Inspired by the darker Hokkien-style bak kuh teh, this pork ribs soup is simmered with ginger, chilies, garlic, onion, pepper, cinnamon and soy sauce.
Bak kuh teh literally translates to “meat bone tea” but there is no tea in this soup. It is essentially pork ribs and broth. The name was probably coined from the practice of serving the soup with copious amounts of tea to sip on the side. It’s a popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia; high end and street food versions are both well loved.
But this soup is inspired by bak kuh teh? It’s not authentic bak kuh teh? Well, define authentic bak kuh teh. There’s Cantonese-style with medicinal herbs, there’s Teochow-style with a light-colored broth and there’s Hokkien-style which is darker with the addition of soy sauce. There are halal and vegetarian versions too. And, considering how Singapore and Malaysia are arguing over the origin of the dish, well, I don’t think there is a singular authentic bak kuh teh recipe.
So, this is pork ribs soup inspired by bak kuh teh. I’ll leave everyone else to argue about authenticity. I’m more concerned about deliciousness.
Cooking this pork ribs soup begins with removing the scum. Boil the pork ribs in water for about ten minutes, drain and rinse well. Throw out the water they were boiled in. Clean the pot, put the ribs back in and cover with clean water.
Turn on the heat. Pour in soy sauce and start adding the spices. I used chilies, garlic and ginger for the spice base.
For a second layer of flavor, a piece of cinnamon bark, a whole onion and some sugar.
You may substitute star anise for the cinnamon bark, or you may use both. Shallots in lieu of onion will give better flavor. Too bad we were out of shallots the night I cooked this soup.
When the liquid begins to boil, cover the pot, lower the heat and simmer away. For an hour and a half to two hours, or until the meat easily falls off the bone.
If you want more than pork ribs in the soup, you may add fresh shiitake mushrooms during the last half hour of cooking.
Mushrooms not enough? Pieces of silken tofu are a great addition too. Add them during the last ten minutes of cooking.
Need some greens in your pork ribs soup? Stalks of lettuce make a beautiful garnish. Or you may opt for one or more varieties of Chinese cabbage.
- 1 kilo meaty pork ribs - cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/4 cup soy sauce - (you may need more)
- 2 thumb-sized pieces ginger - peeled and sliced
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic - peeled and smashed
- 2 bird's eye chilies - thinly sliced
- 1 small piece cinnamon
- 1 onion - peeled and halved
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- salt - to taste
- 12 to 16 shiitake mushrooms - (optional), stems cut off
- 200 to 300 grams silken tofu - (optional), cut into bite-size pieces
- green leafy vegetables - to garnish (see notes after the recipe)
- Place the pork ribs in a pot. Cover with water. Boil, uncovered, for ten minutes.
- Pour the ribs into a strainer. Throw out the boiling liquid.
- Rinse each piece of pork well under the tap making sure to remove any scum attached to the meat and bones.
- Wash the pot (or use another) and put the rinsed pork ribs in it. Pour in enough water to cover.
- Place the pot on the stove and turn the heat to high.
- Add all the remaining ingredients to the pork.
- When the liquid boils, lower the heat, cover the bowl and simmer for an hour and a half to two hours or until the meat is very tender and easily separates from the bone. Taste the broth once in a while and add more seasonings, if needed. Tip: if the broth lacks saltiness, you may add salt rather than more soy sauce to prevent the broth from turning too dark.
- If adding shiitake mushrooms, put them in the pot during the last half hour of cooking.
- If adding tofu, drop them into the pot during the last ten minutes of cooking.
- To serve, put a few pieces of pork ribs, mushrooms and tofu into bowls, ladle in the broth and arrange some greens on the side.
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