Monday, August 6, 2007

An ode to Bak Kut Teh

Everywhere you turn these days, there's no escaping it. 50 fantastic bargains to celebrate our independence. 50 this, 50 that but do they really say anything about the state of the nation in that half century.

Case in point, one of the popular English Radio stations have been juxtaposing soundbites in between songs & DJ banter on 50 reasons why Malaysia rocks. Now, how sad is it when they have to struggle to fill this list to the point nasi lemak is mentioned three . . . yes, three times in various guises. First, as a the delicious meal that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Then it appeared in the form of the "Great nasi lemak Antarabangsa of Kg Baru fame" & lastly, the wonderful sambal belacan that makes nasi lemak so tasty. C'mon, give me a break.

Why is it when they are struggling to fill the 50 slots, do they bypass a true Malaysian original. Believe it or not, many of us are not aware that the humble Bak Kut Teh is of local origin, more specifically Klang. And no, it was not brought here by our Chinese ancestors from some ulu village in mainland China. It was developed & perfected here.

This steaming broth of herbs & pork is beloved by so many of us that it should, nay, MUST be mentioned. My mum pointed out a travel show on one of the Chinese-language channels showing busloads of tourists from as far as Japan, China, Hong Kong and even neighbouring Indonesia stopping in Klang just for a taste of this famous dish. It filled me with joy & pride to hear these foreign visitors wax lyrical bout how the humble spare part soup is their favourite delicacy during their visit to these shores.

Another wonderful example of food bringing people together is notice how many Indians love Bak Kut Teh. It is indeed quite a strange phenomena even in Malaysia. Say what u want but many people still distrust the cuisine of other races. As Indy Nadarajah & Alan Pereira joked in Menopause, "What can Chinese people cook - white mee & black mee, what else is there!"
And truth be told, many Indians do hold that view, so I always find it amazing when you see old conservative aunties in their saris slurping away on a bowl of bak kut teh at yer neighbourhood gerai.

Furthermore, this is a very Cina-punya dish with its strong mixture of herbs which makes it even unlikelier to appeal to the Indians & other non-Moslem races. But it does, in a big way. I recall once after a beer session on a sat nite, a friend was craving for some pork rib tea. Only place we could find open at that late hour was the infamous Mungo Jerry Chow Kit outlet. You know what, the place was packed to the rafters with after hours drinkers keen on slurping down some sobriety. . . And my friend and meself represented 1.5 % Chinese diners as everyone else was Indian. Fantastic! How's that for Muhibbah food!

Bak Kut Teh is just one of many things which are not being recognised as Malaysian simply because of some sensitivity or another. But it is just an example of a deeper underlying problem. The Chinese contribution to our hard fought Independence is fast disappearing from history books (school books almost for sure). Even monuments built to honour the war dead are under threat for being Communists symbols.

Our diversity should be a reason for celebration, not seperation.

In the same way, as a Hindu I am not offended by other races' fondness for Daging Rendang, it should be the same vise versa.

All this talk is making me hungry, BKT anyone?


Kopite78 said...

Well said. I am Sri Lankan Tamil and my wife is Chinese Hokkien. Guess which one of us loves Bak Kut Teh and which one can only tolerate it???

Lets go Bala, have not had it for sometime. Klang tomorrow or Teluk Pulai???

Mark said...

Good read mate but you know why it's not mentioned as a national dish lah. Perhaps us Chinamen should position it as Chic Kut Teh, like some stalls have.

It wasn't even mentioned in Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" or "No Reservations". Not even in Bobby Chin's "World Cafe Asia". What a crying shame!

anfieldReds said...

Good one dude,as we all know that there is no level playing fields in our beloved "tanah tumpah darah" even after 50yrs.
Even mention of delicacy is taboo,sensitive...what's next?

Bro,lets check out klang on merdeka day?

weiyin69 said...

Dang,I'm hungry now. I have to make my own Bak Ku Teh here - we can get the herbs here you know. And it's not too bad. Ha ha.

And you're right about other races loving bak ku teh. I know one well-known Malay journalist who's very fond of it too!

nick m said...

I'm alright with it being left out. At least this is one thing that won't be caught by the NEP. Imagine having quotas on this. No effin' way!!!

Kevin said...

great. too bad our muslim bros can't pig out at it. anyhow, BKT's a definite undisputed number 1. who cares about national this is premier league stuff!

if shanks had it he would say something like..."it would bloody take some grub from mars to bloody beat this". you'll never whack alone mate.

muststopthis said...

Wed's and Fri's, after the session, it has been nasi lemak!
Too much of it, so we took off to Klang Road (old maybank opposite Tmn Desa entrance), and lo and behold the stall has evolved to a shop! (Bala' 3am is still normal here....)
Man, it was the best BKT, the nite has to offer....come friday, we will be checking out the one in PJ Old town...anyone?

anfield devotee said...

To all those thinking of taking up muststopthis's invite for BKT, DON'T! There'll be nothing left for you once this fat fook starts digging into the claypot. . .Just joking. Yup, old town outlet (in front of 4d shop) is good

Nesa said...

Chic Kut Teh is an abomination ... let's go with the original. Some much for having progressed in 50 years.

I'm game for Bak Kut Teh ... am going Saturday night actually to the one in Pudu.