Bak Kut Teh

foodieblog

Sigh… I guess this is the most appropriate description of my blog that is acceptable to me. I’m a non-foodie blog that talks a lot about food. 🙄

I guess I should just accept the fact and embrace it. So… let’s talk about more food!

Let’s talk about another food that is a constant source of delight for almost all Malaysian Chinese people today. Let’s talk about the bak kut teh!

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There are many regional delicacies that are constant sources of bickering among the Southeast Asian countries when it comes to defining their country of origin. To be honest, most of them are eaten in many countries in the region, so I would not be able to tell for sure if for example, the laksa is a Malaysian delicacy or an Indonesian one, etc.

Bak kut teh is NOT one such food. I can very confidently declare that Bak Kut Teh is a Malaysian delicacy that originates from Malaysia, end of story, full stop.

Bak kut teh is originally a soup invented to serve the Chinese migrants who worked in tin mines in the Klang Valley (today’s KL and Selangor area), because working in tin mines is hard labor and the workers needed a very good source of protein and herbal nutrition.

Bak kut teh is a Hokkien pronunciation for 肉骨茶. 肉 means meat (pork), 骨 means bone and 茶 means tea. So, bak kut teh translates literally to meat bone tea.

But it’s not a tea. Bak kut teh is actually a super delicious herbal soup. It is made by cooking pork ribs with a wide array of different herbs and spices for a long period of time to create an awesomely flavorful broth. A bunch of other ingredients are then cooked with the broth to create the ultimate soup to serve to customers. Typical ingredients include lean and fatty pork meat, pork balls, pork innards, mushrooms and tofu pok (deep fried tofu).

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In recent years, there’s a different variation of bak kut teh, called the dry bak kut teh.

Why is it called dry? A dry bak kut teh is basically bak kut teh served without the soup. This is done by cooking the ingredients in bak kut teh broth, dark soy sauce, dried chili and some other seasoning until the broth evaporates and turns into a thick gravy that packs a punch.

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“What about the Singaporean version of bak kut teh?” you might ask. Singaporeans will probably give me shit for this, but if you want my honest opinion, Singaporean bak kut teh is not bak kut teh at all. Firstly they deviated from the original version by using black pepper soup instead of the painstakingly slow cooked herbal soup.

Before you can argue using words like adaptation or variation, secondly Singapore bak kut teh is a recipe developed by the Teochew migrants to Singapore. Now, bak kut teh is a Hokkien dish because it has a Hokkien name. How can a Teochew dish be given a Hokkien name when they are fundamentally different things? Just because the Hokkien dish is popular so it is better to latch onto that popularity? This is ridiculous. It is like saying “the Proton Saga is the Malaysian Mercedes Benz”. You try asking Proton to make that claim worldwide and see if Mercedes will not sue Proton’s ass off.

So nope. Bak kut teh is exclusively Malaysian. And that’s awesome. If I am to bring any tourists and visitors to go for a round of Malaysian cuisine, I will go for this guy, because it is uniquely Malaysian, and you never see this dish being served in Malaysian restaurants overseas.


 

For the international readers, if you’re wondering what’s Hokkien and what’s Teochew, they refer to our regional ethnicity. You see, even if we are all descendants from Chinese migrants, our ancestors come from different regions of southern China. And we speak different dialects and have different gastronomic representation depending on where our ancestors come from. Here’s a map for your better understanding:

maps

38 Comments

  1. Very frankly speaking, I do not like bak kut teh. Just never liked the taste, and also I don’t really like eating pork at all. Growing up in Malaysia, my parents even took me to what they claimed was the best BKT in KL and got me try it. I didn’t like it. Don’t know if you know this place, but that BKT place was located very near to the Sunger Wang shopping mall, and very close to a “kwong fu chao yuen yong” noodle stall.

    • I guess this is something that you either love it or dislike it. It is not about best or worst. Just like I hate leafy herbs, you shove a bunch of fresh herbs from the best mountains and I will still hate them. 🙄

      Nope, I’m not that familiar with the Sg Wang area…

  2. Oh, I love BKT!!! I didn’t think much about where it originated and I’m pleasantly surprised that it has it’s origins right here in Malaysia. Of course I know that Klang is THE place for BKT but I have not ventured there for BKT as yet. The most convenient place for me so far is Sg Way and the BKT there is great for me. Oh…I must go back there again soon 😀

    • If you ask me, yes Klang is the origin place for BKT, but you don’t really have to go there for it. I don’t know, maybe the few that I’ve been to in Klang were mediocre. But I think we can get decent BKT easily almost everywhere in KL/Malaysia.

    • Yes you did. As a reward, I will do to you what my managers do to me by giving you a pat in the back and tell you: “Good job, Marta!” 😉

  3. Let’s just conclude to say that you’re a blog that blogs about food….but you’re not a foodie blog…how about that? 😉 Coz you provide a bit of history/research into the food (like this one) that is different from other food blogs…and you usually blog about the type of food you eat (and not merely about the famous names)….hehe! 😀

    Hmmm….I’ve not blogged about BKT in my blog and that’s because my family doesn’t like to eat BKT. Actually, they don’t quite like anything in soup (which I love), worst still when it’s a herbal-type of soup! >.<

    • Well, you can let them try to dry version then! It doesn’t taste herbal, the chili and soy sauce overpowers the herbal taste! 🙂

  4. Tell you something, u sure laugh, i have not tried dry BKT, usually is the soup version, but quite sometimes didn’t eat liao…

    I heard the best is in Klang?

    • Nothing to laugh, I don’t think you can find dry BKT in SG… 😐

      Originates from Klang, but I think there are many very good ones around Malaysia. 🙂

  5. You didn’t realize that you have become a foodie blogger unofficially for posting so many home lazy cooking of yours. Lol
    You are different from that Sibu foodie blogger who often showed off and doesn’t accept slightest criticism … You are hilarious and we can whack you anytime without qualms because you won’t loose sleep at all. You are like a tortoise!

    I am now dead curious to try Singapore Bak Kut Teh to understand better as I am really a great fan of Bak Kut Teh here. Today I learn from you about the teochew and hokkien issues!! So ganas la your claims. Wakakakaka

    • The only thing I can say is, I guess I understand the concept of “freedom of opinions” and “agree to disagree” and more importantly, I am a CB mouth myself, so I won’t take offense with fellow CB mouths. We’re comrades! Wakakaka! 😀 😀

      I am shocked that you have not tried Singaporean BKT before, like Mun. Thought you are a regular visitor to the country down south. You should go try it for yourself to understand why I said what I said. You know, I have tried BKT from Penang, KL, Muar and JB, and I can tell you all 4 have slight difference in terms of the soup flavor, but the essence is still there. But when I saw Singapore BKT, I was like “What the heck is this?? How can this be called Bak kut teh??”. To me, it was as outrageous as calling tomyam as bak kut teh…

      • Oh dear, all the more I won’t try their BKT since it’s not fabulous. Why eat more calories from junk stalls?? My contacts there often brought me to eat only their best food, so I had no complaints.

        • No, you’re getting me wrong. That dish is nice (well, at least the good ones anyway), it is just that I disagree with them calling it bak kut teh. It is like, roti canai is nice, but you cannot show me a roti canai and call it nasi lemak. That’s just weird to me. 🙄

      • Yeah, I agree with this concept of “freedom of opinions”…you’re one who can ditch it….and take it too! Unfortunately, there are bloggers who can ditch it but can’t take it (I think I know which blogger TM is referring to)….hehe! 😀

        • I would be shocked if you didn’t know whom I was talking about. There is only one urchin in Sibu that lives on land and has poked so many bloggers today. He would sulk and unfriend one by one. Hope he reads this.

        • Not just bloggers, I think humans in general are like that. Nothing surprising here, as humans, we always think we are always right and anyone who does not do things/does not think like us are wrong and idiots. That’s why we can always dish opinions/criticism but difficult to be on the receiving end.

          I am sometimes guilty of this terrible habit too. But I think it is important for us to acknowledge that we humans are terribly flawed creatures and that no one is perfect.

          • I agree with how you think but no worries about me. You can see how SK hurled abuses at my in the earlier years. I think he is tired now. Yesterday Chris called me CB in my blog!! I would throw acid on his mouth.

            I have this FEEDjit which often showed Sibu’s appearances. So I still spiked his name occasionally to jibe him to sulk in the corners and say Good Bye to the cruel world.

            Wakakakaka

            • I honestly don’t want to know if he still stalks my blog or not. I just don’t want his (or anyone’s) irrelevant comments to show up anymore. I never understood why he is doing it to me, I don’t think I have ever done anything knowingly to piss him off. Referring to you doesn’t count, I did not know of that “feud”. And his crap started before that reference anyway…

  6. What an in-depth and extensive write up about bak kut teh. Did you eat bak kut teh soup and dry version recently to trigger this post? I have never eaten bak kut teh in Singapore so I don’t know that it is just pepper soup with pork and whatnots.

    • Bingo! I just had some two weeks ago.

      Next time you should try it when you visit SG again. Then you will understand why I said so. They are totally different types of soup!

  7. wahhh.. you really did a lot of research on BKT! I just go and eat only and post up… I only know bak kut is hokkien dialect otherwise in cantonese it is pai kwat char… totally different already.. hahahaa…

    • Not today, I learned all these BKT history since way back when for a “research paper” I did when I was studying in British Council hahaha!

      Not pai kwat la… Yuk kwat… 😛

  8. Nice map at the end of the post! haha…I din know where teochew is really located until u circled that part…
    yea mostly we bring our visitor to sample the bak kut teh too, some like it but those ‘mat saleh’ might not be able to adapt to that herbal taste.

    • Huh? I thought the only thing they cannot handle is durian. Hmm… I’ve never thought of BKT as also a risky food. 😐

  9. maybe “your blog is going to be a foodie blog”?? hehehe!! anyway I understand your situation, you have to blog daily and you need to find topics, and food is one good topic to blog about.. 🙂

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