Bak kut teh (Hokkien: 肉骨茶) is a Chinese soup popularly served in Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan (where there is a predominant Hoklo and Teochew community) and also, cities of neighbouring countries like Batam of Indonesia and Hat Yai of Thailand. The name literally translates as "meat bone tea", and, at its simplest, consists of meaty pork ribs in a complex brothstar anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, fennel seeds and garlic), boiled together with pork bones for hours. However, additional ingredients may include offal, varieties of mushroom, choy sum, and pieces of dried tofu or fried tofu puffs. Additional Chinese herbs may include yu zhu (rhizome of Solomon's Seal) and ju zhi (buckthorn fruit), which give the soup a sweeter, slightly stronger flavor. Light and dark soy sauce are also added to the soup during cooking, with varying amounts depending on the variant. Garnishings include chopped coriander or green onions and a sprinkling of fried shallots.And this would have been all I would have known, if not for the kindness of my neighbors, Fay and Kingston. Kingston is from Malaysia and Fay is from Shanghai, and is a great cook. I've been learning first hand about the most subtle and delicate Chinese dishes from her, and they've had some of my stuff as well. Recently after Malathi and I devoured a bowl of Bak Kut Teh, Fay offered to fix a fresh batch during the day, so that could photograph it. Her method was close to the description above; the meat was spareribs, and for the base of the 'tea' she used sort of a large 'tea' bag, which is packed with the dried ingredients, that give the soup, its subtle rich flavor.
You can see what's in there; nothing familiar to me at all. The bag boils in a claypot, with dried tofu, mushrooms, dried red dates, and other stuff, and of course the pork spare ribs. Meatiness of the ribs, is soft in the mouth and tea/soup -- its not sweet, its not sour, its not chilli hot -- its such a complex blend of new flavors, that finds places on your tounge, you didn't know you had!