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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Quest for best bak kut teh again

Dish is among Singapore Hawker Masters’ six categories because it had no winner last year.
The Straits Times - August 16, 2012
By: Rebecca Lynne Tan
| More
Quest for best bak kut teh again

The search for the nation's best bak kut teh is on again, after no winner could be decided on last year.

The pork rib tea is one of six categories in this year's Singapore Hawker Masters, an annual search for the best hawkers in various categories, jointly organised by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

Aside from bak kut teh, which is open for entries again this time around, this year's food categories are: lontong, Indian rojak, fried carrot cake, prawn noodles (soup) and yong tau foo.

The categories change every year but if no winner is declared, the category may be included again. Other foods featured over the past two years include nasi lemak, wonton noodles and satay.

Now into its third instalment, the awards are aimed at giving deserving cooks national recognition in the hope that it will spur them on to maintain and improve food standards.

They are based on a three-stage nomination, voting and judging process, but the structure has been tweaked.

The difference this year is that of the six stalls in each category that will make it to the voting round, just three will be the public's most nominated stalls while the other three will be judges' recommendations.

Previously, all six stalls in the voting round were made up of top nominations from the public.

The process starts with hawker stall nominations from the public via SMS, followed by a round of public voting and then a taste test of the top three finalists. The public can start nominating from today till midnight, Sept 2 (see other story).

Of the choice to include judges' recommendations this year, Mr Danny Yeo, assistant vice-president of branding and promotions for Singapore Press Holdings, says: "The judges also know of good hawkers but for some reason, in previous years, some of these good hawkers did not make it to the nomination list."

In the final round, an eight-judge panel will carry out taste tests to decide the winners. The judges include Professor Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr Dennis Wee, chairman of real estate agency Dennis Wee Group; Straits Times food editor Tan Hsueh Yun; Lianhe Zaobao correspondent and features editor of ZbBz Tan Pin Yen; and Lianhe Zaobao food writer correspondent Marcus Yeo. They were on the panel last year.

Mr Chia Boon Pin, president of Far East Food Concepts, who was on the panel last year, is not a judge this year due to time constraints.

Instead, the eighth judge for each category will be a mystery judge who can be a food writer from the media, other than those the current list of judges hail from, or a well-known foodie.

Last year, judges could not reach a consensus on a deserving winner in the bak kut teh category, despite well-known finalists Song Fa Bak Kut Teh in New Bridge Road, Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh in Rangoon Road and Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha in Outram Park.

Says one of last year's judges, Straits Times food critic and executive sub- editor Wong Ah Yoke, who is also on this year's eight-judge tasting panel: "Last year's three finalists were disappointing because they lacked a good broth, the most basic requirement for the dish. One popular stall actually used an overdose of pepper to cover up its lack of good soup."

Another judge, food consultant and cooking doyenne Violet Oon, also on this year's panel, adds: "There were times when the pork was either too tender or not tender enough. Some stalls were also missing the squishy, whole cloves of garlic which, to me, are part of the whole experience of eating bak kut teh."

That was not the first time a category failed to produce a winner.

In the inaugural search two years ago, a winning roti prata stall also could not be decided on. A winner for that category, Casuarina Curry Restaurant, was awarded only last year.

As far as bak kut teh is concerned, judges will be taking all factors into consideration.

The Straits Times' Mr Wong says: "I prefer the pepperless, herbal type of bak kut teh, but I can accept a peppery one if the spice is balanced with a broth with a good body. And of course, the pork ribs must taste fresh and cooked to just the right tenderness."

How to nominate

To nominate, readers need to SMS to 146077877 by midnight, Sept 2, in the following format: stmaster<space>NRIC <space>category code<space>stall name <space>address

For example, your nomination should read: stmaster S1234567C A Bagus Lontong 01-12 Ayer Rajah Food Centre
The codes are:
A – Lontong
B – Indian rojak
C – Fried carrot cake
D – Prawn noodles (soup)
E – Yong tau foo
F – Bak kut teh


Readers who nominate will be eligible for a lucky draw in which one winner is picked from each category to win $500 cash. If a winner’s nominee emerges as a master, he or she will win double the amount – $1,000 cash.

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