Tea for Two
A burst of rain showers just before lunch time today stirred up a longing for something hot, spicy and soupy. However, in typical tropical island fashion, just as Mr UnProfessional Chef arrived to pick me up for lunch, the blazing muggy sunshine appeared. Determined not to let our plans dry up, we persevered in our plans to have ‘tea for two’ at a nearby bak kut teh joint.
But what a joint Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha turned out to be! We first had to experience the ‘excitement’ of having to pick our way through loose earth and dodgy staircases with no handrails to get into a building undergoing renovation before finding ourselves in a 70-seat fully-packed, noisy establishment specializing in bak kut teh (rou gu cha in Mandarin), or literally, pork spare ribs tea.
This deceptively clear and simple-looking soup (look at that pale nondescript bowl on the top left of the photo) is an immigrant dish put together by the Chinese who migrated to Singapore and Malaysia in the early 20th century. In its best manifestation, it combines around seven different Chinese herbs alongside cumin, fennel, star anise and a ton of peppercorns (black and white) with the cleanest, freshest pork spare ribs to produce a lip-smacking, consomme-like soup. Its herbal flavour bursts in the mouth and its peppery afternote punches the back of the mouth with myriad sensations, leaving you gobsmacked and salivating for more.
The bak kut teh here did not disappoint. After a half hour wait that only served to whet our appetites to fever pitch as we watched bowl after bowl of soup pass us by, the goods arrived. Freshly prepared with meat so tender it fell right off the pork ribs, this bowl matched all my conceptions of the perfect bak kut teh. Alongside that pungently herb-y, peppery soup were servings of juicy braised peanuts, tangy salted Chinese vegetables and crispy, chewy yu zha kueh (deep fried dough sticks for dipping in the soup). Actual strong black Chinese tea was available to wash it all down but we passed on that. We dug into the savoury soup, dipped the tender meat into thick dark soy sauce flavoured with fresh cut red chilis, slurped every last drop of soup and alongside at least 200 other customers, waved unstintingly at the caffeine-charged frenetic serving staff for the complementary unlimited refills of soup.
When at last, we could eat no more, and full of warm, herbal goodness, having to then head back to the office smack in the middle of the working week seemed just a little less awful.
Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha
7 Keppel Road #01-05/07
(Open mostly only up till lunch - 7 am to 3pm)
A girl's commentary on food, cooking and all things delicious!
- Name: The UnProfessional Chef
- Location: Singapore
A closet food critic and wannabe chef who loves the art of cooking and enjoying great cuisine in the company of great friends!
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Tea for Two