The first time I walked past Ah Seng Bak Kut Teh, I was on my way somewhere else and didn’t really notice it. (Also, I was still half full from porridge.) But after several circles round the few blocks, trying to find a Thai place that Google Maps insists is right here, I give up, and en route to giving up I happen upon the place again. Oh, what the hell.
Only after I’ve ordered and sat down do I notice the decor. The counter is done like the façade of an old building in Chinatown or Geylang, complete with faux windows. There are old school advertisements framed on the walls. Flying Spaghetti Monster help us – the hipster virus has even got to the BKT joints now. But is it just a surface infection, a trendy skin rash, or has it gotten all the way in?
I am happy to report that it is, for now, the former – though Ah Seng’s menu list bends the unspoken norms of hawker menus a bit. For a bak kut teh stall sells bak kut teh and braised meats, and a noodle store sells bak chor mee, and never the twain shall meet. Them’s the rules. This place is too cool for rules, though.
But more on that later. First, the BKT itself is generous with both ribs and soup. Friendly aunties patrol with kettles to top you off with clear broth, which is a little on the salty side but nicely peppery. The ribs have spent a lot of time cooking too – slipping off the bone easily, the tendons and membranes boiled into submission, wobbly and flavourful. And yes, it’s greasy, but it’s ribs, so they get a pass for that.
Back to the rules. Ah Seng is so too cool that even the bak chor mee feels incongruous, scattered with plenty of pre-cooked mince mixed with crisp anchovies. That’s a dry ban mian topping! And yet, below them, mee kia – well sauced, glistening and with a good bite. It’s… yes, it’s nice, if also heavily seasoned. But because mee kia clumps easily, the mincemeat slides right off it, and I end up having a mouthful of one, then a mouthful of the other.
I buy their braised trotters back for mum, who likes them apart from their saltiness. So that’s three out of three for a heavy hand with the salt. Perhaps it’s a necessary evil, arising from the non-air-conditioned environment? No idea. But from its menu, Ah Seng shows that sometimes unspoken rules are sensible – but sometimes it’s okay to bend them a little too.
Ah Seng Bak Kut Teh
806 Hougang Central #01-158
Contact no.: 6336 0779
Daily, 10am – 10pm