Malaysia: Bak Kut Teh

Restaurant: Layang Layang
City: Milpitas, CA

The soup at tonight’s dinner was bak kut teh.

bak kut teh

Pork rib, fried tofu puff, and mushroom in Chinese herbal soup. Smelled and tasted like the awfully bitter Chinese herbal medicine that my parents get from the Chinese herbal doctor to cook at home…blech. I had to eat something else from my plate, to get rid of the aftertaste. However, I can assure you that this is the “weak form” of the actual strong, bitter Chinese herbal medicine!

Bak kut teh is a Chinese soup popularly served in Malaysia, Singapore, (where there is a predominant Hoklo and Teochew community) and also, neighbouring areas like Riau Islands and Southern Thailand. Bak kut teh 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 Teochew version is lighter than the Hokkien version. The dish can be garnished with chopped coriander or green onions and a sprinkling of fried shallots. (Wikipedia)

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