Bak Kut Teh (Pork Ribs Tea) is a Chinese herbal soup with dong gui known for its warming properties. This comforting dish is perfect for the colder months.
Bak Kut Teh in the Hokkien or Fujianese dialect literally translates to Pork Rib Tea. This rich herbal soup contains dong gui (Angelica Sinensis), known for its warming properties. For this reason, it is popularly eaten as a supper or late night meal in Malaysia and Singapore. Over here in Minnesota, I like to cook it in the winter as it helps ward off the cold.
Whole Herbs vs Spice Sachets
In the old days, the herbal mix can only be purchased at the Chinese “medicine shop”. Today most grocery stores in Malaysia and Singapore carry them in sachets where the herbs are ground to a powder. These sachets can also be found here in the US.
I much prefer the “real thing” with the whole herbs. Whenever I visit my mom in Malaysia, she will take me to the “medicine shop” where the Ah Pek (uncle) will combine the herbs into neat packages and properly seal them for me to bring home.
To Each His Own
Each “medicine shop” has their own mix of herbs and no two are the same. The way of preparation also differ from person to person. The lighter colored soups tend to be more peppery while the darker colored ones tend to be sweeter and more herbal. I prefer the darker, more herbal version.
These are the herbs and spices from one of the packages from the “medicine shop”…
I added the following dried ingredients…
**Not shown are rock sugar, garlic, and pork ribs.
I used boneless pork ribs as I did have baby back ribs. You can also use a mix of ribs and meat, if preferred. There is also a unique Malaysian version called Chik Kut Teh where the pork is substituted with chicken.
Keeping the Soup Clear
Herbs that are not eaten should be placed in a muslin filter bag so that the soup remains clear.
- 10 cups water (2.5 liters)
- 1 packet Bak Kut Teh herbs (rinsed and drained)
- 3 slices Angelica Sinensis / Dong Gui (rinsed and drained)
- 12 Chinese mushrooms / shitake mushrooms (soaked, rinsed, and stalks removed)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 bulb garlic (separated but not peeled)
- 2 lbs baby back ribs or pork ribs, cut into bite-size pieces (900g)
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 piece rock sugar (10g)
- Salt to taste
- 12 small tofu puffs (cut into halves)
- 24 pieces tofu skin knots (rinsed, soaked for 20 minutes, drained) (optional)
- ¼ cup goji berries (rinsed and soaked for 10 minutes, drained (30g) (optional)
- Bring water in a large pot to a boil.
- Place all bak kut teh herbs, except for spice sachet, Solomon’s seal rhizome (yok chok), and red or black dates in a muslin filter bag. Dong gui should also be placed in the muslin filter bag.
- When water comes to a boil, place muslin bag, spice sachet, yok chok, dates, and mushrooms in the water.
- Heat vegetable oil in a large fry pan. Add garlic and pork ribs. Sear ribs for about 3 minutes. Stir in dark soy sauce. Turn off heat and transfer pork ribs and garlic to huge pot.
- Add rock sugar. When liquid comes back to a boil, season with salt. Reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer for about 1½ hours.
- Add tofu puffs, tofu skin knots, and goji berries. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Discard muslin filter bag and spice sachet.
- Serve with steamed rice, yew char kway (aka as you tiao or Chinese crullers), and cut chilies in soy sauce.
Bak Kut Teh is best served hot with steamed rice or fragrant rice cooked with shallot or garlic, yew char kway (also known as as you tiao or Chinese crullers), and cut chilies in soy sauce. A vegetable dish that goes well with Bak Kut Teh is tender crisp blanched Yu Choy Sum. It is a nice counter point to the meaty soup.
Bak Kut Teh Herbs and Spices
If you are interested to source and put together the herbs, you may want to include the following…
3 slices dong gui (Angelica Sinensis)
30g dang shen/tong sum (Codonopsis root)
30g chuan xiong (Rhizoma ligustici)
1 small piece (10g) shu di huang/lo sok tei (Rehmannia)
2 pieces gan cao (licorice root)
2 star anise, crushed
1 stick cinnamon, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
½ tsp white peppercorn, crushed
50g yu zhu/yok chok (Solomon’s seal rhizome)
10 red or black dates
¼ cup (30g) goji/wolf berries
All ingredients except the last three should be placed in a muslin filter bag. Red or black dates and goji berries should be soaked, rinsed, and drained before use.
Note: Black dates tend to be sweeter than red dates. Measurements are only approximations. Please adjust according to taste.
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 😎