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!
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).
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.
“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: