Bak kut teh (Pork bone tea soup)

Bak Kut Teh (Pork Bone Tea) with a bowl of rice mixed with fried shallots!

Bak kut teh, literally translated as “meat bone tea”, is a rich Chinese herbal brew made with (traditionally) the cheapest cuts of meat rich in gelatin & collagen plus copious amounts of fat such as the trotters, stomach and even intestines topped off with mushrooms and deep fried tofu pieces. Its fragrance and taste come from herbs like

  • Rehmannia glutinosa ??
  • Angelicae sinensis (dong qui) ??
  • Codonopsis pilosula (dang shen) ??
  • Ligusticum wallichii ??
  • Glycorrhiza uralensis (licorice root) ??
  • Polygonati odorati (solomon’s seal)
  • Frustus anisi stellati (Chinese star anise)
  • Fructus lycii (wolfberry)
  • Citri exocarpium

This dish comes in several varieties depending on which clan (Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew) is preparing it – the Hokkien variety is herbally and dark compared to the other variation salty & peppery. Back at home, bak kut teh is served with fresh lettuce, button mushrooms, Chinese mushrooms, stomach, pork ribs, trotter, innards as well as deep fried tofu all in a rich herbally broth topped off with side dishes of blanched vegetables, Chinese crullers (yew char kuey), rice mixed with fried shallots and a dish of bird’s eye chilli plus garlic in soy sauce.

Since we don’t exactly have access to everything, I decided to stick to pork trotters plus some pork belly as well as button mushrooms and fishball (!) with just the rice and fried shallots as a side dish. No bird’s eye chilli and garlic for me, I’m afraid.

Despite using a pre-packed concoction to make this broth, it turned out just as good as the one back home, with naturally some slight adjustments. I used salt pork trotters and had to soak them in water overnight to get rid of the salt. Now, it would have been great to boil them but I didn’t exactly relish chopping up 1.8 kg of pork trotters (although Nil did it since I’m preggers and paranoid about chopping off a finger or two) and boiling it together with the draining and all.

So I just threw everything in. Surprisingly, the broth cleared up just great and the result? Lovely, clear broth fit for…well, a cold cold COLD early spring day! Yes, it had been foggy and raining the entire day…and going out – I had to for classes and shopping (just groceries and nothing like sexy lingerie) – was definitely a bad idea…

Bak kut teh (Pork bone tea soup)

1 packet of pre-packed herbs
1 to 2 liters water
1.8 kg pork (any cut will do) – cut into chunks
10 pieces dried Chinese mushrooms
1/2 can button mushrooms
Half a bulb of garlic
3 tsp dark soya sauce
2 tsp light soya sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp salt
Other condiments (fishball, tofu pieces, etc)


  1. In a pot, boil the water and once ready, add in all the ingredients above.
  2. Boil for at least an hour or as per instructions for the pre-packed herbs. The longer it takes, the more flavourful the broth will be and naturally, the softer the meat.
  3. Once ready, serve hot with rice, fried onions as well as other side dishes like Chinese crullers and so forth.

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