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The Love of Malaysian "Bak Kut Teh", but What Is It?

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The writer lives life by the saying of "Live to eat" and one particular interest he has is to know where his favorite food i eat comes from.

Origin Story

A little bit about the translations, "Bak Kut Teh" basically means Pork Bone Tea Soup in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien, "Bak" means pork, "Kut" means bone and "Teh" means tea.

So, "Bak Kut Teh" is a dish commonly served in Malaysia and Singapore with both countries having their own versions of the soup.

Malaysian restaurants commonly serve it with a clay-pot, which is heated before serving while in Singapore, the dish is served in bowls.

This dish originated from a place in Southern China called "Fujian" which is home to many people part of the "Hokkien" dialect group.

The dish is brought over to Malaysia and Singapore during the influx of Chinese migrants into Malaya during the early 20th century.

Although it has origins in China, this dish is essentially made in Malaysia and only found in Malaysia, Singapore and a small number of Indonesian places.

While we're here, check out Tattle's journey to the home of "Bak Kut Teh".

Where are they famous?

Malaysians claim that "Bak Kut Teh" was originated in a port city called Klang, Malaysia by a group of laborers that worked in the port, hence, Klang is considered the home of "Bak Kut Teh".

While in Singapore, "Bak Kut Teh" was mostly served by street vendors in the Clarke Quay and River Valley areas after World War 2.

However, "Bak Kut Teh" is available almost everywhere in both countries, these are just the landmarks of where they were formed.

Bak Kut Teh served with some sides

Bak Kut Teh served with some sides

The variations of a "Bak Kut Teh".

In Malaysia, most broths are made using the "Hokkien" variation which is slightly darker and stronger in herbal flavor. The broth is essentially made from pork bones, herbs and spices

While in Singapore, their variation uses the "Teowchew" (another dialect group) method of cooking, which is peppery but lighter broth. The broth is similar to the Malaysian version but it is lighter and has more pepper in the broth.

The ingredients that go into a "Bak Kut Teh"

Regardless of the variations, the common ingredient, which is the main ingredient is the pork spare ribs.

In some places, a bigger cut of spare ribs are added as the main ingredient and it is often the expensive ingredient.

Secondly, the pork meats, specifically pork tenderloin and pork belly are added into the broth, this is the types of cuts Malaysians and Singaporeans love.

Aside from the meats, Malaysian variation includes some vegetables like cabbage, tofu skin and enoki mushrooms.

Meanwhile, the Singaporeans like to keep it simple, they just serve the pork bone with the broth just as it is.

You may be wondering by now, where is the tea? well, there isn't any tea in the dish, the "teh" which is tea in Hokkien actually refers to the herbs used in the broth.

Singapore's Version

Singapore's version of the Bak Kut Teh

Singapore's version of the Bak Kut Teh

Malaysia's version

Malaysia's version of the Bak Kut Teh

Malaysia's version of the Bak Kut Teh

Who are the sidekicks to a "Bak Kut Teh"?

In Malaysia, the basic way to have a good "Bak Kut Teh" is to have one with ribs and pork belly, with a side of rice and a few sticks of fried dough fritters (you tiao in Mandarin).

Similarly, in Singapore, the way of enjoying this dish is to have it with fried dough fritters and a bowl of rice.

However, there are various options of sides available, for instance, in Malaysia, most restaurants serve a dry version of "Bak Kut Teh", which is fried in dark soy sauce.

Besides that, "Bak Kut Teh" is often served with a side of boiled veggies or a type of sour veggie stew and mushrooms.

Tea is another major sidekick

One of the biggest sidekick to a "Bak Kut Teh" is the tea, as mentioned above, tea isn't in the dish but outside the dish.

Teas like "Pu Er" and chrysanthemum tea are the main teas to go with a dish like "Bak Kut Teh" which serves as a way to dilute the richness of the pork and dissolves the fats consumed.

Other Variations

In Malaysia, considering that Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, "Chik Kut Teh" was invented as the chicken version of the dish, which features a stronger taste from the herbs, it is essentially a herbal soup.

To cater to the vegetarians, some "Bak Kut Teh" restaurants serve vegetarian options. This version features more emphasis on Tofu and mushrooms as a meat replacement.

Besides the soup version, there is a dry version of "Bak Kut Teh" which is similar to the original dish but it is stir fried in dark soy sauce with some chili and salted fish. It is the perfect accompaniment to the original dish.

Facts about "Bak Kut Teh"

  1. "Bak Kut Teh" is an excellent hangover cure according to most Malaysians, the herbs from the broth helps to cut off alcohol in the body.
  2. On 22 November 2008, "Bak Kut Teh" made its name in the Malaysian Book Of Records as five "Bak Kut Teh" sellers cooked up the world's biggest bowl of "Bak Kut Teh", the bowl was 182.88 cm in Diameter and 99.44 cm in height. It contained 500 kg of pork, 450 kg of soup 50 kg of herbal medicine.

© 2020 Nigel Koay

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