Living on both sides of the Causeway, nothing gets a friendly feud going like the topic of bak kut teh. I’m half Teochew and half Hokkien, but in cultural terms I am definitely as Teochew as it gets. The only time my Teochew pride suffers is when it comes to bak kut teh. I like Singapore bak kut teh well enough (only at the right restaurants), but its use of white pepper is not something I am culturally used to. The Hokkien style of bak kut teh, as perfected in Klang not too far from where I now live, is my bak kut teh mecca, not anywhere in Singapore.
However, I still cringe when Malaysian friends flagrantly diss peppery bak kut teh as “not bak kut teh”. It’s not YOUR style of bak kut teh, but it doesn’t mean it’s not the same dish anymore. That’s just your cultural indoctrination talking, not food criticism. Teochews and Hokkiens (and every other southern Chinese dialect group) have many common dishes. Which dialect group’s iteration you prefer is entirely from your upbringing. This is the best explanation I’ve seen so far for the topic of KL bak kut teh vs SG bak kut teh. It’s not a Hokkien vs Teochew thing; it’s just a matter of what you are used to and your personal preferences.
Despite our differences, I think all of us who love bak kut teh in any style can agree that the only thing truly disgusting about bak kut teh is when chicken is used instead of pork!