Bak Kut Teh Showdown: Herbal BKT vs Pepper BKT

Posted By Feng Xiang

It’s that one dish that is perfect for any meal of the day. Early in the morning, enjoy the robust taste that wakes up the mind and body. Have your meat cravings satisfied over lunch or dinner with a bowl (or claypot) of indulgent soup. Head out for comfort food come supper time, and this dish is definitely a popular choice. We’re talking about Bak Kut Teh, roughly translated to Meat Bone Tea, which is a hearty pork bone soup that’s popular amongst the Chinese community in both Singapore and Malaysia.

A quick history of Bak Kut Teh

Despite its name, one should not be mistaken: there is, in fact, no tea in the dish itself. The ‘teh’ actually refers to the strongly brewed Chinese tea (usually Tieguanyin) that is traditionally served alongside the dish, which is believed to dilute the fats consumed in the soup. This, however, is not so common today.

Many believe that Bak Kut Teh originated from China’s Fujian province, and was introduced to the local communities in Malaya by Hokkien immigrants. Historically, it was served to coolies as a nourishing, hearty breakfast before they went about their long, labouring day. 

Another saying is that it was brought over by the Teochews who originate from the Chaoshan region of China’s Guangdong province, and they first arrived in Bintan island in numbers in the 1700s to work in the gambier and pepper plantation. In the 1800s, the plantations expanded to Singapore, and the traditional dish was brought along over to the sunny island.

As either saying goes, the Chinese have been making soup by boiling pork and pork bones in pots of water over wood or charcoal fire since time immemorial. So Bak Kut Teh is just one of the many offsprings of this long culinary tradition.

Two sibling versions of Bak Kut Teh

Primarily, there are two different versions of Bak Kut Teh in Singapore: one with a clear peppery broth, and another with a brownish, savoury herbal broth. Although both types are made with different soup ingredients, the core of the dish has to contain tender, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs simmered in a beautiful stock of species that will warm you up on a cold, rainy day.

The usual Singapore Bak Kut Teh is synonymously the peppery and garlicky soup that’s presented as a clear broth. Most of the popular pepper Bak Kut Teh soups are greyish white and are made with only pepper (lots of it), garlic (many cloves of it), and large strips of pork ribs, that’s all. 

There are several variations, with different amounts of pepper and garlic, but the looks and presentations are generally the same. They are served with side dips of dark soya sauce and cut red chillies. 

As for Herbal Bak Kut Teh, things are quite different. Different stores would have different herbal blends added to their broth, resulting in different shades of darkness in the soups. The warming herbs lend their colour to the broth, and also a stronger herbal fragrance loved by diners. 

While the clear white and peppery Bak Kut Teh is more of a ‘Pork Bone Purist’, Herbal Bak Kut Teh features not just big chunks of pork ribs, but shares the limelight with leafy vegetables, beancurd skin and enoki mushrooms, all of which are able to soak up the goodness of the herbal broth. Diners may also add pork liver, stomach and intestine if available.

Another favourite ‘cousin’ of the soup dishes is the Dry Bak Kut Teh that’s commonly found in Klang, Malaysia. Dry Bak Kut Teh has large pieces of pork ribs coated in an umami-full seasoning of dark soya sauce and other spices, then lovingly stir-fried to perfection. There’s usually some gravy that comes along with it. Dig into tender meat pieces, finely balancing the sweet and the savoury.

Whichever type of Bak Kut Teh you choose to indulge in, do remember to order a side of youtiao if available. Dip it into the soup or gravy to soak up the wonderful flavours!

Feng Xiang: True taste of Klang

Looking to indulge in a hearty bowl of Herbal Bak Kut Teh Singapore? Check out Feng Xiang. Prepared according to an age-old recipe from the founder’s family in Klang, Feng Xiang’s Herbal Bak Kut Teh is the authentic taste from Klang, a rich herbal broth that’s true enjoyment in every mouthful.

Enjoy Herbal Bak Kut Teh, Dry Bak Kut Teh, Fried Porridge, Braised Pork Trotters and many more delicious Malaysian comfort food conveniently here in Singapore. Visit Feng Xiang at four locations, Beauty World Centre Food Centre, Kallang Bahru (inside 7 Days Coffee Shop @ 63 Kallang Bahru), Breadtalk iHQ (inside Food Republic @ Tai Seng), and in Food Republic at VivoCityor order for delivery via selected food delivery apps.