Beginner’s Choice: Meat Bone Tea and Leafy greens

Have you ever thought of where the word “restaurant” comes from?  I was pleasantly surprised to come across the origin of this word in Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. The first restaurants were eighteenth-century Parisian establishments that served rich soups to restore, or restaurer, the hungry citizenry. (quoted from the book)

Rosemary Stanton wrote in her Complete Book of Food and Nutrition that soups have long been a basic source of nourishment for humans. I suppose the making of soup was only possible once Mankind became civilised and cooked with earthen pots.

Bak Kuh Teh

Soup can be part of a meal, or it can be a meal in itself. A noodle soup is a meal in itself. One of my favourite soups is bak kuh teh (Meat bone tea in Hokkien), a broth made with pork ribs. There are two types of bak kuh teh:

  1. the peppery pork rib soup (which is the Teochew style); or
  2.  the strong herbal pork rib soup  (the Cantonese style).

I like both, but the herbal soup style with garlic, Dong Quai, cinnamon and star anise is more unique and suits the Asian palate more.  Foreigners may find the herbs too strong for a soup, which is meant to be a comfort food and have a calming effect. My first recollection of bak kuh teh was having it for brunch on Sunday mornings in an open-air eatery as a child. Bak kuh teh is usually served with rice and youtiao (flour fritters).

Bak kuh teh has its origin as a poor man’s soup. It started off as a soup made from pork bones, garlic with scraps of meat served with soya sauce and rice.  It was a treat for the poor on special days. Today, bak kuh teh is often cooked with prime pork ribs which makes it anything but a poor man’s soup.

I love to cook bak kuh teh, as it is one of the easiest and satisfying meals to cook for the family. I usually buy pork bones or some pork ribs and add chunks of pork into the soup. I always buy spices already blended  and mixed in packets which look like tea bags. The first few times I cooked bak kuh teh, I found a lot of scum floating on top of the soup. I soon found out that it was because I didn’t discard the water before it boiled to remove the scum. So, if you intend to cook bak kuh teh, do remember this important first step. According to Elena, the secret of making a clear soup is to simmer it, and not to boil it at high heat for a long time.

It is essential to have a big pot to cook bak kuh teh. If you want to make bak kuh teh from scratch, the essential ingredients are:

  1. One large pork bone and 500 grams of pork, or 1 kg of pork ribs
  2. water (about 4 cups for 500g of pork ribs, about 8 cups for 1 kg of pork ribs)  
  3. white pepper (1 to 2 tablespoons)
  4. black pepper (1 to 2 tablespoons
  5. salt (1 teaspoon)
  6. whole star anise (2 or 3)
  7. ground cinnamon (1 teaspoon)
  8. 1 whole garlic

Method

Boil enough water to cover the pork bone/pork ribs and pieces of pork

Add the pork bone/pork ribs and pieces of pork

Discard the water when it begins to boil to remove the scum

Set the pork bone/pork ribs/pieces of pork aside

Boil water again and add the garlic, pepper, star anise, cinnamon and salt

Add the pork bone/pork ribs and pieces of pork and bring to boil

Then lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour (or one hour and 15 minutes)  or until the pork is tender

Serve with rice and dark soy sauce

Leafy green vegetables

Bak kuh teh is usually served with leafy green vegetables. If you serve fruit for dessert, you can be sure that you have a complete meal that is healthy, especially of you use lean pork for the soup.

However, you may wish to contrast the hot soup meal with a cold dessert, like an ice cream or a frozen yoghurt dessert.

I received messages from students who have just arrived in England to start the new academic year. Some are probably already missing home cooked meals.

Bak kuh teh is an easy dish to prepare, provided you have a big pot. A big pot of soup is great for sharing with friends, especially when the weather starts to get colder.

Other soup recipes

Oh I almost forgot, since I was writing an article on boiling soup, I asked Soph of the Weave the Story Channel if he had videos on soups that he would like to share on the blog. He said: “I have a Mee Soto soup and a Ukrainian strawberry soup episode.” The links are below:

Mee Soto – YouTube  

Vacay in Iso / Strawberry Soup – YouTube

For Singaporean students overseas, Soph’s cooking channel is a great resource tool when you miss popular Singapore dishes. For those who are not familiar with the Weave the Story videos, they always start off as a travel video before getting to the cooking part. Soph is a Singaporean who is based in Portugal.

Homskil would like to thank Soph for his contributions to the Blog.

By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 26 September 2021  

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