Malaysia Food Exploration: Bak Kut Teh

I have devised a new party game variant. I’d like to introduce you to offal-bobbing.

The way to play: take one bowl of hawker stall soup and delve down with your spoon to explore its depths. If you find a piece of offal, you lose.

bak kut teh

Of course this game only works if you are an offal-squeamish wuss like me. I can manage liver as a pâté, but a slab of it is too rich. Other things like kidneys, hearts and lungs are just not for me, even blended with other ingredients like in haggis. And as for tubes…let’s just not go there, okay?

A while ago in the UK I procured a packet of bak kut teh seasoning and made some tasty ribs in the pressure cooker. Bak kut teh apparently translates as “meat bone tea”, and is a meaty broth flavoured with various spices.

While at the Red Garden Food Paradise food court in George Town I saw a stall selling it, and decided to try the real thing. As I walked away from the stand having ordered a bowlful, I recollected that the ingredients spread out on the counter looked a little innard-heavy, and felt a few pangs of alarm.

The dish soon arrived accompanied by rice and some segments of crispy dough stick to dunk in the soup. I dug in and found the broth to be less rich and flavourful than I had anticipated. Vegetables shared space with wibbly bits, which I carefully picked out and hid under a lettuce leaf from H’s plate. A small piece of pork rib was a welcome sight.

I’m sure I could have asked for it offal-free if I had known the right words, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. The dough sticks were a pleasant addition and the whole was something I would like to try again one day, to see how it varies from chef to chef.

It was incredibly cheap, by the way, which is probably another reason why it wasn’t crammed full of choice cuts.


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