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Pork Rib Soup (Bak Kut Teh)

Updated on November 26, 2012

Part 1- Introduction, origin and ingredients.

Part 2- Preparation, cooking and summary.

Most overseas Chinese, especially those living in South East Asia, have tried Bak Kut Teh. It's the type of food that people either love or hate, but one thing for sure is that they will never forget it.
Bak Kut Teh (Bah Kut Teh) or Rou Ku Cha in Mandarin, means Pork Rib Tea, although it is really a soup. There are two explanations of how this come about.
Bah Kut Teh has its origin in port Klang area of the present day Malaysia, during British colonial administration. In those early pioneering days, much of port activities relied on Chinese migrant coolies to do the heavy manual work. They needed something nourishing to maintain their good health while toiling in the hot and humid climate. Someone with knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) came out with a secret recipe of using herbs and spices to cook with pork. After cooking, the soup always takes on the color of tea.
The other explanation is that tea is always served after eating it. Among Chinese people, there is this concept of drinking warm tea after a meal, particularly if the meal is oily. The purpose of doing this is to flush out the oil in the digestive tract. The closest analogy that I can think of is that its much like clearing a clogged kitchen sink by pouring hot soapy water into the trap under the sink. The idea is to dissolve the solidified oil and flush it out of the system.
Ever wondered what makes this recipe so secret that its ingredients has to be tied up in a bag while being cooked? As far as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner is concerned, giving out a recipe is as good as writing a prognosis. It is in this sense that the recipe is secret. There is really no other secret. Those ingredients that are not eaten go in to the bag. These are cooked either for their medicinal value or for their flavor. It's just like the way a teabag is used and disposed of. Simple as that.

Bak Kut Teh

photo courtesy:
photo courtesy:
Bak Kut Teh Spices packet.
Bak Kut Teh Spices packet.


Some of the following herbs and spices are used:

Dang gui 当归 / Dong quai (Angelica Sinensis)

Yu zhu 玉竹 (Rhizome of solomonseal)

Ba jiao 八角 (Star anise)

Gui pi 桂皮 (Chinese cinnamon)

Gan cao 甘草 (Locorice root)

Shu di 熟地 (Rhizome of chinese foxglove)

Dang shen 党参 (Root of codonopsis)

Fu ling 茯苓 (smooth greenbrier root)

Chuan xiong 川芎 (Ligusticum root)

Chen pi 陈皮 (Tangerine peel)

Hui xiang 茴香 (fennel seed)

Ding xiang 丁香 (cloves)

Gou qi 枸杞 / Goji / Gou Ji (Chinese wolfberry)

Luo han guo (Fruit of siraitia grosvenrii)

White pepper

Dried longan

Dried dates

Dried mushrooms

The rest are the usual stuff used for cooking or as condiments. These are:

Clove garlic, chilli, soy source, dark source and vinegar, in addition to the main ingredient- pork ribs. Optional red wine and MSG.

This list certainly looks intimidating to a homemaker who likes to try cooking Bak Kut Teh at home. Fortunately, a Bak Kut Teh Spices packet is available from most sundry goods stalls or supermarkets in Malaysia and Singapore, where there is a Chinese majority. It comes complete with the ingredients contained in a bag and cooking instructions.


2 kg of pork ribs or meats, 8 pieces of garlic, 2 spoons of oyster source, salt, red wine(optional), MSG(optional), 10 bowls (1.5 liter) of water and two packets of Bak Kut Teh Spices (35g each). Reduce half of the above ingredients if only 1 kg of meat is used.

Cooking Instruction:

  1. inse pork rib or meat. Pre-boil the meat so that the scum and bone bits would release in the water.

  2. Pour 10 bowls of water into a pot or Dutch oven. Put in two packets/ bags of Bak Kut Teh Spices. Use medium heat to cook for 30 minutes.

  3. Transfer the pre-boiled meat into the pot. Bring the contents to a boil. Reduce to low heat and allow it to simmer for 1 hour. Add dried longan, dried dates, Luo han guo and dried mushrooms. Simmer for an additional hour until the meat becomes soft and almost falling off the bone.

  4. Some red wine may be added. The purpose of doing this is to mask the smell of the meat, which some may find too strong and also enhance the flavor of the soup. Do not add in soy source, oyster source, MSG and salt until meat is fully cooked.

  5. Add pepper before serving.


Finally, I would like to end this article with some warning. Bak Kut Teh is very nourishing food. Its what a Chinese person considers as “heaty”. Conventional wisdom is that it should not be taken more than once a week. Also, its only taken by people who are healthy. People who are sick, especially those with the medical conditions of High Blood Pressure(HBP), high blood cholesterol level, should abstain from it. It may cause cerebral hemorrhage and cardiovascular problems.

If a glass pot being used for cooking, do be aware that all glassware, regardless of its brand, can crack or even explode under certain conditions. One of these is to subject it to thermal stress, such as to keep a pot of soup overnight in a fridge and then take it out and heat it straight over a fire. Those who are concerned about this may use a stainless steel pot or better still, a cast iron pot.


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    • profile image

      Adonica 2 years ago

      What a joy to find soemnoe else who thinks this way.

    • sgphilgoh profile image

      sgphilgoh 7 years ago from Singapore

      The soup is quite fragrant due to many varies of herbs and spices used. The kids will probably like it. I encourage you to experiment with it. The ready-mixed packet of spices is particularly suitable for beginers.

    • snakebaby profile image

      Sabrina Yuquan Chen (陈玉泉) 7 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

      I need to really look into this recipe now, my kids are tired of our rice and vegi, vegi and rice, figured how to cook meat...not a meat person