The name literally translates as “meat bone tea”, and, at its simplest, consists of meaty pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices (including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, fennel seeds and garlic) 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.
Bak kut teh is usually eaten with rice or noodles (sometimes as a noodle soup), and often served with youtiao / cha kueh [yau char kwai] (strips of fried dough) for dipping into the soup. Soy sauce (usually light soy sauce, but dark soy sauce is also offered sometimes) is preferred as a condiment, with which chopped chilli padi and minced garlic is taken together. Chinese tea of various kinds (the Tieguanyin variety is especially popular in the Klang Valley area of Malaysia) is also usually served in the belief that it dilutes or dissolves the copious amount of fat consumed in this pork-laden dish. Bak kut teh is typically a famous morning meal. The Hokkien and Teochew are traditionally tea-drinking cultures and this aspect runs deep in their cuisines.