Aug 10, 2008 Story and photos by GRACE CHEN
There is one street in the Klang Valley along which as many as eight bak kut teh vendors congregate to ply their trade.
AHH! There is just no mistaking the heady aroma of bak kut teh (pork rib soup).
This rejuvenating herbaceous brew is an all time classic.
One area which is famed for bak kut teh is Jalan Kelang Lama in Kuala Lumpur where there are eight stalls along the road. The set up is often in a coffee shop or a five foot way, and often, the stall is always surrounded by giant stainless steel pots, all boiling away, with the aromatic whiffs of this traditional pork meat soup escaping in the steam.
So, what goes into the bak kut teh soup?
According to Wong Khon Chong, 56, who runs Ah Wang Bak Kut Teh at 4½ mile, the stock for his bak kut teh is made up of no less than 13 types of Chinese herbs.
Bak kut teh vendor Wong Khon Chong uses 13 Chinese herbs for his concoction.
These herbs are then blended in different proportions. And in upholding tradition, Wong credits another bak kut teh ‘sifu’ Teh Kim Loong, 56, for teaching him how to prepare the herbal concoction. Teh, is the bak kut teh chef for Yan Yan Restaurant.
But bear in mind that this is not the standard recipe as every bak kut teh stall has its own variation.
Kong Tuck Hung Hong, 63, who has been operating for 30 years from a stall at the five foot way of the Kee Hin tyre shop in Jalan Teluk Gadong, which is off Jalan Kelang Lama.
“I only have star anise, cinnamon, Kum Chou and garlic in my soup. I don’t put in things like Dong Quai and Suk Tei because it will blacken the soup and make it very ‘heaty’.
“I prefer serving a clear, ‘cooling’ stock,” said Kong, who runs the stall with his 31-year-old son.
And though there may be personal preferences with regards to the herb issue, all agree that about five hours of boiling time is needed for the herbs to impart their flavour to the soup.
Next, come the pork cuts and another one hour of cooking is needed to ensure that the herbs are given time to seep into the meat.
And the variation of dishes that can come from a presumably simple bak kut teh meal is all up to a cook’s imagination.
Wong, for example, offers a full range of all the prime pork cuts, plus the perennial favourites like intestines, stomach and other offal. He also offers side dishes of steamed vegetables and chicken in a ginger wine soup, plus steamed Song fish head, which is also popular with his customers.
And not to be outdone, Foong Kin Fatt, 49, the owner of Yan Yan Restaurant, has a bak kut teh dish called ‘Sang Kuat Poh’ which are fresh pork cuts cooked to order.
“This is made fresh and the soup is not unlike that of a superior stock which is clearer and sweeter. It takes one hour to make and you have to call in advance for this dish,” said Foong.
Interestingly, Tee of Yan Yan’s, who has worked in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong would point out that the bak kut teh recipe may well be a Malaysian invention which originated from Klang about 50 years ago.
“I believe that it was the fishermen who invented this dish because they were always exposed to wet conditions.
“Hence, they looked for a way to invigorate themselves by drinking a combination of herbs and that must have been how they stumbled upon this concoction,” surmised Tee.
And though he agrees that the popularity of bak kut teh has spread to as far as Thailand, Singapore and China, he strongly believes that they are but generics of the Malaysian version.
For enquiries, call Ah Wong Bak Kut Teh at 014-3344334 and Yan Yan Restaurant at 03-79845972. To locate Kong’s bak kut teh stall, look out for Kee Hin tyre shop on your left as you enter Jalan Kelang Lama as you’re coming in from the Mid Valley Mega Mall direction.
SMS SENDERS’ PICK FOR BEST BAK KUT TEH
>Mo Sang Koh BKT in Klang: 1) Jln Chan Ah Choo Pandamaran, 2) Per Raja Muda Musa 3) Berkeley Gdn (near the famous pan mee) KA
>Tian sang bak kut teh, jalan rasah, seremban
>Best Bak kut teh must be Teow Chew Bak Kut Teh in Taman Merdeka, Melaka, just in front of caltex. U can see lotsa japanese expats here. Full house every noon. ~babadaniel
>Green house penang bak kut teh, hoo liao.... T.Montana
>Yeo’s bakuteh no:106-108, jalan sultan, segamat, johor
>Hong Bee Bak Kut Teh, No. 613, Bt. 3 3/4 Off Jln. Ipoh, 51200 Kuala Lumpur. (near Mutiara Complex)