Bak Kut Teh(Hokkien Chinese dialect) and Rou Gu Cha (Mandarin Chinese dialect)
translate literally to “Meat Bone Tea”.
Although the origin of Bak Kut Teh remains inconclusive, I truly believed that Klang is where it all begins, at least in Malaysia.
In the early 1940’s Bak Kut Teh was served to cater fellow early Chinese immigrants who were working in Port Swettenham(present Port Klang), and this dish serves as a tonic soup to replenish their energy and boost their health.
The way Bak Kut Teh is consumed can be particular to each individual. Some drench their rice in soup, some follow each spoonful of rice with a nibble of meat, while most spice up their Bak Kut Teh with plenty of chopped Cili Padi and crushed garlic in soy. However, it boils down to two major schools when it comes to the dish.
First, Bak Kut Teh purists (mostly based in Klang) savour the meaty broth on its own, which is served in small ceramic bowls.
The second version is the clay pot we recognise today. Around 30 years ago, clay pots were used along with additions toppings such as tofu puffs, bean curd skin, enoki mushrooms, button mushrooms and lettuce to sweeten the soup.
Somehow along the way came the dry version of Bak Kut Teh which is being cooked with additional ingredients such as okra(lady fingers), dried chilies and dry squids, which resulted to a more tangier and sharper taste and complimented with unlimited bowls of Bak Kut Teh soup.
Type of cuts of meat
Tua Kut and Teng Kia
Sum Chum Bak and Sui Kut
Pua Pui Chiak and Pai Kut
Neng Kut and Kar Chark
Kar Keng and Kar Wan
Hoon Teng and Gor Hui
De Dor and Chiew Pai Bak
Bah Kut Teh is traditionally believed to replenish and improve blood circulation, restore vital energy, and warm the stomach as well as rejuvenating one’s looks. It is suitable for both men and women.
Though casually label as a “tea soup” or stew, it is in fact a health-giving supplement that contains Chinese medicinal herbs (star anise, Oleaster, cloves and garlic) that is simmered for hours with pork ribs. In some small towns across Malaysia, locals even add sea cucumber and abalone into the soup. Because of its health benefits, the soup is perfect for the hot and dry seasons to remove heatiness, improve blood circulation, boost energy, restore the respiratory system and rejuvenate the skin. Traditional Chinese practitioners believe that the soup is mild and hydrating, and the goodness is circulated throughout the body. Thus, the soup when combined with respective medicinal ingredients can also treat blood stasis and rheumatic arthritis. Other known benefits include pain relief.
Bak Kut Teh’s adaptability may be unrivaled in international cuisine, but it still has some basic components. The dish’s base is a stock broth and one of the most complex soups in the world.
- Stock: Stock always involves bones, though not necessarily meat, and is simmered for a long time to extract their gelatin and flavor. The thick, often-gelatinous nature of stocks is only possible when bones are present. Roasting the bones makes for a richer, more deeply colored stock, but it’s not essential to the process.
- Broth: Technically speaking, broth is any liquid that has had meat cooked in it. Of course, now broth really is a catch-all for any flavored cooking liquid, including broths made by simmering fish, vegetables, or even legumes. It can, but typically is not made using bones and cooks for a shorter period of time.
It makes much more sense to categorize Bak Kut Teh first by its heaviness of the stock broth, then by the soup base ingredients, and finally by the quality of the meat cuts. This classification system, used can be combined to cover pretty much every bowl of soup-based Bak Kut Teh in existence.
Heaviness is classified as either rich or light. Rich stock broth will be thick, sticky, and usually opaque, packed with emulsified fats, minerals, and proteins from long-boiled bones.
Light stock broth are clear and thin, usually bones cooked relatively briefly at a light simmer so as not to cloud the stock broth.
The stock broth base is the main ingredients simmered to make the soup. This can range from endless combination of Chinese herbs and spices. The Chinese have a long tradition of using herbs and spices to boost a dish’s flavor (and provide nutritional benefits).
Pork is the number one meat consumed by the Chinese and therefore getting fresh pork from farm to table is always a compelling thing to do to make the wholeness of a Bak Kut Teh dish stands out.
Despite the fact that there are a few hundred Bak Kut Teh restaurants that will be running deep into this guide, I’m really just scratching the tip of the iceberg and I can honestly vouch every Bak Kut Teh served is unique by itself.
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Below is my guide to Bak Kut Teh Restaurants in the Royal Klang Town