Pig Organ Soup: “Not Authentic”
By KF Seetoh - Monday, Dec 01, 2014
He did it again. Singapore born Hong Kong food expert Chua Lam had to say it publicly- that Singapore’s Teochew style pig organ soup or Ter Huang Kiam Chye is not “authentic”. His words of wisdom regarding Singapore, Malaysia, China, Thailand and even Vietnam food often sail across vast oceans from his learned hills in Hong Kong. In general, his theory, after he made a trip to Chaozhou, China, (where this salted mustard leaf and pig offal soup originated) to devour a version there, was that Singapore’s style of this dish was way off the “authentic” meter. Then, Cheng Mun Kee Authentic Mun Chee Kee boss here, challenged him to test his version. Chua Lam came, ate and concluded that it was still not authentic.
It set me thinking -at which point in the history of that or any dish was it decreed authentic and what of that first version, was it the real McCoy. How was that like?
Essentially, it’s a sharp, tangy and porky pig offal soup done by slowing boiling pig offals and meat with salted vegetables. Not so long ago, up to the 90s here, many these hawkers included lean and fatty meat, liver, stomach, pig blood curds, tongue, lungs, heart, kidney, skin and big intestines. The famous Koh Brothers had as many or more “parts” in the soup. But when asked, “now customers scared of these parts, so we now have only 7 items and tofu had replaced blood curds.”, was Mr Koh’s lament. Currently, because of regulations, things like blood are off suppliers list due to lack of clean and well-handled supplies. A facebook posting I made regarding his statement drew ire from the majority of the respondents. Former mountaineer and inspiration speaker David Lim felt that it was “food snobbery” and Jade Quay also asked to “define authenticity”. A “U Ke Foo” said Chye Lan did not comment on quality but merely claimed it’s not authentic- which added fire to the train of conversation.
Whether or not he holds the faith and sceptre on authenticity is left to be desired but my take on authentic is- an expression of the idea of the dish, not a rule. It’s like burgers, pasta and pizzas or even a latte, what happened to the law on its originality, and do people care if they use wagyu beef for hamburgers.
So, based on Chua Lam’s claims, here are three “unauthentic” Ter Huang Kiam Chye places I enjoy in Singapore:
1/ Authentic Mun Chee Kee, 207 Jalan Besar, 10am-5am daily.
This is the one that dared and challenged Chua Lam on his statement. Come lunch and especially supper, they pack them in. Their soup lacks the punch of porkiness and the tanginess of salted mustard leaves but it’s quite gentle and pleases the masses, especially the young post clubbing crowd palates. They use fatty and lean pork, pork balls, liver, stomach slices, tofu and salted vegetables. Over the years, their quality has tamed and even the chilli is not what I remembered it to be back in the 80s.
2/ Teochew Pig’s Organ Soup, #01-11, Jln Kukoh Hawker Centre, Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-4pm, close on Sunday
“He’s quite irresponsible on what he says. People like us need to make a living. Authentic is subjective.” says Mr Tan Jo Huak who has been selling this for 37 years, of Chua Lam. For $5, his is the biggest portion with the most ingredients, including skin and kidney slices. His pork base sediment fill soup has enough tang and the chilli by far is the best among this list here.
3/ Soon Huat Pig’s Organ Soup. #01-42, Serangoon Garden Market and Food Centre, 49A Serangoon Garden Way. 9.30am-4pm. Close on Monday.
Being a “heartland” stall, they do not tone down the porkiness and tang factor. One of the edges is also their chilli sauce, redolent with white vinegar and garlic. A queue forms at peak hour each day for the porky and sediment-cloudy soup which comes enlivened with tomatoes.