Bak kut teh and ramen a winning combination

Bak Kut Teh Ramen is based on the Teochew version of the pork rib soup, relying on white peppercorns and light soya sauce for flavour.
Bak Kut Teh Ramen is based on the Teochew version of the pork rib soup, relying on white peppercorns and light soya sauce for flavour.ST PHOTO: JOHN LUI

The dish at the centre of the film Ramen Teh exists. Diners can try it at Ramen Dining Keisuke Tokyo (02-391 Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard, tel: 6337-7919).

Ramen Teh might be the name of the movie, but on the restaurant's menu, the dish is called Bak Kut Teh Ramen.

For $13.90, or about the price of a movie ticket, it is possible to see if this is a concept that should have stayed fictional, like pigeon pie from American television series Game Of Thrones.

I popped into the restaurant earlier this week.

Before I could finish asking if the item was still available - a limited number of portions are served daily and it will be taken off the menu at the end of next month - the waitress seemed to know my intent. She said: "Yes, Bak Kut Teh Ramen is available" - an indication that it must be reasonably popular.

Bak kut teh, or pork rib soup, is traditionally eaten with rice. It is a mystery why no one has tried to bring a noodle version to market. After all, Singapore cooks have noodle-fied curry, XO and satay sauce.

Today, you can buy instant noodles with a chilli crab gravy. If it is wet and tastes good, Singaporeans will dunk noodles in it and slurp it up.

Keisuke Takeda, chef-owner of the Keisuke chain, who also has a cameo in the film, came up with the recipe for Bak Kut Teh Ramen. It is based on the Teochew version, which relies on white peppercorns and light soya sauce for flavour, unlike the Hokkien style, which carries the funk of medicinal herbs.

 

The bowl showed up accompanied by fresh cut chilli, black soya sauce and a tiny, token serving of you tiao (fried dough stick).

That minor disappointment was erased when I fished the meat out of the soup. There were two generous chunks - one, a big rib and another, possibly a rib, but lacking a central bone. Instead, this was a glorious web of muscle, fat and cartilage.

Cartilage, slow-cooked till it has the consistency of firm jelly, is a wonderful thing - and this serving had plenty of it. That muscle portion was also done precisely - tender, but not falling off the bone.

The Flintstones-sized rib portion, though, was a challenge to manipulate with weak disposable chopsticks, especially when dipping it in soya sauce.

There was a fear that the ramen broth would be overly porky, but that turned out to be unfounded. The dominant note was that of pepper, but there was a satisfying umami earthiness supporting it, probably from garlic and other more un-Japanese spices such as star anise, cinnamon and clove. The soup base could be a cousin to pho, Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

The meal was delicious and I would eat it again. But even if it leaves the menu, the challenge remains: As Singaporeans, we must noodle-fy all things.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2018, with the headline 'Bak kut teh and ramen a winning combination'. Print Edition | Subscribe