Bak Kut Teh
Literally meaning "Pork Bone Tea", Bak Kut Teh is a marvelously spiced stew worthy of admiration the world over.
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If there is one subject that intrigues the people staying in Klang, it would be the debate on the best bak kut teh served in Klang Valley. There are those who would swear by a particular shop that they frequently patronise and others who have tried a few shops here and there and stuck to the best of the lot. These food lovers will scrutinize every single aspect of the dish, down to how strong the herbal taste should be in the soup.
Bak kut teh is a soup based dish consisting of different cuts of pork meat simmered in a herb based broth for hours. Most shops will normally use pork ribs, but they are also known to include other cuts of pork into the herbal broth as well. Meat from other parts tend to be softer and delicate compared to meat from the pork ribs, though most of it will just melt away as soon as it is spooned into the mouth. The herbs and spices that are normally used to give it that distinct taste are star anise, cinnamon, cloves, female ginseng (locally known as dong guai), fennel seeds and garlic, which is boiled for hours together with the selected cuts of meat. The meat becomes infused with all the flavours from the herbs and spices, and the sweetness from the meat seeps into the broth, mellowing the tangy and sharp taste of the herbs. Other ingredients commonly found in a bowl of bak kut teh are mushrooms, fried tofu puffs, pieces of dried tofu and iceberg lettuce.
Throughout the years, creative traders have come to realize that some patrons do welcome the idea of having side dishes along with the main dish. It is common to find these restaurants now offering dishes like blanched iceberg lettuce drizzled with a mixture of oyster sauce, fried shallots and a little bit of the oil from the fried shallots and other dishes to their customers. The restaurateurs also offer additional ingredients like enoki mushrooms, chicken feet, fried strips of dough or locally known as youtiao for dipping into the soup or even meatballs at additional prices. It is normally eaten with fragrant rice and sprinkles of fried shallots and raw garlic. Some shops also serve it with yam rice as an alternative to plain rice. To pique the interests of bak kut teh lovers, another version of this dish was introduced. The broth is boiled and reduced to a thicker gravy and contains added ingredients like dried chilli and dried squid. As a result, the gravy is darker in colour, has a spicy aftertaste with a distinct aroma from the dried squid. This style is fast gaining popularity, especially in Klang. There is now even a dish called Chick Kut Teh, which substitutes chicken for pork. The dish was introduced during the Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia, which caused many locals to be wary of consuming pork.
It is fascinating to see how a simple dish like this became a famous and widely eaten staple in Malaysia. This dish was supposed to be a nourishing dish for Chinese coolies who came to Port Klang to work during the British colonial era. Herbs and spices said to be good for health were gathered, with pork added to add flavour to the broth, resulting in this dish. Hot tea is always drunk together with this meal as it is believed that the tea is able to flush out excess oil from within the body. Most bak kut teh lovers will request extra bowls of soup. Some shops are very generous with their soup, obliging customers with their repeated requests. Others will kindly but firmly tell the customers that soup refills are limited as it is very precious. There are even rumours that some of the soup pots are continuously refilled with fresh soup everyday, to keep the intense flavours from the day before inside the pot, thereby making it even more mouth-watering.