want some!

Next door, I can't resist a teh tahrik for the road, the strong sweet tea that is "pulled" by pouring from jug to jug to create a frothy hot drink.

Straining the tea (yes, that's a lot of tea leaves)

Pouring the tea into the takeaway bags

Teh tarik for two SG$1.20 each

For our final day, Suze and I pounded the pavements of Orchard Road for a mammoth shopping effort. So many department stores! So many levels!

By the time lunchtime rolled around, we found ourselves outside Shimbashi Soba. We'd walked past a few days before, mesmerised by the man in the window making soba by hand by slowly rolling out a gigantic square of dough. The set-up looked strangely familiar, and it wasn't until we sat down that I realised that yes, this was the Singapore offshoot of the Shimbashi restaurant in Sydney's Neutral Bay.

Shimbashi Soba - Soba So Good

Soba eating intructions

We found the same soba eating instruction replicated here. I still love the first frame which tells patrons "once your soba is served, take some time to enjoy its colour, shape and presentation. See how each strand of handmade noodle is unique, because of the craft put into creating it" - a mantra reminicent of that great Japanese ramen movie "Tampopo".

Hana shokado $28.80
Soba or udon (chilled or warm), sashimi, sushi,
tempura, chicken cutlet, deep-fried tofu and soft shell crab

Suze has the hana shokado, a special lunchtime set that includes a bounty of sushi, sashimi, deep-fried tempura, tofu, chicken cutlet and soft shell crab alongside a bowl of chilled soba.

Age soba $4.80
Fried soba chips

I decide to go for a hatrick of unusual soba options. We're not sure what fried soba chips will look like, but when they arrive they make perfect sense. Strands of noodles deep-fried until crunchy - an addictive snack that would be perfect for beer, but in reality is actually a huge portion and best eaten by at least four to six people.

Cha soba $14.80
Green tea buckwheat noodles

The green tea soba are a limited menu item, made fresh each day. The strands of noodle have a lovely chewy texture, although it's hard to discern the green tea flavour. Nevertheless the noodles are a refreshing treat, dipped briefly in the sweet soba sauce and eaten with the light and fluffy grated daikon.

Cha soba

Cha soba dipped in the sauce with daikon

Soba cha (hot) $4.50
Home-made roasted buckwheat tea

I round out my meal with the soba cha, a home-made roasted buckwheat tea which has quite a starchy flavour, as though one were drinking the leftovers from boiling soba noodles. Perhaps one could call it earthy in flavour, but whilst it's intriguing, I wouldn't be in a hurry to order it again.

This was probably our most expensive meal in Singapore, especially considering that no crab was involved, and yes, the irony of eating at a Sydney-based restaurant in Singapore is not lost on me either!

We shopped until we dropped, finally heading back to our hotel to repack, but not before making a detour to the cake shop across the road from our hotel.

Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry

This was not our first visit of course. My sugar radar had spotted this local patisserie on our first day, and Suze and found ourselves heading inside "just for a look" and somehow departing with a dessert or two.

Onde onde SG$0.60 and kueh dar dar SG$0.60

I was quite surprised that the desserts, or kueh, weren't as sweet as I expected. The gula melaka palm sugar syrup inside the onde onde had quite a bitter flavour. What was apparent was that fresh coconut was used in abundance, adding a rich softness to each dessert.

Pulut inti - glutinous rice topped with palm sugar and coconut

We left with buckets of pineapple tarts and coconut juice biscuits as Singapore souvenirs, but not before asking nicely if we could take photos of all the beautiful kueh in all its glory.

Ondeh ondeh SG$0.60

Kueh dar dar SG$0.60

Kelapat pulut SG$1.00


Lemper udang SG$1.00

Pineapple tarts SG$1.00

Homemade kaya $3.00

Final snack in Singapore? We had to head around the corner to Jin Tian for one last kaya hurrah.

Iced lemon tea

Kaya toast SG$1.20

Oh kaya, I miss you so.

Customer relaxing at Hong Kong Jin Tian Roast Meat Eating House

Workers heading home by ute

Overall, I loved Singapore. Its compact nature and cheap taxis makes sightseeing a breeze. Orchard Road is as insanely consumerist as you expect, but I was more enamoured by the little pockets that offer an alternative side to Singapore, like Haji Lane and Little India.

Food, of course, was the highlight, and it was extraordinarily cheap. I loved the hawker food courts, a paradise for the hungry and budget-conscious, with most meals costing only a few Singaporean dollars. The tradition of specialisation, where each stall sells one dish and one dish only, was also something to be admired.

Late night trading hours were another huge bonus. Strolling the streets at 11pm, you could find plenty of eating houses open and running a brisk business. I'm still astounded by the hubbub of activity we found at 1.00am at the Mustafah Centre, which trades non-stop 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There was only one thing left to complete the Singapore experience, and luckily I found it on the plane back. A Singapore sling. So the decor wasn't up there with Raffles, but it seemed a fitting end to a fabulous trip.

Singapore Sling

Grab Your Fork travelled to Singapore as a guest of Nuffnang Australia for the Asia-Pacific Blog Awards.

Go back to Singapore 2009 Day One

Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha Restaurant, Outram

PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex
7 Keppel Road #01-08 to #01-09
Singapore 089053
Tel: +65 6222 9610
Open Tuesday to Sunday: 7am–3pm and 6pm–4am
(Closed on Mondays)

Shimbashi Soba
The Paragon
290 Orchard Rd #B1-4
Singapore 238859
Tel: +65 6222 9610
Open 7 days 11.30am-9.30pm

Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry
Block 55, Tiong Bahru Rd, 01-39
Singapore 160055
Tel: +65 6324 1686
Open 7 days 9.30am – 8.30pm

Hong Kong Jin Tian Roast Meat
Blk 58 Eng Hoon Street, Singapore
Tel: +65 9383 1318 or +65 9733 0673
Open 7 days 7.00am-8.30pm
24 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/02/2010 01:57:00 am


  • At 1/02/2010 4:44 am, Anonymous noodleboy said…

    Man I miss the food in Singapore ... Your post is bringing back all those memories. Truly one of the great food capitals of the world. Sadly I only had a couple of days there when I visited so could only tick off the essentials like chicken rice, Katong laksa and so on. You got to eat some of the more interesting stuff - fantastic!

    Great post as always and Happy New Year, Helen. Looking forward to the tasty posts you'll be serving up to us this year!

  • At 1/02/2010 7:27 am, Blogger Jill E. Duffy said…

    Thank you for these posts! I am planning a trip to Malaysia and Singapore (from New York) in May and June. In particular, I'm going to make sure I write down the name and location of that bakery. Those little crepe-like desserts (kueh dar dar) look amazing.

  • At 1/02/2010 10:06 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Haha cool! They have the same instructions for eating soba at the Shimbashi here. Ahhh I miss kaya too, I think it's time to make some!

  • At 1/02/2010 11:32 am, Anonymous he needs food said…

    Fantastic post. I bet you didn't want to leave. All the food looks amazing and the photo's are great.
    Happy New Year!

  • At 1/02/2010 12:35 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    hehe glad to get that post out of the way? and ahh kaya how i miss you and slabs of butter mmm happy new year!

  • At 1/02/2010 12:44 pm, Blogger Rambling Tart said…

    What an amazing trip! Love the noodles and ohhh, the tea! Amazing. :-)

  • At 1/02/2010 1:34 pm, Anonymous ladyironchef said…

    ya hwa is one the famous BKT in singapore, but i have yet to try it! haha

  • At 1/02/2010 1:35 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh, I love (and miss) soba cha! Though my experience wth it was in Japan, not Singapore.

    And one day, one day, I will get to taste the glory that is kaya...

  • At 1/02/2010 5:49 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Soba so good is such a great name! You've been pretty efficient on your resolutions too.

  • At 1/02/2010 6:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I also prefer the darker version of Bak Kut Teh than the Teochew style. It's tastier and more aromatic. Look at all the KUIH!! How I miss all the food back home. Thanks for such a great post :) May your new year fill with more travelling and eating.

  • At 1/02/2010 8:12 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Oh Pulut!! My favourite! My mum makes it in squares and we slather kaya on. Yummmmm!

  • At 1/03/2010 4:03 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Happy New Year! I look forward to another delicious year with your blog!

  • At 1/03/2010 12:10 pm, Blogger YW said…

    Happy New Year!!
    After reading this post, I'm gonna list all these things here to the list the things I want to eat when I go back to M'sia in a few weeks time...

  • At 1/03/2010 3:06 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    I certainly didnt get to eat as much as you and Suze did in Singapore. I love all the photos. Its all so mouth watering. Boiled peanuts are my fave. OMG so hungry right now.

  • At 1/03/2010 5:13 pm, Anonymous Rose said…

    I'm totally running out to buy some kaya for breakfast... after this week's detox. Sigh.

  • At 1/03/2010 7:16 pm, Anonymous Trissa said…

    I've only been to Singapore once before but I wasn't that particular about the food I ate then - your posts on Singapore have been amazing - I need to go back for some "research"!

  • At 1/03/2010 10:00 pm, Blogger Sharon said…

    Oh I miss all the food in Singapore! I love how all the street food is so cheap there... you can order one of everything ;)

  • At 1/04/2010 12:13 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Noodleboy - I miss the food in Singapore too :) So many great dishes and all so cheap. Happy New Year too and yep, looking forward to another delicious year ahead!

    Hi Jill - If you do get to the bakery, make sure you visit Tiong Bahru Market which is only around the corner. The chwee kueh rice flour cakes are renowned and incredibly cheap! Enjoy your trip - I'm sure you'll have a fantastic time.

    Hi Stephcookie - Oh I miss kaya. I should make my own too but then I worry about how fast I will eat it all!

    Hi He Needs Food - You guessed right - I didn't want to leave. So much great food :)

    Hi chocolatesuze - lol. As always, it was the dread of editing that many photos that caused the procrastination. Perhaps it's a good thing kaya toast isn't available so freely here - I think I'd be eating it every day!

    Hi Rambling Tart - The trip was fantastic. So many amazing meals and all ridiculously cheap too.

    Hi ladyironchef - Ha, it's always funny when visitors beat you at your own game. You did very well in Sydney though!

    Hi Hannah - Japan is phenomenally good for soba and ramen. You can get kaya in a jar or a can, but you must try homemade kaya - the flavour is incredible.

    Hi Arwen - Soba So Good reminded me of the Pho An noodle house in Bankstown that has the motto So Pho So Good. lol. And ha, I'm good at making peripheral starts on resolutions - home is stil a mess!

    Hi Ellie - I love the herbal version of bak kut teh - it almost feels like you're doing good for your body and I like it when I feel like I'm "eating for health". lol. The kuih variety was amazing - I wish I could've tried every single one of them. Happy New Year to you too, and yes, I have a filling 2010 will be filled with plenty of travel and eating :)

    Hi Sarah - Lucky you with homemade pulut! I'm filled with envy!

    Hi Lannae - Happy New Year to you too, and thanks, I hope 2010 is even tastier!

    Hi YW - Oh yes, I love making food lists for overseas trips. Am sure you'll have a blast - have some kuih for me :)

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - I don't think Suze and I ever stopped eating, and that was with reduced appetites given the heat. lol. Boiled peanuts are so tasty aren't they?

    Hi Rose - I'm torn between buying/making kaya and the realisation I will probably eat it all if I do! lol

    Hi Trissa - I think every food blogger's palate has been awakened since starting their blog. lol. Recommend you head back for research, and soon! :)

    Hi Sharon - The hawker food was so cheap I was incredulous. We went totally overboard when we went to Maxwell Food Court - the locals couldn't stop staring at our tables of excess. lol.

  • At 1/05/2010 1:48 pm, Anonymous Tresna said…

    I love the Kuah and you picked my two favourites...onde onde and Dar Dar. The coconut....the palm sugar....the pandan crepe...bliss!

  • At 1/07/2010 2:56 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Tresna - That is a coincedence :) I've always loved onde onde - palm sugar is so caramelly and good!

  • At 1/13/2010 8:37 pm, Blogger Laobu said…

    You can get some Kaya at Thai Kee IGA Supermarket in Market City! They are sold in jars but would definitely pale in comparison to freshly made Kaya. I'm a Singaporean studying in Sydney and I miss Singaporean food soooo much.

  • At 3/24/2010 2:11 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Patricia - Ahh yes I've stalked the aisles of Thai Kee several times for jars of delicious kaya. It's a great afternoon snack but somehow it's always easier to delegate someone with the slatherings of butter so then one has no choice but to eat it! Am sure you're homesick for food - hopefully you are finding a few worthy alternatives around Sydney.

  • At 9/29/2010 9:55 pm, Blogger Eve said…

    Thanks for such a great blod. Your posts on Singapore just made me smile and made me sad...boy do i miss home!!! Thankfully i get to spend a couple of months in Sydney and Singapore for the next 3 years. So best of both world!
    Love your photos...very well taken...shows off the food so well.
    I miss my kaya toast and eggs and kopi ping...
    Well, counting down the days til I get to eat them again.
    If you like i could either bring back some kaya for you or teach you how to make some! Hahaha...
    Sydney has good cafe food but i need my hawker fix every now and then. Too bad it's so hard to cook for 1...much rather cook my own laksa, chicken rice etc cos those here altho not bad, somewhat miss the mark

  • At 9/30/2010 10:15 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Eve - Glad you enjoyed the post. Singapore was fantastic - I miss hawker food too!


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