If you’ve grown up as a Chinese kid in Malaysia, no doubt you would have been exposed to the pride and joy of Malaysian Chinese gastronomic culture known as Bak Kut Teh. Directly translated as ‘Meat Bone Tea’, Bak Kut Teh is a traditional broth made of spare ribs cooked for hours in a clear soup of strong-tasting herbs and spices. What kind of herbs and spices? If you ever try to read the ingredient list of a Bak Kut Teh soup packet, your tongue might end up in knots.
For example, this is the ingredient list taken off the packet of one brand of a Bak Kut Teh premix:
Angelicae Sinensis, Polygonatum Odoratum, Cinnamomom Aromaticum, Lycii Fructus, Piper Nigrum, Codonopsis Pilousulae, Glycyrrhiae Preparata, Ligustici Wallichii
And… this is the hardest one:
American Ginseng. 🙂
Each Bak Kut Teh premix company has their own formula and you might want to explore the different options to see what suits your taste buds best.
But be wary, as some brands are NOT vegan, as some may include meat stock. It’s important to look for premixes that mention that it’s vegetarian-safe.
A premix packet would normally have two sachets, and if you’re making a very small portion for yourself, you can use one sachet. Otherwise, the packet advises that you use both.
My neighborhood health store even stocks a Bak Kut Teh paste, hastening the cooking process by being ‘instant’ (as compared to boiling the sachets for half an hour). I find the taste to be not so strong, and it leaves a lot of sediment, but if you’re often pressed for time, then keeping a paste version in your fridge may come in handy.
During my plant-based transition period, I observed that it wasn’t the pork that ‘made’ this dish – it was the herb and spice concoction, and that it was tasty in the meatless versions I tried in Chinese vegetarian restaurants. So my own version, ‘Tak’ Kut Teh (‘Tak’ is a shortened version of ‘Tidak’ which means ‘No’ in Bahasa), is faster to make as it doesn’t require the time needed to boil meat or bones, and it comes out just as flavourful. And because it’s broth, you’re given free reign to add any sort of vegetables and plant-based ingredients you wish.
A common ingredient is mushroom, and I’ve seen all sorts of mushrooms being put in this dish! This recipe uses Shiitake mushrooms, which I would strongly recommend to keep in this recipe to lend smokiness and meaty bite. But the Shimeji mushroom can easily be replaced with Eryngii, Enoki, Maitake or all three! Feel free to add any sort of mushrooms you desire!
What I love about this dish is that the soup pretty much creates itself, courtesy of the sachets, shiitake mushrooms and the minimal sauce ingredients you put in. Then you just need to stick around towards the end part of the soup boiling to chuck in the rest of the ingredients, which the heat will take of very quickly.
The small effort in putting this dish together comes back to you tenfold, with a bold mix of textures and flavours, and saves you a trip to Klang!
May your home be filled with the unique aroma and nourishment of this herbal hotpot, to be enjoyed with a bowl of steamed rice.
Herbal Hot Pot
A veganized version of Bak Kut Teh, this broth richly flavoured with herb and spices is quick to make and perfect to eat with a bowl of steamed rice on a rainy day.
- BROTH BASE:
- 1 packet of Bak Kut Teh premix (suitable for vegetarians)
- 1.5 litres water
- 10 dried Shiiktake mushrooms
- 1/4 cup dried black fungus (Wood Ear mushroom) (Optional)
- 1 1/2 bulbs of garlic
- 3 tbsp soysauce
- 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp pink salt
- ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS:
- 1 cup tofu puffs (Tau Pok), diced into small pieces
- 1 cup (two squares) traditional firm tofu, diced
- 100g (about 1 1/2 cups) Chinese cabbage
- 100g (about 1 1/2 cups) Romaine lettuce
- 1 packet fried beancurd sheets (Fried Fuchuk)
- Step 1 Remove sachets from premix packet.
- Step 2 In a pot, put in sachets and all other broth ingredients and cook on medium to high heat for 30 minutes.
- Step 3 While that is cooking, prepare your tofu puffs, firm tofu and cut up the cabbage and lettuce.
- Step 4 In the last 5 minutes of cooking, put in the tofu puffs and tofu.
- Step 5 Once the broth is done cooking, put in the vegetables and allow them to cook naturally in the heat of the broth.
- Step 6 Transfer broth into a bowl to serve immedately, with the fried beancurd sheets only lightly resting on the broth to retain their crispiness up until they get dipped into the broth for consumption.