Bah Kut Teh (肉骨茶), literally translates as “meat bone tea”. I found out from Wikipedia that actually Bah Kut Teh is originated from Hong Kong, Canton and Fujian where Chinese workers introduced to Malaysia in the 19th Century. This is a Chinese soup very popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It consists of pork ribs and mushroom simmered for hours in a complicated mixture of Chinese herbs and spices.
I am making one using the premix Spices bought from Singapore. There is a street in Singapore where there are numerous shops selling these spices and Singapore food. It was not an easy to know which one I will like best so I relied my ex-colleagues who knew which one they thought is the best.
I have to say I never like Bah Kut Teh in the past, the first time I tried was when I was still in university in UK. I found a premix in London China Town and was so excited, bought a pack and make it myself. Unfortunately I was so disappointed with the taste that I only had a small bite and had to throw everything away. I think the mix was not blended to my taste and had too much star anises, cloves and licorice.
This pack I bought from Singapore is much much better. A box contains 20 packs, I gave half of them away as souvenir. This is the third time I make and this time I want to take a closer look of what spices and chinese herbs are inside my Bah Kut Teh, as I am sure I will get this question from my hubby, so he won’t be scared by the exotic ingredients.
There is no single formula for a truly authentic Bah Kut Teh, just like any other recipes as a matter of fact. Each place has their own secret recipes but the key spices that a Bah Kut Teh should consist are : star anise, cloves, garlic, cinnamon and Dong Quai (當歸). Whether it’s good or not, it’s very personal, you are the one to judge yourself!
There are 3 main types of Bak Kut Teh, the most common one is Teochew style which is lighter in color and with more white pepper in the soup. Hokkien is a second variation which is more salty and the Cantonese one, which we loves long-cooking soup, like adding more medicinal herbs to create a stronger flavoured soup.
Reading the description on my pack, below is the English translation of the herbs and spices used. The one here consists a lot of Chinese medicinal herbs, maybe that’s why my excolleagues chose this shop.
Here are the ingredients inside my pack:
- Chinese angelica root or Dong Quai (當歸)
- Ginseng (人參)
- Goji berries or Chinese wolfberries (枸杞子)
- Codonopsis root (党参)
- Astragalus root (北芪 )
- Chinese yam (淮山 huai shan)
- White Pepper
- Licorice (甘草, gancao)
- Suk Tei
- Cinnamon bark (肉桂, rougui)
- Cloves 大茴香 or 八角
- Szechuan Pepper
- 1kg pork spare ribs
- 2 bulbs garlic
- 10 puffy fried tofu, blanched to remove excess oil (skipped this time)
- 1 pack Bah Kut Teh premix
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 3 tbsp black peppercorns
- Pour 2 litres of hot water into a large pan, bring to boil and blanch the pork ribs for 2 minutes. Discard the water and rinse the ribs in tap water.
- Add 2 litres of hot water again to the pan, bring to boil.
- Add the Bah Kut Teh premix pack, the two bulbs of garlic into the pan. Simmer for 1.5 hrs.
- Skim off the oil that comes out. Add the soy sauce into the soup and 3 tbsp of black peppercorns. Simmer for another 1.5 hrs.
- Half an hour before dinner, add in the puffy fried tofu (optional).
- You should have about half of the liquid evaporated by end of cooking, if it is too watery, then the taste would not be strong enough.
- Serve with steamed jasmine rice and some green leaves vegetables such as watercress or spinach.
- I differ to the recipe described on the pack by adding the extra peppercorns to fit for my taste buds but surprisingly it did not feel that peppery at all, probably because I added them in the second 1.5hrs.
- The pack says 1.5hrs cooking time but I prefer cooking it for at least 3 hours.
- To make slow cooking soup, you can stop cooking after 1.5 hrs, keep the lid on, remember not to open the lid, this is to keep the heat and let it continue cooking. Simmer again after you have been outside or 1-2 hrs before dinner time.
Below are some links which I found very useful and interesting to read:
If you are interested in knowing more about chinese medicinal herbs, Phoebe from Homemade Chinese Soups has a blog post which has covered quite a lot common herbs used in Chinese slow-cooking soup:
Heartily thanks to all of you for the great posts!!!