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The Painstaking Labour Behind Pig’s Organ Soup

You either love or hate offal and spare parts. At this hawker stall, the only one still selling glutinous rice stuffed in pig's intestine, we catch a glimpse of the sheer amount of work that goes into preparing this divisive ingredient.

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This story is a collaboration between Burpple and Rice as part of Rice’s new food column.

In the dead of night, Thomas Koh can be found on the second storey of Tiong Bahru Market, washing bags of heart and intestine. As he washes the ingredients, a concoction simmers by the side. A small amount of liver is reserved for a rather skittish cat that resides in the market.

Though this sounds like the start of a cliched horror story involving witchcraft, the organs in question are pig offal—ingredients for a young hawker’s pig organ soup (猪杂汤) and glutinous rice intestine (糯米肠). And Thomas is the 3rd generation hawker of Koh Brother Pig’s Organ Soup (许兄弟猪什汤), a family-run hawker business that started in 1955 as a push cart.

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Earlier, Thomas had told me about an uncited survey that looked at the rarity of his business. It detailed how there are only about 120 pig organ soup hawker stalls left in Singapore, of which only 10 are family owned. I can’t exactly verify this, but the numbers seem about right. And to my knowledge, Koh Brother is the only hawker left selling glutinous rice intestines, which Thomas concurs.

But why are stalls like Koh Brother so scarce? Why are they the only ones left selling glutinous rice wrapped in intestine?

Offal is often thought of as “unwanted” or “discarded”, given that intestines are associated with bowel movements. And much like other organs like liver, they boast a texture that doesn’t feel quite the same as meat, making it a bit of an acquired taste.

Likewise, when I spoke to a kway chap stall owner in Ang Mo Kio and another selling chicken feet (both declined to be named) about the perception of these rarer and more ‘divisive’ ingredients, both felt that the items they sell are dishes youngsters “don’t know how to eat”. The chicken feet seller suggested that “pork chops with pepper” would sell better, probably referring to the frequent crowds a Western stall in the same hawker centre receives.

So it was perhaps a little surprising to find Koh Brother with its fair share of loyal customers on a random weekday afternoon. While not the hour-long queues you find at Michelin-starred hawkers, you wouldn’t say that business isn’t good either. Using this crowd as a reference, you might actually say that Chinese Singaporeans love offal.

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Despite offal’s apparently declining popularity, all the stalls I spoke to still command a significant number of regulars. Koh Brother, in particular, still has people coming specifically to eat their glutinous rice intestines.

And so I couldn’t help wondering: why do people really like these divisive ingredients? Is there some kind of a secret to unlocking one’s love for offal?

Read on to find out more.


This story is a collaboration between Burpple and Rice as part of Rice's new food column