A story, bak kut teh, and a lesson on tea

23 03 2012

The famous Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House

APPARENTLY, UNCEASING dreams of bak kut teh (meaty pork ribs soup) could really lead to having the door slammed shut at your face.  But unlike in the case of a top Hong Kong government official, my series of unfortunate events in the pursuit of the best bak kut teh didn’t matter enough to stir uproar from the masses.

The anecdote was perfect to whet the appetite on the short walk from the car to Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House, at 208 Rangoon Road, Hong Building, Singapore.  It was lunchtime, so the chances of being turned away were slim to none.  Though this place has been known to run out of the house specialty way before 2:00 PM.

The interiors of this "eating house" is replete with memories.

 

A section of the wall has been turned into a photo wall.

I went there for the bak kut teh that should take no time to make it to the table.  But the very little wait turned out to be enough time to squeeze in a little lesson on tea preparation courtesy of our host.  But he had to first pull me from my distraction – snapping shots of the interiors and the walls with my trusty Blackberry Bold 9780.

Come here, eNTeNG.  Pay attention.  Next time, you will make the tea.”

Like the dutiful student that I was decades ago, I sat down and paid attention.  A little boiling water from the kettle beside our table is poured into a small terra cotta pot.  “This is to clean the pot.”  The water is then poured out on to a shallow aluminum pan.  A little more water is added to the pot and this time, the water is poured out on to really cute, really-miniature-they’re-almost-purely-decorative teacups.  “This is to clean the cups.”  After all the cleaning – or shall I say, cleansing?a bag of loose leaf tea, infused with dried jasmine blossoms is ripped open, the matte pearls of floral goodness allowed to tumble into the earthenware.

The really cute teacups and the terra cotta pot.

 

A lesson on tea preparation. This now is my new task.

 

A peek inside the tea bag. Or sachet. Or packet.

The boiling water hits the tea leaves and a robust, ethereal, soothing whiff engulfs the air as if incense paying homage to the advent of pork ribs soup touted to be so good it could very well change a life.  That, or simply raise the bar of what really good bak kut teh is.

Two really meaty ribs come swimming in a deep brown soup.  The shape remaining intact – no visual hint to the much-desired fall-off-the-bone romanticism attributed to flesh stuck to bone – proves to be the perfect foil to the tenderness that would yield to the first bite.  The flesh fell off the bone.  And the meat was quite flavorful.  It sure took hours to simmer the meat in the rich, full-bodied, peppery broth.  But it was just enough to develop much depth in the flavor and render much softness to the pork.  But without draining the life out of it – no matter how paradoxical that sounds.

The bak kut teh that I’m waxing lyrical and yes, with much longing about, came without any pretensions – just ribs in soup.  But it was stick-to-your-ribs goodness (the pun is intended!) that made me not miss the many cloves of garlic that I’ve been used to with bak kut teh.  Not even the bunches of fresh coriander I would litter my soup with.  But a deep sense of longing did rise from my gut to my head, halfway through my bowl of rice.  I knew I needed another bowl.  So just when the attentive wait staff refilled our bowls with the heavenly soup, I mustered all courage I had in me, to sheepishly smile at our host and ask, “May I have one more bowl of rice?”

I was quite embarrassed for asking seconds that I had to chase my sudden shyness down with a shot of the jasmine tea.  And for about the second time, I had to stop for a split second to appreciate how perfectly the subtle fragrance of the tea buoys the flavors of the bak kut teh.

But only for a split second, as the descent of a steaming hot bowl of white rice snapped me out of the trance I was falling in.  I dug my chopsticks into the pristine grains and quietly slurped my soup and thought, with the constant craving that this experience has ignited, I don’t think I would be able to stand having the door slammed shut at my face.

I looked up and saw that they are closed on Mondays.  I just had to tell myself, “Ok, avoid Mondays.”

The star of the meal... Bak kut teh!

 

Copyright © 2012 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved

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