Bak kut teh, or 'meat bone tea', is a Hokkien claypot dish of pork and parts simmered in a soothing, mild broth flavored with medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Though soupy bak kut teh is de rigeur, the dish is also prepared 'dry'. When discerning EatingAsia reader b heaped extravagant praise on the dry bak kut teh served at a shop near his Puchong home, we knew we had to sample it. Happily, a lunch invitation soon appeared in my mailbox.
Restoran Yap Chuan Bak Kut Teh has many branches scattered around the Klang Valley. Their Puchong shop is one of the newest. It was doing a good business on a recent scorching Sunday, as families and couples carrying tins of tea leaves (plenty of strong tea is thought - or wished - to counteract the artery-clogging effects a pork-centric meal) gathered at big round tables.
After quick consultation (Both wet and dry? Soft or hard ribs? Are you OK with innards?) with us and some input from his wife, b ordered a couple of claypots each of soupy and dry bak kut teh, stewed tofu, you tiaow (deep-fried Chinese dough sticks), and a healthy plate of green vegetable. The wait, though not particularly long, was excruciating, thanks to the scents that drifted over from neighboring tables.
Yap Chuan's bak kut teh boasts a fine, dark broth that invites frequent dips of you tiaow. Mushrooms are absent, but the pork is meltingly tender and jostles for space with plenty of chewy tofu skin.
Yet, it must be said that for us the highlight of this meal was the dry bak kut teh, with its soy-glazed, softer-than-soft pieces of pork meat, riblets, and stomach, chunks of okra, and shards of dried red chili. Once we'd gobbled up these bits we scraped away at the sweet-salty-spicy crust fused to the sides and bottom of the clay pot.
Little did we know that this dry bak kut teh masterpiece was the brainchild of a king.
Zhi An, a member of the family that owns the chain of shops, began experimenting in the kitchen at a tender age.
His dabbling paid off big-time last year, when his version of dry bak kut teh earned him, at all of 14 years, the title of Malaysian Bak Kut Teh King in a national contest.
After downing a claypot-ful of the winning dish and finding ourselves wishing for more, we praised the heavens for sending to our neck of the woods a boy like Zhi An, who prefers playing with tongs, dark soy, and pork products to whiling away hours in front of a Play Station.
It's not everyday that we sit down to a meal fit for a king, and cooked by one too.
Thanks to b and his wife for a delicious Sunday afternoon diversion.
Restoran Yap Chuan Bak Kut Teh, 53 Jalan BPU, Bandar Puchong Utama. Tel. 012-674-4440, 016-207-9698, 016-207-9896, 019-376-3665.