Cheap, good & healthy

Lower-calorie pork rib soup

Ming Ren Bak Kut Teh’s pork rib soup substitutes you tiao with tau kee.
Ming Ren Bak Kut Teh’s pork rib soup substitutes you tiao with tau kee.ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

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Bak kut teh can be healthier than you think.

A coffee shop stall in Geylang East Central serves a lower-calorie version of the pork rib soup that the Health Promotion Board has identified as a healthier choice.

Mr Ben Tan, co-owner of Ming Ren Bak Kut Teh, spent six months cooking 3kg of pork ribs daily to fine-tune his recipe and cooking method before starting the business in August last year at Best Hub Food Link coffee shop.

The 55-year-old, who co-owns the coffee shop, aimed to minimise the amount of fat in the dish and yet deliver on both taste and texture.

He says in Mandarin: "Bak kut teh is one of my favourite dishes and I set myself a challenge to cook a version which I could enjoy without feeling guilty."

The dish carries the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol and Lower In Calories label.

To qualify for the Lower In Calories label, a dish has to contain 500kcal or less. A typical dine-out meal contains 700 to 800kcal, while the recommended daily energy intake is 2,200kcal on average for men and 1,800kcal for women.

Mr Tan's bak kut teh ($5.80) comes in a claypot that is heated until the soup reaches a furious boil. Each serving comprises five pieces of tender pork spare ribs and four pieces of slippery smooth tau kee (dried beancurd sticks), garnished with fresh coriander.

To cut down on calorie intake, remove the visible remaining fat in the pork ribs.

Using tau kee is an idea Mr Tan borrowed from Malaysian-style bak kut teh, as a substitute for you tiao that is traditionally served with bak kut teh sold in Singapore.

Before boiling, the tau kee is soaked in water to draw out existing oil as it is usually flash fried during factory production.

Indonesian chilled pork spare ribs are delivered daily to the stall. Both the broth and spare ribs are prepared daily and the stall does not keep any leftover ribs or broth for use the next day.

Mr Tan started Ming Ren Bak Kut Teh in memory of his late father, using the latter's recipe.

There are commercial bak kut teh spice mixes available, but he insists on using his own blend of spices for the broth.

The three main ingredients of the Teochew-style broth are pork ribs, white peppercorn and garlic.

But churning out the typically clear yet flavoursome broth takes skill and effort.

Mr Tan follows his father's technique of slow simmering the pork bone stock separately from the spice blend stock before mixing them for the final broth.

The result is a well-balanced soup that is not overpowered by garlic or white pepper.

Mr Tan says: "It gives me a sense of satisfaction to recreate the taste of my father's bak kut teh and share it with my customers."

MING REN BAK KUT TEH

Where: 01-90 Best Hub Food Link, Block 121 Geylang East Central

Open: 9.30am to 9pm daily. Closed on two Thursdays each month and on Feb 16 and 17 for Chinese New Year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Lower-calorie pork rib soup'. Print Edition | Subscribe