PUCHONG, Feb 18 — Mention bak kut teh (literally “meat bone tea” in Hokkien) and the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is Klang.
Indeed the royal town is considered as the birthplace of the bubbling dish of fall-off-the-bones pork ribs simmered for hours in a deeply savoury broth of Chinese herbs and spices.
Of course, everyone has a favourite: whether it’s bak kut teh stalwart Seng Huat beneath the Klang bridge or newcomer Yik Heong (relatively speaking, at under a decade); the dark, deep broth of Teck Teh or the gnaw-to-your-heart’s-content tua kut (large bones) of Lai Hing (or “Samy” to regulars).
But what about bak kut teh outside of Klang, for those of us who aren’t up for the sojourn to the port town? Believe it or not, there’s a veritable bonanza of incredible bak kut teh spots elsewhere, or at least within the Klang Valley. Time for a little bak kut teh hunt.
Thing is, folks enjoy bak kut teh at all hours of the day and night. Some may find this hearty broth too heavy in the morning but fans will disagree.
For the first stop in our bak kut teh hop, we head over to Puchong where Restoran Yap Chuan draws a sizeable breakfast crowd. There’s no missing the shop; it’s the corner unit with a bold red sign and canary-yellow walls.
Our order arrives in rapid fashion: a much-used claypot filled to the brim with pork ribs, pork belly, a mix of offal including pork intestines and liver, and some fu chuk (bean curd skin). This, we discover, is quite close to the Klang (or Hokkien) style of bak kut teh, which is cloudy and almost black in colour thanks to the generous use of dark soy sauce. Yap Chuan’s lighter, milder broth isn’t as sodium-heavy as those in Klang though. Perhaps a boon for those looking to reduce salt in their diet.
Yet it is their dry version that is the true standout. A caramelised glaze of dark soy sauce envelops this dish of chewy pork trotters and pork belly, levelled up with the addition of chillies and dried cuttlefish. Intensely herbal and absolutely lip-smacking. The yau char kwai (deep-fried crullers) are cut into thinner discs so they can even soak up the dry gravy, not just the bak kut teh soup.
For lunch, we head over to Kepong, another bak kut teh hotspot outside of Klang. The airy, open seating of Heng Bak Kut Teh Delights in Taman Kepong has an almost bucolic feel to it; the tiny chicks running around, playing hide and seek amongst the plastic chairs, certainly adds to the rustic atmosphere.
We’d consider this closer to the Teochew variant as the soup is paler, the taste less herbal and more garlicky. This is not to say the flavours are muted; on the contrary, with over 20 kinds of Chinese herbs used in the stock, there is a surprising depth in every sip. The use of cilantro and Chinese wine removes any overly porky smells so every bowl is more balanced and more — dare we say it? — refined.
Heng Bak Kut Teh Delights has a dry bak kut teh too, where the gravy is a reduction of the broth with dried chillies, wolfberries and dates to concentrate the flavours further. It may not look like bak kut teh at first glance; besides the pork trotters and tendons, there are also chicken feet. Enthusiasts of “phoenix claws” will love these for the hit of collagen.
There’s a casual, do-it-yourself (DIY) ambience here; there are always a few large kettles of hot water lying around for self-service refill of teapots. A place to linger on balmy afternoons, after the last scraps of pork intestine has been fought over and devoured.
Night falls. For our final bak kut teh stop, we stay a little closer to home. Fatty Bak Kut Teh & Steamed Fish Head, just off Old Klang Road, may have many coming for its famous steamed fish head but there’s a reason why the “bak kut teh” comes first in its name.
Fatty Bak Kut Teh offers the Cantonese version of the soup, which means a liberal use of medicinal herbs giving it a stronger herbal taste. Less salty than the Klang version, this version is a firm favourite in central Klang Valley where there is a large population of Cantonese residents. Other ingredients besides the usual pork ribs and offal include Chinese cabbage and lighter-tasting button mushrooms.
Of course, the shop is also famous for its steamed fish head. Given all the meat we’ve been consuming today, however, it’s a relief to eschew the fish and order some greens. We remember seeing baskets of freshly rinsed vegetables such as kai lan, Chinese cabbage and nai pak outside. Some yao choy (“blanched iceberg lettuce”) in oyster sauce with a garnish of fried garlic does the trick most splendidly.
Don’t forget to order an extra bowl of yau char kwai to soak up all those herbal flavours and soupy goodness. Unlike Yap Chuan, the yau char kwai here come in bigger chunks, almost tube-like. Imagine them as Chinese cannelloni sucking up bak kut teh broth instead of pasta sauce, and you can understand why every table has at least one bowl if not more.
This shop stays open till the wee hours of the morning so for those who are bitten by the bak kut teh bug, might we suggest heading home for a few hours of shut-eye before starting all over again? Now where’s another good place for bak kut teh for breakfast...
Restoran Yap Chuan Bak Kut Teh
53, Jalan BPU 2, Bandar Puchong Utama, Puchong, Selangor
Open daily 8:30am-9pm
Tel: 012-972 6293
* Off on Feb 15 & 16 (CNY Eve & Day 1)
Heng Bak Kut Teh Delights
No 686, Jalan Kuang Bertam, Taman Kepong, Kuala Lumpur
Open Thu-Tue 7am-3pm & 5pm-12am; Wed closed
Tel: 017-750 3839
* Off on Feb 16 (CNY Day 1) only
Fatty Bak Kut Teh & Steamed Fish Head
A-5, Batu 4½ , Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur
Open Wed-Mon 6pm-4am; Tue closed
Tel: 012-366 0035
* CNY off days not confirmed, call to check