A trip to the Lion City inspired Lay Piseth to bring his version of Bak Kut Teh – a popular Malaysian-Singaporean pork rib soup dish – to Cambodia.
Last year, when the 39-year-old travelled to Singapore, his godbrother, a local, took him to different places for a food adventure.
After tasting Bak Kut Teh, Piseth grew so fond of its delicious taste that he decided to start a business of it in Cambodia.
“The taste of Bak Kut Teh was irresistibly delicious. I talked to my godbrother about starting a Bak Kut Teh outlet back home [in the Kingdom].
“After we did some studies on how well Cambodians would welcome the dish, four of us decided to invest in the business, which is now known as Soon Heng Bak Kut Teh restaurant,” said Piseth.
Bak Kut Teh is a pork rib broth dish popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore.
It is similar to the pork rib soup dish of the Teochews, who are the largest Chinese sub-group in the Kingdom.
Hence, it was not surprising that the taste of Bak Kut Teh is very appealing to local taste buds.
Since Soon Heng Bak Kut Teh opened its outlet in May at the Bridge Lifestyle Mall, it receives between 50 and 100 guests daily.
Most of its patrons are Cambodians who are fond of the mild-flavoured pork rib soup dish, which is topped with fragrant coriander leaves.
At Soon Heng, Bak Kut Teh is served with steamed rice, soy sauce, minced garlic, chillies, and slices of deep-fried dough called “char kway”.
A set meal costs $6.80 and comes in a portion which suits a big eater.
Although it looks like an ordinary pork rib soup dish, the Bak Kut Teh requires skill and patience to prepare and cook.
This responsibility falls in the hands of Piseth’s Singapore-Hong Kong partner Andrew Low, who rules the kitchen.
“It takes 10 hours to prepare the dish. Usually, the broth that is cooked today will be served to patrons the next day.
Though the broth is prepared one day ahead, the pork ribs only take an hour to cook.
“When there is an order, we put pork ribs in the broth and let it boil for a little to deliver a consistent taste,” Andrew said.
Andrew has experience in running food and beverage outlets in Singapore.
“I liked cooking since the age of nine and used to work in a restaurant back in Singapore for two years.
“Although I am a mechanics graduate, my passion for cooking had a great influence on my career.
“I eventually decided to switch careers to become a chef,” he said.
Soon Heng’s recipe was purchased from a popular Bak Kut Teh restaurant in Singapore, while ingredients are imported to ensure the authentic flavour of the pork rib soup that is served to patrons.
Piseth said the restaurant’s pork is directly supplied by Chay Heng pig farm located at KM6 commune, in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district, while vegetables are also locally sourced.
“Each day’s meat supply is meant for only a day’s cooking.
“If there is any leftover raw meat, we don’t keep it for tomorrow’s serving because it will have a noticeable smell compared to freshly delivered meat from the butchery.
“Instead, the leftover meat will be given to our staff if they want it. If they don’t, then the meat will be discarded.”
Besides using only fresh meat, Piseth claimed that Soon Heng is also cautious when it comes to selecting local supplies.
“The main ingredient of the dish is quality garlic and the best-selected pepper from Kampot province.
“When savouring the taste of Bak Kut Teh, the perfect match of the garlic and pepper aroma tingles your palate.”
Soon Heng’s insistence on fresh pork and quality ingredients has paid off as more patrons are giving good reviews of its Bak Kut Teh.
“We plan to open another branch in the capital’s outskirt since our current outlet is doing very well.
The plan is to expand up to five branches in Phnom Penh,” said Piseth.
Besides Bak Kut Teh, Soon Heng also offers a variety of other dishes: kidney soup ($5), liver soup ($4), pork meat soup ($4), “mee sua” (thin salted noodles) and kidney ($5), braised duck ($4.50), braised pork belly ($4.20).
Vegetarian options include stir-fried “bok choy” ($2.50) with steamed rice ($0.50). Meanwhile, drinks such as can soda and pure drinking water cost no more than a dollar each.
Soon Heng Bak Kut Teh is located on the 1st floor of the Bridge Lifestyle Mall, in Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Khan Chamkamorn, Phnom Penh. Opening hours are from 10.30am to 9pm. Call 096 875 3189 for more information.