Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Story of Bak Kut Teh

Just heads up, this is a post with very little value add. I thought about this while eating Bak Kut Teh. Just for entertainment. :)

For the non-ASEANs reading this, Bak Kut Teh is a Chinese dish that originated in S.E.Asia that is made up of spare pork ribs cooked in traditional Chinese herbs and served in a soup. It is also usually served with rice and soy sauce. You can take a look at my half eaten set below.

There is an interesting urban myth about the origin of the dish. Coolies working in Singapore and Malaysia earlier last century had to do tough work like carrying heavy goods at the ports for the whole day. As they were very poor, eating meat was not an option and eating food lacking nutrition ultimately resulted in poor health, sickness and weak bodies and their ability to work to generate money.

So Bak Kut Teh came to the rescue. The coolies would buy ribs that nobody wanted from the butchers at a cheap price, mixed with simple herbs (also cheap, I think) and then eat with rice and soy sauce. Simple as it is, this dish gives them strength, helps to prevent sickness and allow them to work all year long.

Of course today Bak Kut Teh has evolved into a popular dish that actually costs more than normal hawker food and it is usually served with spare ribs with lots of meat, You Tiao (or fried dough) and other stuff.

So while eating Bak Kut Teh, I thought about investing and realized a few analogies which could be drawn.

1. Value for money

Obviously, value investing is about buying more for less. Buy a good company at a reasonable price. Buy things cheap. Bak Kut Teh stands for this. Well at least during the coolies' times. Cheap but nutritional, helps the coolies stay healthy, get work done, earn more money. Today it is a bit different lah.

2. No Fat

In investing we want to buy companies that are lean and mean with no fat. That's Bak Kut Teh! Companies must understand that they have to stay lean in order to generate good returns. Actually, we ourselves strive to stay healthy and keep those cholesterol away so that we can fend away the harmful effects of metabolic syndrome right?

3. Innovate in changing times

The origin of Bak Kut Teh crystallizes the spirit of innovation. First, the coolies or whoever working with them came up with this spectacular dish that helped improved lives. Then, over the years, the dish itself evolved to fit into society. Even today, it's a highly popular dish. In investing, we must also be on the lookout for companies that can keep re-inventing themselves. As we speak PC and PC related companies are dying, big names like Intel, Dell and Microsoft are going all out to re-invent themselves. Although I must say, it's very hard to predict which companies can successfully evolve.

As with individuals, a lot of people struggle to stay relevant in society bcos things are moving so fast, it just gets harder and harder. Perhaps the story of Bak Kut Teh is really about evolution and how we should always re-invent ourselves to be useful.

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