Bak kut teh means ‘meat bone tea’ in the Chinese Hokkien dialect. To be exact, the term ‘bak’ refers to pork. That is the meat which is originally used in the broth. These days, chicken is also used as a substitute too. The dish is made by boiling different parts of the pork together with a variety of aromatics and Chinese herbs. The combination of Chinese herbs and aromatics such as star anise, cloves and smoked garlic makes this dish special indeed. Usually, bak kut teh is served with rice, vegetables and 'you tiao' (sometimes known as Chinese churros). Mostly found in Malaysia and Singapore, it is now one of the dishes that is well known in the region.
There are differences between the Hokkien version of bak kut teh which is commonly found in Malaysia when compared to the Teochew version in terms of colour, level of saltiness and of course the taste.
|Teowchew (Singapore)||Light||Less salty||Peppery|
If you want to make bak kut teh from scratch instead of using pre-packed herbs, this is all the information you will need. Bak kut teh herbs are simply Chinese medicinal herbs which are found in most Chinese medicinal halls or at Asian grocers around the world. In almost all Asian grocers, you will be able to find packs of 10 herbs usually marketed as ‘Chinese Herbal Soup Mix’ or ‘Chinese Tonic Soup’ .
In the table below, you will find the names of the ingredients in English, Chinese characters and pinyin. For a decent pot of bak kut teh, you will need at least 6 types of the herbs.
|Herbs Name||Pinyin||Chinese characters|
|Foxglove root||Shu di huang||熟地黄|
|Chinese angelica root||Dang gui||當歸|
|Szechuan lovage||Chuang gong||川芎|
|Solomon's Seal||Yu zhu||玉竹|
|Red dates||Hong zao||红枣|
|Goji berries||Gou qi zi||枸杞子|
Other additional ingredients which are used in the recipe are the more common herbs which add more flavours and medicinal benefits to the soup.
|Herbs Name||Pinyin||Chinese characters|
|Dried orange peel||Chen pi||陈皮|
|Liquorice root||Gan cao||甘草|
|Codonopsis pilosula||Dang shen||黨參|
|Black dates||Nan zao||正南枣|
Besides Chinese herbs, aromatics such as Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds and cloves are highly important to contribute to the aroma and flavours for which bak kut teh is known for.
In this recipe, it is recommended to boil bak kut teh for four hours. If you are running short of time, two hours would be sufficient. However, the broth would taste much better if boiled for four hours.
Bak kut teh tastes better after boiling for 4 hours and allowing to rest overnight. This was a secret tip shared by one of the best restaurants in Klang when asked about the secret to its popular bak kut teh. There is indeed a big difference in taste after letting the broth settles and allowing the ingredients to release their flavours.
Usually, bak kut teh is served with vegetables (romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, bok choy) tofu puffs, fried bean curd skin and mushrooms (enoki, shiitake). These ingredients should be added to the dish shortly before serving. If you are unable to finish the dish in one sitting, these additional ingredients should be cooked with a portion of the broth separately to avoid spoiling the taste of the rest of the soup.
Here are two secrets to having tender meat in bak kut teh. It is important to keep the heat low while stewing the dish. Allow it to simmer for a few hours so that the meat will become tender and falls off the bone easily. Additionally, using a cast iron dutch oven will also guarantee that the meat would be tender and the broth flavourful. This is due to the heavy lid which prevents the broth from evaporating too much. The outcome is a very flavourful broth with soft and tender pork.
Bak Kut Teh is also known as: 肉骨茶Bakute
Put herbs and aromatics in a spice bag, tea bag or on kitchen paper. Secure with a string to prevent herbs from falling out during the cooking process.
Remove the layers of papery skin of the whole garlic bulb. Toast garlic in a dry pan at medium heat until it browns.
In a pot of boiling water, add 4 slices of ginger. Then, put in the pork. Once water begins to boil again, remove pork.
In a pot of water, add pork, herbs and aromatics. Bring to boil. Once it boils, lower heat to the minimum and allow broth to simmer for 30 minutes. Then, stir in soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 2 to 4 hours.
Remove aromatics and herbs. Blanch tofu puffs and fried tofu skin in hot water to remove excess oil before adding them into the bak kut teh broth. Then, add some vegetables and enoki mushrooms.