Wednesday, February 6, 2019

[Food] Bak Kwa in Nanyang

One of the many big Bak Kwa sellers in Singapore
A radio presenter once asked, "Why do people give bak kwa as gift during Chinese New Year? How about giving a basket of fruit? Or perhaps New Year cookies?" Well, you can. But it is just not the same. There is a certain prestige in offering packets of Bak Kwa to your loved ones. But where did the bak kwa story all started? 
The Bak Kwa Story

Bak Kwa is said to be a Hokkien delicacy. Like many food of the past, the people had little and meat was a delicacy. Without refrigeration, How can they ensure that the meat they have can be eaten months later? Well, what the Hokkien Chinese was to slice the meat thinly, marinated them with ‘sugar and spices, air-dried and cooked over a hot plate'. It made a good treat for all at the dinner table. (9)

Bak Kwa in Singapore

It was said that Kim Hock Guan (金福源) is the very first Bak Kwa stall to set up shop in Singapore.
The late owner Mr Lim Chwee Guan had clocked in more than 50 years of barbecuing pork slices by the time he retired in 1960. (7) He located his shop at Rochore Road and together with his brother, Hock Guan were said to be "the first in Singapore to start the pork grilling business". (7)

When not in Singapore

Bak Kwa is such an important part of us. These small flavourful pieces of Bak Kwa accompanied mountaineers David Lim and Khoo Swee Chiow through their record-breaking Himalayan conques. (3) Mr Khoo even brought along Bak Kwa for his North Pole trek where he rewarded himself with two mouth-watering slices of bak kwa for every 100km that he completes. (11) 

It was the same for mountaineers from the NUS Centennial when they had bak kwa fried rice while getting themselves ready for their ascent to Mount Everest. (6)

When there was no Bak Kwa, people sent on overseas missions had dreamt about it. SAF personnel who were in Acheh to help out with disaster relief for months on end had even fanned rumours that container loads of Bak Kwa were coming their way. (7)

Different Types of Meat

At times, businessmen tried to be creative such as by bringing in different types of meat - emu meat bak kwa. (1)  Now, Bak Kwa comes with all kinds of meat to tickle your palate. From duck and mutton, to even crocodile meat. (4)

Day of Old
Dr Gwee Yee Hean had reminisced,  'I remember in the 1950s, when there were firecrackers, two bak kwa stores, Bee Cheng Hiang and Kim Hock Guan, which were opposite our shophouse on Rochor Road, and many other shops, too, would compete wit h one another to see who could light up more and louder firecrackers on New Year's Eve. 'Afterwards, the ground would be all red from the exploded firecrackers'. (2)

Interestingly, illegal Bak Kwa sellers were making themselves a tidy profit as late as 2002. It was critical enough for Ministry of Environment to remind the public not to buy from these vendors. (8)

Popular Culture

Bee Cheng Hiang made its presence felt in Singapore's locally-made movie - I Not Stupid. The movie, produced in 2002,  talks about a Bak Kwa empire that was threatened by competition. (5)

A movie that revolved around competing Bak Kwa shops - Perfect Rival also made its debut in 2011.


The words of a Straits Times writer sums it best - "A house without bak kwa during Chinese New Year is like a firecracker without a fuse". (10)


1. Eat your heart out. November 12, 1997. The Straits Times. P53.

2. Leong, W. K. January 24, 2001. When traditions come and go. The Straits Times. 

3. Lim, D. November 24, 1996. Terror and Triumph at the roof of the world. The Straits Times. P6.

4. Mandon, L. Z. Jan 17, 2017. 11 Weird Bak Kwa Flavours In Singapore To Skip The Queues At Lim Chee Guan.

5. The Business Times. Nothing stupid about this. February 8, 2002. P19.

6. The New Paper. May 9, 2005. Calm before storming the summit. P26.

7. The Singapore Free Press. June 3, 1960. The portly pork man with wide appeal has now retired. P19.

8. The Straits Times. February 2, 2002. Makeshift 'bak kwa' stalls not hygenic. P8.

9. The Straits Times. February 5, 2005. Fact & Fiction.

10. Tong, K. February 1, 2004. Nothing can replace bak kwa. The Straits Times. P16

11. Yeo, A. February, 2002. Bak Kwa booster for Khoo on North Pole trek. P7.

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