This is a popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. You can find this dish being sold in most Hawker centres in Singapore.

It comes in varying styles but the two most common styles you can find is firstly, the ones with jumbo prawns where the broth is not dark but lighter or even a pinkish colour from the heads and shells of the large prawns cooked in it. The essence of the prawns is very strong in the broth and the dish usually costs S$8 to S$12 because of the jumbo prawns used.

The head and shells of the prawns are invariably left intact in the bowl, and it is usually served with a sprinkling of bean sprouts and noodles and little else. Sometimes pork ribs or pork tails are included.


I prefer, however, the other version which has a darker broth and is served with small or medium de-shelled sliced prawns, thinly sliced pork and fishcake sometimes, or other ingredients.

The broth’s colour comes from a little black soya sauce used but also from belachan or dried prawn paste added into the soup.

The broth in this version is usually less dominated by the overwhelming prawn essence, but more balanced with the taste of pork bones cooked in it.

This version is also reasonably priced and is usually no more than S$3 to S$5 per bowl.

This is simple home cooked comfort food which everyone loves, so I though you might like to try making it one day.

This recipe feeds 8-12 adults.

The Broth

Its all about the broth. You get the broth right, nothing much else matters.

1. Fill a large pot half full with water and bring it up to boil.

2. Use about 6 big pork bones that has been cracked in the middle by your friendly butcher. Wash it thoroughly with salt to get rid of it’s gunk and rinse and drain well. Blanch the bones in boiling water for one minute to get rid of all impurities and set aside.

3. If you want to, you can use 4 bones and half a pigs trotter roughly chopped. Wash, rinse and blanch the pigs trotters the same way. This is optional but the trotters will make your soup richer, thicker and more gelatinous.

4. Peel and devein 1 kg of medium sized prawns. Set aside the heads and wash the heads thoroughly with salt, drain and set aside.

4. In a large smoking wok, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and half a tablespoon of sesame oil. Fry 2 large finger sized chunks of ginger over high heat. Add the prawn heads and fry until the heads turn reddish in colour. Season with Chinese cooking wine, salt and pepper and a little brandy if you have it . Set aside.

5. Fry the blanched pork bones and trotters (separately) following the above similar steps, adding more ginger chunks.

6. As an additional option to make the soup sweeter, buy 1-2 kg of clams from the market (S$4 to S$5 per kg). Wash it thoroughly as per the steps in this link.

Fry them following the same steps as the prawns above.

However, the clams have to be fried a little longer until they have all opened up. Discard any closed ones as this means that they are not fresh.

6. Put the contents of all the fried prawns shells, big bones and trotters, clams (optional) into your large pot of boiling water. Simmer with the lid half covered, for one hour.

Add a little water occasionally if the water level goes down, about a cup or two at a time.

7. After an hour, pour the soup into another pot, straining all the contents.

At this stage, I would wash the original pot which would have some scum from the pork. Put it back on the stove again after washing and pour back all the strained soup.

Add back all the pork bones, pork trotters, gingers and clams (optional ) and continue boiling.

8. Put all the cooked prawn heads into a blender with 2-3 cups of water. Blend the heads until smooth. Pour the liquid contents of the prawns shells back into the soup using a strainer. Discard the strained contents.

9. Boil the broth for another 1-2 hours, stirring and adding water occasionally.

Flavouring the soup

1. At step 7 and 8 above add one medium sized piece of rock sugar.

2. Take one or two heaped tablespoons of belachan (or a piece about the size in the pic above) and mince it as finely as you can.

3. Dry fry the belachan (no oil) until fragrant, breaking it up into a powdery form.

4. Put half of the fried belachan into the soup at the same time as the rock sugar. Put more of the belachan gradually only after tasting to make sure it does not make the soup too saltish.

5. Season the soup with pepper and Chinese cooking wine . Add one to two tablespoon of black soy sauce to make the soup dark.

Add more dark sauce and belachan to taste gradually until you get the desired dark colour.

6. After 2 hours, make a final tasting and seasoning and the broth is done.

The Condiments

1. Peel the bean sprouts, wash and blanch in hot water for 1-2 minutes and then drain and set aside. For the noodles, just blanch 1 min, strain and set aside.

2. Cook the medium sized prawns in the boiling broth for about 10 Mins in a sieve, turning it constantly. Set aside and when cooled, slice lengthwise into two.

3. Slice a slab of lean pork or pork loin into thin slabs (to ensure the middle cooks well) and cook for about 10-15 Mins in the prawn broth. Remove and set aside. When cooled, slice into thin slices.

4. Fry fish cake and cut into thin slices.

5. Boil the quail eggs (optional) for about 12 mins and peel.

6. Fry up some crispy thinly sliced shallots and sprinkle over the dish before serving.


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