Ryan Chua, second-generation owner of Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh

SINGAPORE: Ryan Chua, a former banker, has taken over Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh, a beloved food stall in Singapore serving fragrant pork rib soup, or bak kut teh, for over three decades.

Founded by Chua’s father, Sim Huat, in 1985, this humble eatery has earned a reputation for its unique Teochew-style bak kut teh, earning the prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition for three consecutive years.

Preserving family legacy

In a quiet neighbourhood on the western side of Singapore, Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh stands as a testament to the enduring tradition of bak kut teh in the city-state. The stall’s beginnings were marked by adversity when Sim Huat lost his job during a recession in the 1980s, yahoo!news reports.

Determined to overcome financial hardship, he embarked on a culinary journey, learning the art of bak kut teh from his brother-in-law and setting up the stall in northern Singapore.

For nearly two decades, Sim Huat ran the business, and it was only when he contemplated retirement that Ryan Chua decided to make a career shift from banking to continue his family’s legacy. Since then, Chua has dedicated a decade to running the eatery, which has moved to a larger location in Jurong East.

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Teochew tradition with a twist

What sets Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh apart is its Teochew-style bak kut teh, distinct from the darker, soy sauce-infused Malaysian version. KF Seetoh, a local food critic, emphasized the uniqueness of Chua’s offering, stating, “If you go to Malaysia, you won’t find this style commonly.

According to Chua, the key to the dish’s success is the delicately balanced flavours, with a focus on white pepper.

Bak Kut Teh
Photo: Marielle Descalsota / Insider

Chua starts his day early at 6 a.m., preparing each batch of bak kut teh from scratch, using fresh ingredients, and ensuring the broth is perfectly tender. In an era when many opt for shortcuts like powders and pastes, Chua’s commitment to traditional preparation methods is a rarity.

Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh also offers other Teochew dishes, including braised pork and pork innards, alongside its signature bak kut teh. Customers can enjoy a complete meal with dishes like braised peanuts, adding to the eatery’s appeal.

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Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition

One of the most prestigious accolades in the culinary world, the Michelin Bib Gourmand, has been awarded to Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh for three consecutive years.

According to the Michelin Guide, the Bib Gourmand award means “not quite a star, but most definitely not a consolation prize” and “is a just-as-esteemed rating that recognizes friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices”.

Chua’s eatery was named in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 editions of the Bib Gourmand. He said the first time the eatery was awarded the Bib Gourmand he was surprised — he didn’t even know about it until a friend sent him an article about the list.

“We feel good that the hard work that we’ve done has paid off, I mean, my dad has been doing this for over 30 years,” Chua said, adding that he felt “proud” to be part of the esteemed list.

Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh Kopitiam
Photo: Marielle Descalsota / Insider

Despite its accolades and popularity, the eatery remains rooted in its origins, operating from an open-air food court known as a kopitiam. This setting provides an authentic experience for customers who can witness the preparation process and the pots boiling, as Seetoh explained.

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As for the future, Chua remains focused on perfecting his bak kut teh and hesitates to expand. He stated, “I just hope I can carry on this legacy and share Singapore food with others.”

His dedication to preserving a culinary tradition that spans generations is a testament to the enduring appeal of Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh, making it a must-visit for locals and tourists alike.