It’s food trip day! Our initial idea was to conquer three Bak Kut Teh places, namely Ng Ah Sio, Legendary and Heng Heng, all in one lunch. Unfortunately, life plans had disrupted the availability of our four participants, myself included, hence we would forgo Heng Heng Bak Kut Teh for this night excursion. Standing in as replacement, however, was a dessert cafe that had long been awaiting for one of my friends. We began our journey at Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh, located furthest from Farrer Park MRT on Rangoon Road. Greeting us on arrival was a huge and strikingly old school banner with a length sufficient to measure three quarters of the entrance’s width.
And the shop undoubtly aimed at hitting a nostalgic note. A historic narrative was crafted not just on walls printed with text, but of its rustic textiles and color. Stylistic deliberation, rather than wear and tear, seems to better explain that even yellowish tint washed across its walls, and paired was a dark brownish grey on remaining surfaces and furniture. Despite its theme, it clearly was an up with the times establishment. One simply has to observe the abundant usage of lighting not dissimilar to, in my opinion, a contemporary Chinese restaurant, or even just a hippy cafe.
Likewise, it was evident that the shop executes its daily accounting with the help of not so ancient technologies, such as a modern cashier machine. A fair balance of efficiency and immersion was kept nonetheless with its implementation of a traditional ordering system. Provided was a printed slip with quantities of items to be shaded, and thereafter my friend would pass the completed list to the front counter, where a receipt would be generated before our departure.
Some time had come and gone since 6pm. Surprisingly, seats outside and within the shop were still abundantly empty. Maybe the Legendary store, which was overcrowded by comparison on our way here, had taken away some customers that would have otherwise been drawn to this establishment. We ordered two “Signature Spare & Pork Ribs Combo Soup ($8.50)” with a bowl of “Fried You Tiao ($2.30)” and “Preserved Vegetables ($3.50)” to be served alongside some rice ($1 per bowl). Our starving companions didn’t have to wait for long.
My heart warmed at a distant smell of herbal aroma. Clanking on our tables were ceramic bowls filled with those mouth watering pork ribs enriched by the color of the brown stygian broth, but nothing could prepare us for what was to be a spike of peppery thrill. We all took our first sip, and I must admit I choked a little – a testament to its unapologetic levels of spice. In that moment of struggle, I was mesmerized by its extravagance, enticing me to savor each bite with that holy water thenceforth.
Let’s not forget to dip some of that you tiao into liquid blessings! Perhaps a distraction, but an addictive one worthy of acknowledgement.
Some preserved vegetables stirred in made for a subtle refreshment from the heat of the soup. However, it was tempting to drizzle all that hot goodness into my rice bowl for the span of our dine, so much so this photo is proof that I demonstrated great restraint. Till now, I’m intrigued it never occurred among us to request for water, although that would surely be towards our dismay, to rinse away and kill what would sensually linger, although it would nevertheless be mentally imprinted for ages fresh to come.
No! It’s almost over!
And the deed’s done. When the bill was handed, each of us had a mere $6.20 to contribute for the net $24.80 net worth. Of course, our hungry adventure had yet to end. We set out sights on the aforementioned Legendary Bak Kut Teh, or former known as Founder Bak Kut Teh. About half a year ago, I was living close to the original outlet located at Balestier Road, and I would pass by to spectate nightly crowds queuing in line along the roads to have their stomachs filled. The new name at this familiar yet different outlet would empirically have a negligible, or even a positive influence on its critical acclaim.
Unsurprisingly, the shop aesthetically resembled its predecessor. It’s popularity could be proven by the similarly innumerous quantities of photographs documenting its many visitors, covering a wall from top to bottom. Upon reading such a description, a local like myself might be wary to visit such an attraction lest one falls into what one could perceive as a tourist trap. The ethnicity of people and language heard in the ambient background as we were led to our table went contrary to that assumptive notion.
Unlike Ng Ah Sio’s approach, we would directly signal the waitress for our orders. Permitting ourselves the privilege of a food trip, we skipped on rice and ordered two comparable bowls of “Legendary Bak Kut Teh” and a plate of “You Tiao”, while simultaneously swapping out preserved vegetables for some “Choy-Sim with Oyster Sauce”. While I was careless enough to miss out the exact prices, we collectively noted higher prices on dishes akin to the former shop – likely a result of its reputation – as well as speedy serving of the food.
Ng Ah Sio had placed a skyrocket high bar to topple, and immediately apparent was the paler hue of the herbal soup, which had also mimicked in intensity via its aroma. Visual impressions quite accurately matched to our taste buds; if Ng Ah Sio’s Teh was for veterans, Legendary’s would be fitting for a beginner’s start line, yet certainly not an end in its own rights. Despite more generous offerings in portions, its definitive liquid dish had barely brought about the levels of satisfaction we experienced just less than an hour ago.
That doesn’t mean we could resist. One does not simply go wrong with dipping you tiao.
Most divisive within the group was the meat of the ribs. By no means had this pork rib ranked above the previous iteration, especially in its relatively lacking flavor. Interestingly, its presence was more significant throughout the whole course with its conspicuous texture and firmness. Two of us, myself included, were of the opinion that in every munch was an outstanding tenderness. Our remaining friends disagreed, pushing an opposing position regarding that of an uncomfortable chewiness.
Curiosity was the motivation behind this order. The choy sim was an exceedingly slippery dish, with oyster sauce coating every inch of every leaf. I would have preferred to extend positive credits for its benevolent sizing, if not for the four of us struggling to empty the plate. Or maybe it was a matter of taste, for that volume of dressing may have incidentally wrecked havoc, eventually leading to a built up feeling of gooey consistency. On a positive note, there were these tiny fried onions littered inside which gave the dish that much needed bam.
In the party, each of the four of us contributed $7.80 to the total amount of $31.20 NET, a $6.40 setback from our earlier and subjectively superior experience. I would recommend having a taste at the Legendary Bak Kut Teh before having your mind (and your taste buds) blown away at Ng Ah Sio’s. With that said, we had reached the end of our Bak Kut Teh exploration. Onto the next phase: it’s time for some desserts!
While Rangoon Road is no stranger to cafes catered to the sweet tongue, we decided (together with that excited friend of mine, let’s call him B) to walk the distance to experience (my forth… or fifth time) the glorious, most wondrous, fabulous, a plethora’s sum of adjectives worth of… Well, you’ll see it soon enough, except it’s not tiramisu we’re here for. Located within a series of hippy cafes gathered around Jalan Besar Swimming Complex, the Tiramisu Hero has its name forged by its title signature, which frankly precedes my apprehension when it houses far more seducing “Other Desserts” items on the menu.
Meet Sir Antonio, who greeted us to our delight as we stepped in. Our encounter with the shop’s obnoxious mascot was amongst one of B’s top priorities for his first time. On the walls were doodles of the feline hero in his feats of grandest prowess. We hastily secured our seats in the severely crowded space at a vacant back corner, staring helplessly at the menu as we bask in awe of Sir Antonio’s ever stubborn presence.
The free wifi password was printed at the bottom corner of the menu sheet. You could guess what that password is already. Anyways, here we’re looking at a small but delicious selection of sins. Don’t be deceived; what’s about to be served was way larger than life.
Behold the majestic “Dark Lava Chocolate Cake”, a wholesome crunchy husk encasing a chocolaty heaven ever ready to melt your heart. Top with a layer of sugar, no words could do justice to match the experience of nirvana in each consecutive bite. From the act of slicing, only the dead would be heartless enough to resist the urge in quickly relishing the resulting flow of hot, thick and creamy grandeur. Complemented with two vanilla ice creams and Chantilly cream striped over with chocolate syrup, we were blessed with the ecstasy of dichotomous temperatures swirling into one mouthful.
The road to diabetes is paved with what makes life worth living. B and I shared one of two ordered platters, and it was fun to watch as if he was losing his virginity. On that night, B would join the rest of us in the ranks of being the Tiramisu Hero veterans.
That was the conclusion of our food expedition. B had footed the entire bill, while the rest of us handed in our approximately fair share of $6.50 each. For a $20.50+ budget, we traversed through a multitude of appetizing courses that would set the stage for future tasteful voyages. Here at the Tiramisu Hero, I would be more keen to explore into its savory categories, which I have admitted neglected for my past few patronages. Indeed, the signboard below demonstrates my thoughts exactly.
And say goodbye to a happy B!
Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh
208 Rangoon Road, Hong Building
Closed on Mondays
Legendary Bak Kut Teh
154 Rangoon Road
Closed on Wednesdays
The Tiramisu Hero
121 Tyrwhitt Road
Opened on Sunday to Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday to Saturday 11am-12am