Bah Kut Teh is probably the Malaysian dish that sparked the most conversation and controversy. Years ago, a pair of sex bloggers created a nationwide storm for their Bah Kut Teh photo posting as Ramadan greetings. Then, we also have netizens from Malaysia and Singapore fighting over the origin of Bah Kut Teh–each claiming the dish belongs to their country.

Bah Kut Teh. Photo from Adobe Stock

Meat Bone Tea

Bah Kut Teh means “Meat Bone Tea”. However, it is not really tea as it references more to the drinking ritual which has become an integral part of eating Bah Kut Teh–to demulsify the fat of the pork. 

Bah Kut Teh is a pork rib dish cooked gently with a mix of herbs and spices in the soup for hours. There are Hokkien, Teowchew and Cantonese-styled Bah Kut Teh but in Malaysia, the most common is the Hokkien style which is darker and more fragrant soup. On the other hand, Bah Kut Teh in Singapore is lighter and more pepper-ish in taste.

Weng Heong Bak Kut Teh in Klang. Photo from Bangsar Babe

Origin of Bah Kut Teh

There is a lot of argument about the origin of Bah Kut Teh. Klang is often well-known as the birthplace of Bah Kut Teh. It was introduced by the Chinese immigrants who were mostly Hokkien during the 19th century. 

According to Ng Soon Tiong, owner of Samy and Min Bah Kut Teh, “Bah Kut Teh was created as a dish to help replenish the energy of the Chinese coolies who mostly carried heavy loads while barefooted. In those days, they boiled pig heads and knuckles with medicinal herbs and spices as a way to nourish and strengthen their bodies.”

It is also believed that the word “teh” of “Bah Kut Teh” is derived from the name, Lee Boon Teh who brought the dish from Fujian and popularised the dish in the 1940s. But across the causeway, netizens claimed that Bah Kut Teh was created in Clarke Quay and River Valley. They said the dish was spotted even in the 1920s. 

Song Fa Bak Kut Teh (Clarke Quay). Photo from Burpple

Flavours Today

Whether it is Klang or Clarke Quay, it doesn’t matter. But one thing is certain. Some Bah Kut Teh shops attempted to be innovative by offering Seafood Bah Kut Teh, Cheese Bah Kut Teh, and even Durian Bah Kut Teh. 

Will you try it? For myself, I am still a die-hard fan of authentic Bah Kut Teh. In fact, I have mastered the art of boiling Bah Kut Teh from my mother and my herbs are mostly bought from the Chinese medical hall.

text by Francis Yip 

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