Klang Bak Kut Teh （肉骨茶; ròu gu-chá)
Malaysia is a haven for food, with 11 of its dishes appearing on the list. Today, on Diwali, which happens to be a public holiday in Malaysia, my family and I decide to make a food trip to Klang, home to a unique dish.
Restoran Bah Kut Teh 155
Yeap, this dish happens to be ranked number 468 on the Lonely Planet’s must-try eat-list. It has a similar origin story to that of Tikka Masala, where it’s not actually a dish from India, but rather an Indian dish that the Indian immigrants in the UK perfected over time. Similarly, Bak Kut Teh (BKT) is a creation that the early Chinese Immigrants from the Fujian province brought along and perfected when they re-settled in South-East Asia. Today, BKT is a favorite amongst locals an tourists alike, and many embark on their pilgrimage to Klang to try the dish at one of the many famous local restaurants, or like myself, seek the one BKT restaurant that we love the most among the many.
Cost: RM 83.00 (4 pax, RM 20.75 per person)
What to expect:
For anybody trying BKT for the first time, the first thing about the dish that captures their fancy is the rich, unmistakable herbal aroma that precedes it. That being said, there are two main versions of the dish, one with soup (the original), and the dry one. Both are served with rice, Chinese doughnuts, and tea.
The taste of BKT is as follows: a unique herbal taste from the multitude of herbs used in the brewing process, followed by a strong umami flavor brought about from the pork in the soup. This combination of flavors is what makes BKT as a dish a unique entry in any local foodie’s go-to-list. In addition to the aforementioned taste, the soupy version of BKT, which happens to be how the migrant workers from Fujian prepared it back in the day, is loaded with pork ribs, lettuce, mushrooms, and tofu.
The dry version, however, is the one that I personally prefer. Much more saturated in flavor, the dry version also has an added salty taste to it that adds a different depth of flavor to the dish, making it far more delicious than it looks.
Nevertheless, differences in the recipe (both soup and dry) may vary with restaurant as the owner sees fit, leading to some BKTs leaning heavily to the herbal side, or keeping it mild and going overboard on the umami sensation, and determining the best BKT objectively can be point of contention amongst Klangites. As for this particular restaurant, in my honest opinion, none of their dishes, nor their flavors stood out particularly, and honestly I thought that their dry BKT was a letdown in that sense. However, their pork knuckle dish stood out to me in contrast to its sibling dishes, packing a punch to add much-needed flavor into an otherwise average meal.
However, this is but one amongst the many BKT restaurants in Klang, and I personally am looking forward to going back to Klang to search my personal favorite BKT among the many.
While people may have differing opinions on which restaurant serves the best BKT (the discussion being purely subjective in nature), it cannot be denied that Klang has earned its reputation as being the Mecca equivalent for BKT. Thousands, be it tourists or locals, make their pilgrimage there every single day to get their fix of BKT. With almost as many BKT restaurants as there are shop-lots in the area, competition is high among the local restaurant owners, making it great for hungry visitors such as myself.
Another note, however, it should be noted that many of these BKT restaurants operate on the same clock as the Chinese restaurants in Malaysia, meaning that they are open for breakfast and dinner service. Typical opening times range from 7 am to 12 noon, and from 5 pm to 10 pm; so make plans ahead of time if you intend to make the trip all the way to Klang.
This article here gives a great insight into the historical context behind this popular dish.
While I do not claim to be an expert in Klang BKTs, I would wholeheartedly make the following recommendation if you happen to make the trip yourself; Fei Kay Bak Kut Teh, which is famous for the (godly flavorful) dry version. A more comprehensive list, compiled by a Klangite, lists some of the better BKTs that are scattered throughout the area.