Bak kut teh
A closeup of bak kut teh
|Place of origin||Mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan|
|Region or state||Hokkien- and Teochew-speaking areas of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Mainland China, Taiwan and Riau Islands|
|Main ingredient(s)||pork ribs, complex broth of herbs and spices (including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, fennel seeds and garlic)|
|Variations||Teochew and Hokkien|
|Bak kut teh|
|Literal meaning||meat bone tea|
Bak-kut-teh (also spelt bah-kut-teh; Chinese: 肉骨茶; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: bah-kut-tê) is a Chinese soup popularly served in Malaysia, Singapore, Mainland China and Taiwan (where there is a predominant Hoklo and Teochew community) and also, neighbouring areas like Riau Islands and Southern Thailand.
The name literally translates as "meat bone tea", and at its simplest, consists of meaty pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices (including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, fennel seeds and garlic) for hours. Despite its name, there is in fact no tea in the dish itself; the name refers to a strong oolong Chinese tea which is usually served alongside the soup in the belief that it dilutes or dissolves the copious amount of fat consumed in this pork-laden dish.
However, additional ingredients may include offal, varieties of mushroom, choy sum, and pieces of dried tofu or fried tofu puffs. Additional Chinese herbs may include yu zhu (玉竹, rhizome of Solomon's Seal) and ju zhi (buckthorn fruit), which give the soup a sweeter, slightly stronger flavor. Light and dark soy sauce are also added to the soup during cooking, with varying amounts depending on the variant - the Teochews version is lighter than the Hokkiens'. The dish can be garnished with chopped coriander or green onions and a sprinkling of fried shallots.
Bak kut teh is usually eaten with rice or noodles (sometimes as a noodle soup), and often served with youtiao / cha kueh [yau char kwai] (strips of fried dough) for dipping into the soup. Soy sauce (usually light soy sauce, but dark soy sauce is also offered sometimes) is preferred as a condiment, with which chopped chilli padi and minced garlic is taken together. Bak kut teh is typically a famous morning meal. The Hokkien and Teochew are traditionally tea-drinking cultures and this aspect runs deep in their cuisines.
Bak-kut-teh was introduced to Malaya in the 19th century by Chinese coolies and workers of Hokkien origin. The dish is reported to supplement the meagre diet of port coolies and as a tonic to boost their health. The Teochews came later and the main visual difference between the Hokkien and Teochew version of bak kut teh is that the Hokkiens use dark soy sauce and thus the soup base is characteristically darker in colour.
There are numerous variants of bak kut teh with its cooking style closely influenced by the prevailing Chinese enclave of a certain geographical location. In Singapore, there are three types of bak kut teh. The most common variant is the Teochew style, which is light in color but uses more pepper[disambiguation needed] and garlic in the soup. The Hoklo (Hokkien), who prefer saltier food, use more soy sauce resulting in a darker soup. The Cantonese, with a soup-drinking culture, add medicinal herbs to create a stronger flavoured soup.
In addition, a dry form of bak kut teh has also recently become increasingly popular within Malaysia, especially in Klang town. Although called dry, the broth is in fact reduced to a thicker gravy, to which other ingredients such as wolfberries, dried dates, dried chillies and dried squid are added. Unlike the original rib soup, the dry version has a tangier, sharper taste and is more akin to a herbal stew than the classical broth. It is often recommended locally in Malaysia as an excellent hangover cure.
A less fatty variation of bak kut teh made with chicken instead of pork is called chik kut teh. It also serves as a halal version of the dish catered to Muslims, whose religion forbids them to consume pork.
- Grêlé D, Raimbault L, Chng N. Discover Singapore on Foot. Select Publishing, 2007. page 158.
- Yoshino, Kosaku (2010). "Malaysian Cuisine: A Case of Neglected Culinary Globalization". Globalization, Food and Social Identities in the Asia Pacific Region (Tokyo: Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture): 4.
- Chinese Food in Kuala Lumpur
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