Pork in Chinese Herbal Tea/Bak Kut Teh

Bak Kut Teh, literary means "Meat Bones Herbal Tea" and it is a dish that is popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It is basically a hearty meal of various cuts of pork simmered in an assortment of Chinese medicinal herbs that is nourishing and healthy for the body. Legend has it that this soup originated with the Chinese migrants who worked as hard laborers in Southeast Asia during the 19th century. In order to have enough energy to cope with the demanding nature of their job, they needed a hearty breakfast and hence, this soup was conceived. My mother would usually make this from scratch and would get the herbal concoction from the Chinese medicine shop. A friend mailed me a few packages of these pre-mix Bak Kut Teh Herbs and I am going to give it a try.


2 ½ lbs. pork bones

1 ½ lbs. pork spare ribs, cut into 2-inch length

1 ½ lbs. fresh side belly pork, cut into 2-inch length

Fried tofu puffs, halved and quartered

12 dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soaked with water

2 packets Bak Kut Teh

1 piece Dong Quai root, cut into pieces (Chinese angelica sinensis)

1 stick cinnamon

6 pieces star anise

2 whole garlic, unpeeled (pre-roast in oven)

5-10 peppercorns

½ cup soy sauce (good quality)

5 Tbsp. dark soy sauce

Butter Rice:

3 shallots, sliced thinly


2 Tbsp. melted butter


1. Bring a pot of water to boil and add scald pork bones and meat for about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat when there is a layer of scum or impurities floating on top. Rinse the meat and bones under running water and return to a clean pot.

2. Bring to a boil on high for about 20 minutes, add in mushrooms and roasted garlic. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour until meat is tender. Remove the pork belly and spare ribs, leaving the bones, mushrooms and spices in the pot. Add soy sauces, fried tofu puffs and simmer for another hour. Season to taste if needed.

3. Fry shallots in one tablespoon of oil until crispy and brown. Remove and drain on paper towel. Wash rice and cook in rice cooker. Before the rice cooker's warm button comes up, quickly mix in melted butter and shallots into the cooked rice. Stir to mix well, and press warm button to keep rice warm.

4. To serve, spoon meat and tofu in a pot and pour in hot soup. Serve with steamed rice or butter rice.

Cook's note: If you want to make this soup from scratch, the ingredients are translated verbatim from the package. 20 g each of Chinese angelica sinensis root, 5 pieces licorice root, 10 gm chuan xiong, 2 cinnamon sticks,  30 gm. yu zu, 40 gm. dang shen, dried tangerine peel, dried cukor, and cloves.

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