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Ryan Chua: The Former Banker Now Leading an Award-Winning Street Food as Bib Gourmand

Francesca Feresin
copertina ryan chua

Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh: What sounds like a tongue twister is actually the name of the family business offering some of Singapore's finest street food, recognized with the Bib Gourmand for three consecutive years. At the helm is a former banker who changed his life for a noble cause.

The story 

Ryan Chua, a former banker, has never missed a beat since taking over Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh, a beloved Singaporean food stall serving its iconic pork rib soup (or bak kut teh) for over thirty years. Founded by Chua's father, Sim Huat, in 1985, this humble eatery has built a reputation for its unique Teochew-style bak kut teh, earning the prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition for three consecutive years. Located in a quiet neighborhood in western Singapore, Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh bears testament to the enduring tradition of its iconic dish. Let's rewind to understand how it all unfolded.

Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh Storefront

According to theindependent.sg, the stall's beginnings were marked by adversity when Sim Huat lost his job during an '80s recession. Determined to overcome financial difficulties, Sim embarked on a culinary journey, learning the art of bak kut teh from his brother-in-law and opening the stall in northern Singapore. For almost two decades, Sim Huat single-handedly managed the business, and only upon retiring did his son Ryan Chua step in, leaving his banking career to keep the family business alive. Since then, Chua has dedicated a decade to managing the restaurant, which has now relocated to a larger venue in Jurong East.

Joo Siah Bk Koot Teh Ristorante Bib Gourmand Chef Ryan Chua2

What sets Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh apart, as mentioned, is its Teochew-style bak kut teh, distinct from the darker, soy sauce-enriched Malaysian version. KF Seetoh, a local food critic, emphasized the uniqueness of Chua's offering, stating, "If you go to Malaysia, you will hardly find this recipe." According to Chua, the secret to the dish lies in delicately balanced flavors, with a special emphasis on white pepper. The chef starts his day early at 6 in the morning, preparing every soup from scratch, using fresh ingredients and ensuring the broth is perfect. In an era when many opt for shortcuts like powdered products and ready-made bases, Chua's commitment to traditional preparation methods is a rarity.

ryan chua
Ryan Chua

Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh also offers other dishes, including braised pork and pork innards. Ryan Chua said that when the restaurant first received the Bib Gourmand, he was surprised; he didn't even know about it until a friend sent him an article about the listing. "We're glad that the hard work we've put in has paid off; I mean, my father has been doing this for over 30 years," Chua said, adding that he felt "proud" of the recognition.

Joo Siah Bk Koot Teh Ristorante Bib Gourmand Chef Ryan Chua

Despite its popularity, the restaurant remains rooted in its origins, operating in an open-air area known as a kopitiam. This setting provides an authentic experience for customers who can witness the preparation process and the pots boiling, as explained by Seetoh. As for the future, Chua remains focused on perfecting his bak kut teh and is hesitant to expand. He stated, "I just hope to carry on this legacy and share Singaporean food with others." His dedication to preserving a culinary tradition spanning generations is a testament to the lasting appeal of Joo Siah Bak Koot Teh, a must-visit for both locals and tourists.

Cover photos: @Marielle Descalsota, Insider

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