Excellent Bak Kwa at Lim Chee Guan (Singapore)
Bak kwa is a beloved Singaporean meat snack (and it’s loved by many Chinese since we have a similar version but it’s different). I’ve heard and read that Lim Chee Guan is one of the best brands in Singapore who makes this from scratch so I had to visit their original shop in Chinatown.
This family-run business started as a pushcart stall at the foot of a staircase on Chin Chiew Street in 1938 by Mr. Lim Kay Eng.
Like the countless other Chinese migrants to Singapore of the time, Kay Eng took whatever employment he could find. He worked as a plantation helper, a coffee shop assistant and a provision shop assistant. By 1938, he had saved enough money to start his own stall selling titbits and – having learnt the art of preserving meats from his mother and grandmother in China – bak kwa. Although he did brisk business, that sliver of space was a veritable border between opposing Cantonese and Hokkien gangs who often clashed right by the stall.
Today, Lim Chee Guan boasts two other outlets at ION Orchard and People’s Park Complex, as well as its headquarters and production facility in the Ulu Pandan area. With over 100 employees, the business has come a long way from its humble roots.
Making bak kwa is a time consuming process. In the early days, Kay Eng cut thin slices off a slab of pork with a long, sharp knife and marinated them in a mixture of sugar, fish sauce and other ingredients, before spreading the meat over a bamboo sieve to dry in the sun. He would barbecue the slices only when his customers ordered them.
Today, the process remains much the same, except machines are used to cut the large slabs of pork into smaller pieces and to transport the meat from one production station to another. Everything else is still done by hand.
The meat-lined sieves are then transferred to large charcoal ovens to dry before workers cut them into squares and barbecue them, piece by piece, over a charcoal fire.
While customers no longer have the time or patience to wait for a kilogram’s worth of bak kwa to be cooked to order, waiting for bak kwa is something many Singaporeans are willing to do in the weeks preceding Chinese New Year. The snaking queues outside Lim Chee Guan’s outlets during the festive season are legendary and customers have been known to stand in line for up to six hours to make their purchase.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait on queue since we popped in when it just opened at 9:00 AM. The glass display has stacks upon stacks of various bak kwa in different flavors (original and spicy) and various proteins (classic pork, beef, prawn, and chicken). The staff was happy to let us sample the various bak kwas and goodness, they are so tasty with the right amount of sweet and savory flavors and it just the right amount of chew without being tough. The char from the grilling add another dimension of flavors (some bitterness and caramelization).
I brought a kilos with me since my dad is addicted to bak kwa (and Chinese style meat jerky) and share it with friends who never experienced this kind of delicious meat snack. Lim Chee Guan truly a destination and worth schlepping this back to New York City.
Lim Chee Guan
203 New Bridge Road
Chinatown MRT Exit A